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10 Best Foods To Help With Constipation & What To Avoid 2023
Constipation is difficulty or inability to have regular bowel movements. If you experience these symptoms, it may be constipation:
- Three or fewer bowel movements per week
- Hard stools
- The feeling of retained stool in the rectum
While constipation may be a rare occurrence of an uncomfortable and sluggish digestive tract, others suffer from it chronically, like those with irritable bowel syndrome. Some simply do not drink enough fluids.
Keeping your digestive system and bowel habits in healthy balance means:
- Staying physically active
- Drinking enough water
- Getting enough probiotics
- Meeting your daily fiber intake
- Limiting foods that can cause constipation
Certain foods, like high-fiber foods, can act as natural laxatives to help relieve constipation. If you’re looking to get your bowel movements back on track, read on to learn more about foods to help with constipation and which ones you should avoid.
Best Foods For Constipation
- Healthy oils
- Aloe vera
- Whole grains
- Probiotic foods
Foods That Help With Constipation
Around 20% of North America’s population struggles with constipation, and it has many causes like poor diet, intestinal blockages, and problems with your nervous system, hormones, or muscular system.
If you’re wondering what to eat when constipated, there are many helpful options, like water-rich and fiber-rich foods. Dietary fiber can help prevent constipation, improve gut health, and promote bowel movements.
If you eat the following natural foods to help with constipation, you may find the relief you’re looking for:
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Fruit can provide many health benefits, including being a good source of water, vitamin C, fiber, and other nutrients. This is one of the best foods to help with constipation in adults, who should consume 22 to 34 grams of fiber per day.
Prunes are one of the top dried fruits to help ease constipation. Besides having 12.4 grams of fiber per cup of pitted prunes, they also contain sorbitol. Sorbitol is a natural alcohol that doesn’t break down, so your body will want to eliminate it as if it were a foreign body.
Prune juice is another choice when trying to move things along. This study shows that prune juice significantly reduced chronic constipation without unwanted side effects like diarrhea.
A few other fruits are rich in soluble fiber, like figs, avocados, pears, kiwis, and apples. You may want to include the fruit peel when you can since it can act as a natural laxative. For example, one medium apple with its skin contains over four grams of fiber, but without its skin has around two grams.
There are many benefits to healthy oils, including fiber for healthy digestion. Adding them in homemade salad dressing, a fruit smoothie, or baking with them are a few ways to consume them rather than drink them straight.
A four-week study of 50 patients experiencing constipation shows that consuming just four milliliters of flaxseed or olive oil daily was an effective treatment for their constipation. Similar options are coconut oil and cod liver oil.
One of the main components of aloe vera is barbaloin which increases the amount of water in the large intestine and acts as a natural laxative that may be able to treat constipation.
This plant is also an excellent prebiotic food source and helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut microbiome. You can include aloe vera in your diet by buying food-grade bottles of its gel and mixing it in water or adding it to your smoothie. It’s also in the produce section of grocery stores, and after simple preparation, you can scoop out the gel for consumption.
Whole grains contain soluble and insoluble fiber, which help to improve digestion and soften stools. They have more fiber compared to refined grains and can help decrease the odds of constipation.
Types of healthy whole grains to add to your meal plan are:
- Wheat bran
- Rye bread
If you’re looking for a fiber boost to ease constipation, legumes have a high fiber content. One cup of baked beans has over 13 grams of fiber to help encourage digestion.
Other types of legumes to try are:
- Black-eyed peas
- Pinto beans or refried beans
- Black beans
Artichokes are the immature flower buds of a thistle plant. With over six grams of fiber per artichoke, it makes a great addition to a gut-friendly diet.
Studies show that eating probiotic-enriched artichokes daily may reduce the symptoms of constipation.
You can cook a fresh artichoke on your own or buy them frozen and jarred for convenience.
Whether you’re eating them alone as a snack or sprinkling them on a salad, seeds can make an easy addition to your diet and come with many health benefits, including omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber that is essential for digestion to function smoothly.
You can eat them raw or roasted, and here are a few kinds to try:
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Eating nuts like pecans, peanuts, and cashews can help boost your gut health with their healthy fats and fiber. Research shows that eating almonds daily may be a safe and effective way to significantly improve constipation.
Plant foods like vegetables contain prebiotic fiber, which is essential for helping the beneficial bacteria in probiotics to flourish. Vegetables are one of the best foods to help with constipation during pregnancy since they also contain essential vitamins and minerals like magnesium, folate, and B vitamins.
If your goal is to have more bowel movements on a regular basis, choose your vegetables carefully. While they all can benefit your overall health, some are much lower in fiber than others. Here are some of the high-fiber vegetables to choose from:
- Sweet potatoes
- Brussels sprouts
Foods rich in probiotics help provide your digestive tract with beneficial bacteria to soften stools, alleviate constipation, and keep your system moving. These foods have live microorganisms that promote gut health and keep the bad bacteria from overpopulating.
A few examples of probiotic-rich foods are:
- Pickled cucumber
Foods To Avoid When Constipated
Just as many foods help keep your digestive tract running smoothly, several foods can cause constipation and slow down gut transit time.
If you want to regulate and maintain healthy bowel movements, avoiding these foods may help. If you think one of these may be the culprit behind your constipation, try eliminating it from your diet for a week or two and see if you feel any differently.
Constipation is a present complaint for many of those who have a milk allergy or are intolerant to a compound in dairy products, like lactose. Homogenized, pasteurized dairy contains little to no fiber and can slow down elimination rates.
Studies show that children can have an improvement in their constipation when they begin a dairy-free diet, due to milk allergies or some lactose intolerance.
Common dairy products are cheese, milk, sour cream, ice cream, and butter. Since many processed foods add in dairy, like snack bars and chips, you’ll need to check the ingredient label to know if it’s in there.
If you can’t see yourself parting with dairy, aim for dairy products that have gone through fermentation and have probiotics, such as kefir and Greek yogurt. Beware of the high-sugar amount that can be in store-bought yogurts, as this can send your bowel-regulating efforts backward. High carbohydrate levels can make constipation worse.
There are many dairy-free alternatives available, even for sour cream and cheese. Replacement of regular cow’s milk with oat milk, almond milk, or coconut milk can meet the need for cooking and baking while promoting healthy digestion.
Packaged And Processed Foods
Foods that go through processing and are pre-packaged for convenience can be harmful to your health and cause inflammation. The products often come with loads of refined sugar, allergens, and sodium that can increase the risk of constipation.
Filling up on snacks like cookies, crackers, and snack cakes instead of nutrient-dense foods can lead to inadequate fiber intake. Here are a few ideas for substituting common processed foods with gut-friendly options.
- Replacing refined sugars with fruit’s natural sugar and high water content is a healthier option overall
- Your digestive system may benefit from replacing white wheat bread instead
- Swap out refined pasta with chickpea or lentil pasta for a fiber-filled option
- Replace white rice with brown rice to receive all its nutrients and fiber intact
If you let them, fried foods can end up replacing the nutritious foods that promote enough fiber intake and healthy digestion, like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. They usually are not fried in healthy oils but in highly processed oils lacking in nutrients.
For example, some foods fried in unhealthy fats are:
- French fries, hash browns, onion rings, and tater tots
- Breaded meats like fish and chicken
Fried foods can be hard to digest and are often low in fiber, water, and other essential nutrients you need to make a well-balanced meal. In addition, they may cause gut inflammation, and studies show that regular consumption can cause constipation.
Many fried foods are high in saturated fats, and these can lead to a significant increase in constipation.
The Bottom Line
Eating gut-friendly foods to help meet your daily fiber requirements can provide a safe relieving constipation remedy without relying on supplements. Drinking plenty of liquids helps fiber-rich foods work efficiently by hydrating the process of waste elimination. Being physically active daily and finding healthy ways to handle stress well can also help keep your digestive process moving.
Adding too much fiber to your diet — too quickly — can cause some stomach upset like bloating and gas. Speaking with a registered dietician can help you determine how much daily fiber content you need based on your gender, age, weight, and physical activity level.
If you’re experiencing constipation and it goes unresolved, or if you have unexplained persistent bowel changes, you may want to reach out to your healthcare provider to help rule out any major illness and get your digestive system back on track. Constipation can cause painful tears, hemorrhoids, and more unwelcome problems if left untreated.
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