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Can a Low Carbohydrate Diet Cause Constipation?

author image Aglaee Jacob
Aglaee Jacob is a registered dietitian. She has experience working with people who have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and obesity issues. Jacob obtained a bachelor of science and a master of science, both in nutrition, from Laval University in Quebec City, Canada.
Can a Low Carbohydrate Diet Cause Constipation?
A low carb meal of roasted vegetables. Photo Credit: Elena_Danileiko/iStock/Getty Images

Many people believe they are constipated if they skip a day. However, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, constipation is defined by less than three bowel movements a week and is often accompanied by small, dry and hard to pass stools. It is estimated that 4 million Americans experience constipation regularly, which can be caused by a variety of factors.

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Possible Causes

Constipation is not considered a disease, but a symptom. The most common causes of constipation include a deficient fiber intake, lack of exercise, some medications, milk consumption, pregnancy, aging and dehydration. Some conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, excessive laxative use, stroke and other gastrointestinal problems can create constipation.

Low-Carb Diets

Low-carbohydrate diets do not appear on the list of common causes for constipation, although this problem is commonly experienced by low-carb dieters, especially at the beginning of their diet. The reasons why low-carb diets are associated with constipation include lack of fiber and dehydration. Most of the carbohydrates in the typical American diet are provided by whole grains and fruits, which are both severely limited on low-carb diets. Moreover, eating less carbohydrates can have a diuretic effect, especially when just starting on a low-carb eating plan that can result in dehydration if insufficient amounts of fluids are taken.

Getting Enough Fiber With Low-Carb Diets

Low-carb diets do not mean diets without fiber. Most low-carb programs encourage the consumption of large amounts of high-fiber non-starchy vegetables to keep your bowels healthy and regular. For example, 1 to 2 cups of leafy greens, celery, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, turnips, bell pepper or cauliflower should be included at each meal to get the fiber required by your body. Nuts and berries may also help boost your fiber intake. It is also possible to add 1 to 2 tbsp. of flax seeds, psyllium husks or wheat bran to your diet if needed.

Other Considerations

In addition to eating enough fiber from non-starchy vegetables to prevent constipation when following a low-carb diet, it is recommended to drink enough water. A minimum of eight 8-oz. glasses a day is required. Moreover, being physically active can help move things along. Go for a 20 to 30 minute walk everyday to improve the regularity of your bowel movements.

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