Starting a new diet to lose weight, manage your blood sugar levels or reduce your risk of chronic disease might change your bowel patterns, especially in the first phases. If you’re on a diet that restricts certain food groups or requires that you increase your intake of other foods, your body might respond by producing hard, infrequent stools. If you’re having fewer than three bowel movements per week and your stools are difficult to pass, consult your health-care provider about modifying your new diet to restore healthy bowel patterns.
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Diets that emphasize sources of protein, such as chicken, beef, dairy products and eggs, while minimizing carbohydrates, might contribute to constipation. When you reduce the amount of vegetables, fruits and whole grains in your diet, you restrict your intake of fiber, an indigestible plant substance that facilitates the passage of digestive wastes through your intestinal tract. A high-protein diet also might require extra water to metabolize proteins, which can result in dehydration. To maintain a normal fluid balance, drink at least eight 8 oz. glasses of water or other non-caffeinated fluids each day. If you’re monitoring your carbohydrate intake, focus on high-fiber carbohydrates such as brown rice, whole wheat cereals, raw vegetables and fruits, to regulate bowel movements.
Paradoxically, adding too much fiber to your diet before your body adjusts to the extra roughage can cause constipation. If you’ve started a healthy eating plan to prevent cancer or heart disease by increasing your intake of vegetables and fruits, you might end up with large, hard stools that are difficult to pass. To prevent constipation after starting a high-fiber diet, increase fiber gradually until you reach your desired intake. The American College of Gastroenterology, or ACG, recommends that you aim for 20 to 35 g of fiber each day to maintain digestive health.
A low fluid intake is a common cause of constipation. If your diet restricts certain foods or beverages, you might inadvertently limit your fluid intake, which could lead to dry, hard stools. Eat regular servings of fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods with a high water content to boost your intake of liquids. If you’re trying to cut down on your consumption of soda, sugary tea or energy drinks to cut calories, replace those fluids with water, herbal tea or fruit juices diluted with mineral water to maintain a healthy fluid balance and promote normal bowel movements. Avoid caffeinated beverages, which can worsen constipation by causing dehydration.
To prevent the complications of constipation and maintain a healthy digestive tract, include a variety of high-fiber foods in your diet. Insoluble fiber is a rough, indigestible form of plant material that helps digestive wastes move through your colon. Soluble fiber, which turns into a jelly-like substance in your intestinal tract, adds moisture to stools and keeps them soft. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grain cereals or breads, raw vegetables and fruits. Oatmeal, dried beans, citrus fruits, apples and pears are rich in soluble fiber. If eating a variety of high-fiber foods and increasing your intake of liquids don’t restore your usual bowel activity, talk with your health-care provider about supplements or treatments for relieving constipation.