Eat Fiber and Avoid Constipation


By Dr. Julia Lizy, MBBS (KEMU)

Eat Fiber and Avoid Constipation



Constipation afflicts upwards of 25% of the American population.

Possible symptoms are:

  • Less than 3 bowel movements a week

  • Incomplete evacuation of stool

  • Hard, dry stool that is difficult to pass

Several factors contribute to constipation. The most common one is poor eating habits.

Other causes include:

A low fiber diet is one of the most common cause of constipation. Therefore, getting a good amount of fiber in the diet can help to reduce constipation.

Eat Fiber and Avoid Constipation

What is Fiber?


Dietary fiber is that edible part of food items which cannot be digested. 

Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. Fiber supplements are also a viable option.

The two types of fiber

  1. Soluble fiber: this type of fiber is soluble in water. It forms a gel-like substance and can help the intestines do a better job absorbing nutrients. Soluble fiber can be found in beans, oats, rice bran, barley, and most vegetables and fruits.
  2. Insoluble fiber: this type of fiber can not be absorbed into water. It adds bulk to stools, helping them to pass easily through intestines.  Foods high in insoluble fiber are skins of fruits, vegetables, wheat bran, whole grains, and bran cereals.

As an added note, 80% of the B complex vitamins we need are manufactured as a byproduct of gut bacteria feeding on insoluble fiber.

So eat your whole grains, replenish the probiotics in your gut, and you will not need a vitamin supplement to get your B complex vitamins.


Eat fiber and avoid constipation

Eating a diet rich in fiber helps us to avoid constipation. However, to avoid excess gas, it is best to gradually increase fiber consumption. 


The academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that we get 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day.

Unfortunately, most Americans consume a lot of refined and processed foods that contain very little fiber, and find ourselves a victim of constipation, as well as numerous other health issues.

If we were wise, we would limit our intake of processed foods, replacing them with fiber rich foods.

How fiber reduces constipation

Fiber helps reduce constipation by decreasing transit time, the amount of time it takes for stool to proceed through the colon. 

Ideal transit time is 20 hours or less. Fiber decreases transit time by increasing the volume of stool, thus stimulating peristalsis, and by holding water in the stool. A moist stool is soft and slick, making defecation a breeze!

Some fiber rich foods have a laxative effect. For instance, some fiber found in citrus fruit and legumes is said to increase the beneficial flora of the gut. Bacteria can retain even more moisture than fiber.

In fact, a normal stool should be 50% or more bacteria by weight. The bacteria consume the waste, retain moisture, and promote a healthy bowel.

Besides helping to cure constipation, fiber also:

  • Decreases the risk of hypertension, heart disease and stroke

  • Lowers cholesterol

To avoid constipation we should eat at least four to five servings of fiber rich fruits and vegetables every day, plus choose whole wheat or whole grain breads and pastas and cereals.

Sources of Fiber

Here a list of some food items which are rich in fiber:

  1. Legumes: This includes a variety of items, including beans, peas and lentils. Lentils are a staple in the diet of many western and eastern countries.

    Lentils contain a lot of fiber, as well as beneficial proteins, and are a healthy food choice. Beans such as black beans and kidney beans are also a rich source of fiber.

  2. Vegetables: Vegetables are rich source of fiber. Notable among these are artichoke, broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.

  3. Fruits: Most fruits are fiber rich, including raspberries, prunes, pears, apples, avocados, strawberries and blackberries. Where applicable, eat the peal with the fruit, as it is rich in both fiber and nutrients.

  4. Grains: These are rich in dietary fiber. Unfortunately, when grain is milled into flour it is the common practice to remove the bran and germ, the very parts of the grain that contain fiber, vitamins and beneficial oils. So when choosing grain products, avoid white flour and choose whole grains.

    An example of this is rice. White rice is made by removing the husk (bran) and the germ (so it has a longer shelf life). Whenever possible, choose brown rice over white rice. Other food items in this category include rye, bran flakes, oatmeal and barley.

  5. Nuts and Seeds: These are also a good source of fiber. Nuts such as almond, pistachios, peanuts, cashews and walnuts are excellent, not only for their fiber, but also for their rich array of nutrients.

    Seeds include flaxseeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
    Flaxseeds are an especially effective constipation remedy. Just add a tablespoon or two to a few ounces of water, allow to sit for 45 seconds, and drink down.

    You also can use a coffee grinder to mill them, then sprinkle the powder onto oatmeal, cereal or other foods. Go easy at first and let your body get used to it. Overdoing it can result in diarrhea.

Benefits of a high fiber diet

  1. Maintain bowel health: A high fiber diet may help to reduce the risks of constipation and hemorrhoids.

  2. Normalize bowel habits: Fiber increases the weight and size of stools. Bulky stools stimulate the wave-like motion of the colon, called peristalsis, that moves stool along. In the case of loose stools it helps to solidify the stool, resulting in a more normalized bowel movement.

  3. Weight management: high fiber food  generally requires more chewing, which gives the stomach time to tell us that it is full. Foods containing fiber tends to be bulkier, yet have fewer calories. You spend more time eating, eat more, and lose weight!

  4. Helps with other medical issues: A diet rich in fiber helps to reduce cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels, and minimize the risk of heart disease.

The role of magnesium

Magnesium is a laxative mineral. It also helps muscles to relax.

Taking it before bedtime can help with a good night’s sleep. It also helps to relax a tense colon, helping to improve colonic action.

Although it is found in many food items, yet it is hard to get enough, even when we eat right. The reason is that current farming practices don’t replace magnesium lost from the soil.

This is one reason why some doctors and researchers are now recommending taking a daily magnesium supplement.

How does magnesium help with constipation relief?

  • It relaxes the bowel smooth muscles and helps to restore the smooth peristalsis rhythm, which helps to evacuate bowels.

  • It attracts water into the intestines and adds it to the stool to make it bulkier, softer and more slippery, thus easing constipation.

We can include more magnesium in our diets by eating more spinach, figs, nuts and seeds.

Conclusion:

Fiber rich food is a natural remedy to the problem of constipation.

By eating 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily, we can help to reduce our chances of constipation. Fiber is the healthiest type of food for bowels.

As fiber is increased, it is necessary to increase the water intake as well. Water is absorbed by fiber in the digestive tract to make stool bulkier and easier to pass. 

(Return from Eat Fiber and Avoid Constipation to What To Take for Constipation)

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