Lack of dietary fiber is the most common cause of constipation, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Eating an adequate amount of fiber every day can help you prevent and relieve constipation because insoluble fiber keeps waste moving through your large intestine. A healthy way to boost your fiber is to consume 3 to 6 cups of fruits and vegetables daily.
Most people fall significantly short of the recommended daily intake for fiber, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Women should consume 25 grams of fiber daily, while men need 38 grams. When adding fiber to your diet, increase the amount you eat gradually to avoid side effects such as gas and bloating. Also be sure to drink at least eight glasses of water daily because it makes the fiber more effective. As insoluble fiber travels through your intestines, it traps water, which increases stool bulk, adds moisture and makes it easier to have a bowel movement.
Prunes Have More Than Fiber
Prunes, or dried plums, relieve mild to moderate constipation better than psyllium, which is a common ingredient in laxatives, according to a study published in April 2011 in "Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics." Prunes contain fiber, but they also have another ingredient that prevents constipation. They're good sources of the natural sugar sorbitol, which produces a laxative effect by pulling water into your intestine. Just keep in mind that too much sorbitol can cause excess gas. You'll get 1 gram of fiber and 4 grams of sugar from each prune you eat, so your total sugar adds up quickly if you eat too many.
Fiber From Fruits
It's important to eat fruit with the skin because it contains a fair amount of fiber. For example, about half of the apple's fiber is lost when you peel away the skin. Pears are one of the top fruit sources of fiber, with 6 grams in one large pear. You'll get 3 grams of fiber from 1 cup of raspberries, as well as one small apple and one medium-sized peach with their skin still intact. The flesh of one orange also supplies 3 grams of fiber. Apples, pears and raspberries have an advantage. A larger percentage of their total fiber -- about 62 to 73 percent -- consists of insoluble fiber.
Green Peas Top the List
Green peas are considered vegetables, yet they belong to the legume family. Like other legumes, such as beans, green peas provide an excellent source of fiber. One cup contains 8.6 grams of fiber. Peas are also high in insoluble fiber, which accounts for about 70 percent of their total fiber. Other types of peas, such as edible-podded snap peas, contain only half the total fiber you'll get from green peas.
Other Vegetable Options
Sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts both supply 8 grams of total fiber in a 1-cup serving. The same serving of broccoli contains 5 grams, while carrots have only slightly less, with 4 grams of fiber. The group of vegetables with the next highest amount of fiber contains 2 to 4 grams in a 1-cup serving, according to Harvard University. This group includes sweet green peppers, celery and spinach. About half of the total fiber in all of these vegetables is insoluble fiber.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Constipation
- Harvard School of Public Health: Vegetables and Fruits: Get Plenty Every Day
- University of California Davis: Some Facts About Fiber
- Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics: Randomised Clinical Trial: Dried Plums (Prunes) vs. Psyllium for Constipation
- Harvard University: Fiber Content of Foods in Common Portions
- Nutrient Facts: Prunes, Dried, Uncooked
- Baylor College of Medicine: Too Much Juice Can Cause Intestinal Discomfort Usually Blamed on Milk
- Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, The University of Arizona: Dietary Fiber
- Healthaliciousness.com: Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool: Apples
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber