Although food doesn't really clean your colon -- your body generally does a fine job of that on its own -- choosing the right foods can help keep digestion running smoothly, possibly preventing constipation. High-fiber foods may be particularly helpful in this department, as can those with live bacteria cultures. You may experience gastrointestinal distress by introducing large amounts of these foods into your diet at once, so add them gradually to let your body adjust.
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The Colon-Cleansing Myth
Despite the claims of numerous supplements on the market, your colon is not encrusted with rotting food. The organ houses an army of bacteria that metabolize waste, and frequent cell turnover of colon walls also helps prevent any buildup. That said, dietary habits do affect bowel movements, and the right foods can help waste pass through your system more quickly. The most effective options also tend to be high in vitamins and minerals, so including them in your diet is a smart choice regardless of cleansing ability.
At the grocery store, look for foods high in insoluble fiber, which adds bulk to stool and speeds the passage of food through your digestive tract. At 11.3 grams of insoluble fiber per 1/2 cup, wheat bran is an especially rich source; look for bran-based cereals for a serious fiber boost. Kidney beans are also rich in insoluble fiber, containing 5.9 grams per 1/2 cup, cooked. Other good sources include flaxseeds, whole-wheat spaghetti and green peas. Although no specific recommendations for insoluble fiber exist, you should eat 14 grams of total dietary fiber for every 1,000 calories, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.
Foods that contain probiotics -- healthy bacteria -- can help you digest and eliminate your food. You'll find probiotics in fermented items such as yogurt, miso, sauerkraut and kimchi, a type of spicy Korean pickled cabbage. Although some companies market their yogurt to highlight the digestive benefits, any variety that contains active cultures will do the trick -- there's no need to spend more money on a fancy package.
Although you can't literally flush out your system, drinking plenty of liquids can help prevent constipation, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Any fluids -- including tea or juice -- will help, but the university recommends water as the top choice. If you don't enjoy the taste of plain water, add a spritz of lemon or lime for added flavor. To stay well-hydrated, women should drink about 9 cups and men about 13 cups of fluids per day.
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Colon Cleansing: Don't Be Misled by the Claims
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Fiber
- Harvard University Health Services: Fiber Content of Foods in Common Portions
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- Go Ask Alice: Will Probiotic-Enriched Yogurt Aid Digestion?
- University of Rochester Medical Center: Why Your Body Needs Water