By Dr. Shrey Lakhotia, BDS
The food we eat plays an important role in proper bowel function. Let’s look at how foods affect constipation. Foods may be grouped loosely into various types based on how they are digested.
• Dairy products
• Red meat, poultry, and fish
• Bread, Cereals & Rice
Some foods tend to cause constipation, other foods may help to relieve constipation.
Oily fried foods like French fries, doughnuts, onion rings, and heavily breaded good foods like fish have a tendency to slow down the movement of the bowels. Potato chips cause delayed digestion leading to feeling of “fullness” that mirrors constipation. Butter contains high amounts of oil that can slow bowel transit times.
Milk and milk containing products like Cheese and ice cream are a common cause of constipation as they can act as a “binding” agent.
The enzymes naturally found in milk to help us digest it are killed during pasteurization. Since without these enzymes dairy proteins are difficult to digest, pasteurized dairy products tend to cause constipation.
Raw milk, on the other hand, still contains these needed enzymes, and is therefore more easily digested. When a person drinks a little raw milk when eating other dairy products, it provides enzymes to help digest it. Dairy products are also low in fiber.
Eating other fiber rich foods with dairy can help to prevent constipation.
These foods are usually made from white flour and white rice. They tend to constipate, since the fiber has been removed. Why is the bran removed? Because removing it gives a pleasing whiter look and lighter flavor.
When the bran is removed, the germ is naturally removed with it. When grains are milled, it is the oils located in the germ that causes the flour to go rancid. Removing the germ results in a much longer shelf life. It also means far less nutritional value.
Products containing white flour and white rice are a major cause of constipation, since they contain almost zero fiber.
These don’t have much fiber (or a lot of nutrients, for that matter). Sweet potatoes are a much better choice for both fiber content and nutrition. Sweet potatoes are almost a nutritional super food.
Meats don’t have any fiber and contain hard to digest proteins. Foods that are harder to digest stay in the colon longer. One of the colon’s functions is to take a soupy mix from the small intestines and turn it into more of a solid.
The longer that foods stay in the colon, the more water the colon extracts from them, and the dryer and harder they become. That is why eating large portions of meat can lead to serious constipation.
High in nutrients, most varieties of beans contain a good amount of fiber. Therefore beans can play an important role in regularity.
These are very low in fats and calories but are rich in fiber. The fiber helps in relieving constipation by:
For instance, broccoli and cauliflower have numerous health benefits. They are also a rich source of soluble fiber. Raw carrots are full of fiber and improve bowel movements.
Fruits are a natural source of soluble fiber, so they can help in relieving constipation. Pears function as natural laxatives and thus ease the movement of stool through the bowels. Fresh or dried peaches are packed with fiber.
The natural plant enzymes found in pineapple juice are believed to play a role in improved bowel function.
Foods rich in whole grains such as whole grain breads, oatmeal, bran cereal and whole grain pastas are a rich source of insoluble fiber.
Perhaps that is why many elderly people rely heavily on their daily bowl of All Bran or Bran Flakes to keep their bowels functioning.
Research studies show that the amount of magnesium in food sources is steadily dropping.
Close to 80% Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diets. Lab tests have revealed that those with chronic diseases often have a magnesium deficiency. This includes individuals who are afflicted with chronic constipation.
Trace minerals are also disappearing from the soil and from our food due to modern farming practices that rely heavily on chemical fertilizers and focus on yields instead of on nutrition. Over ploughing, massive erosion, stripping of the soil and rain runoff are also to blame for depletion of magnesium in the soil content.
Magnesium has an osmotic effect. It causes water to be retained in the lumen of the colon. This, in turn, causes stool to retain more moisture, resulting in softer, slicker stools.
When we don’t get enough magnesium in our food to balance out calcium, stools become dryer, harder, and more difficult to pass.
As a doctor, I am not alone in believing that most people would benefit from taking a magnesium supplement.
In fact, for many dealing with chronic constipation, getting an appropriate amount of magnesium may actually help to restore proper bowel function.
For those lacking in magnesium, taking a magnesium supplement may result in numerous health benefits.
In my opinion, the best magnesium supplement is one that also supplies valuable trace minerals.
Note: A magnesium supplement might interfere with prescription meds. If you have kidney disease, don't start on a magnesium supplement unless your doctor says it is ok.