You may not give much thought to your bowel movements until you're experiencing a problem. Whether dealing with stool that's too soft or loose or trying to soften your stools if you experience constipation, what you eat or don't eat may help ease symptoms. Consult your doctor before making changes to your diet if you have irregular bowel movements.
Foods to Improve Soft Stools
If you're having diarrhea, with frequent soft, loose or watery stools, making changes to your diet may help. In general, a diet for soft stools is low in fat, fiber, lactose and sugar. Good food choices include soy milk or nonfat, lactose-free dairy foods, refined-flour bread and cereal, white pasta, white rice, canned fruit without added sugar, ripe bananas, soft-cooked vegetables, soft-cooked chicken or fish, eggs and tender meat. Additionally, eat small meals every three to four hours and drink 8 to 10 cups of decaffeinated beverages such as water, 100 percent fruit juice, broth or decaffeinated tea or coffee every day.
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Diet for Loose Stools
Avoiding or limiting your intake of certain types of foods may also improve soft stools or diarrhea. Avoid most raw fruits, except bananas and melon, and don't eat raw vegetables or whole-grain grains, breads and cereals. Also limit or avoid fried foods, high-fat meats such as bacon and hot dogs, whole milk, full-fat cheese, nuts and chunky nut butters. Spicy food and caffeinated beverages such as regular coffee and cola may also exacerbate symptoms and should be limited or avoided.
Soluble Vs. Insoluble Fiber
When it comes to stool consistency, the type of fiber in your diet matters. While you should generally avoid fiber when your stool is too soft, eating foods rich in a particular type of fiber called "soluble" may help, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. In the digestive tract, soluble fiber soaks up water, which makes stool firmer and slower to pass. Foods high in soluble fiber include oats, edamame or green soybeans, oranges, apples, bananas and Brussels sprouts. Foods rich in insoluble fiber, such as wheat bran, beans, bulgur and leafy vegetables, do the opposite by adding bulk to stool and speeding its passage through the gastrointestinal tract.
Diet to Soften Stools
If you're having fewer than three bowel movements a week or your stools are hard and difficult to pass, you may be dealing with constipation. A diet high in fiber helps soften stools and ease constipation. Women and men should consume 25 and 35 grams of fiber a day, respectively, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
To prevent abdominal discomfort, increase the amount of fiber in your diet slowly and drink plenty of liquids such as water or unsweetened tea. In addition to foods high in insoluble fiber, other high-fiber foods that also contain soluble fiber can help soften stool. These include lentils, flaxseeds, peas, turnips, blueberries, apples and grapes.
- National Cancer Institute: What to Do When You Have Loose Stools
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Nutrition Therapy for Diarrhea
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Nutrition Therapy for Constipation
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Fiber
- Health Castle: Fiber 101: Soluble vs Insoluble Fiber
- National Insitute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Constipation