Constipation Diet

By Dr. Julia Lizy, MBBS (KEMU)

Constipation Diet

Constipation is the number one gastrointestinal complaint, accounting for about 2.5 million doctor visits a year. Constipation may be characterized by the following:

  • Fewer than 3 bowel movements a week
  • Hard, dry stools
  • Straining and painful elimination
  • Incomplete evacuation of bowel

Constipation affects up to 25% of the American population. At one time or another most people experience constipation. Women and the elderly are more commonly affected.

Pregnant women are at an increased risk due to the pressure the uterus places on the intestines. Though constipation is usually not serious, it can be fatal when associated with other risk factors.

Do You Have Constipation?

To find out, ask yourself the following questions:

1.    Is passing stools difficult more than 25% of the time?

2.    Do you normally have fewer than 3 bowel movements a week?

3.    Do you have problems with incomplete evacuation of bowel?

4.    Are your stools often hard and lumpy?

If your answer is YES to one or more of these questions, than it may be time to put together an action plan to minimize the symptoms of constipation in a constipation diet.

Causes of constipation:

Many people who suffer from constipation are not sure what is causing it.

Here are the main contributors to constipation:

  • Not getting enough daily fiber

  • Not drinking enough hydrating fluids

  • Limited physical activity

  • Decreased contractions of the colon

  • Poor nutrition

  • Lifestyle changes

  • Traveling away from home

  • Laxative abuse

  • Loss of the reflex to defecate

  • Metabolic endocrine problems, such as hypothyroidism and hypercalcemia.

How diet affects constipation

fruites and veggies - constipation diet

Constipation diet - not eating a well balanced diet can result in constipation symptoms. 

Food is digested as it progresses through the digestive system. Water and nutrients are absorbed and waste product is formed. When the passage of stool through the colon slows down, more water being extracted from the stool, with the result that the stool becomes hard, dry and difficult to pass. 

Here are some ways our diet can slow down the passage of stool:

We don't get enough fiber

Fiber is needed in a constipation diet to add bulk to stool, and also serves as a sponge to hold in water. Insufficient dietary fiber can slow down stool transit time in the following ways:

  • Stool doesn’t have enough bulk for colon muscles to push against to move it along
  • Stool becomes dry and hard, making it more difficult to move along and eliminate

We become dehydrated

Not drinking enough liquid or having too many beverages like soda pop, alcohol and coffee may result in dehydration. When one is dehydrated even a little, the body will pull water from the colon to use elsewhere. 

Stool dries out, slows down, and is more difficult to pass. It is recommended that one drink 8 glasses of water a day to avoid dehydration.

We eat foods difficult to digest

Things like meat, eggs, dairy products, rich desserts and other sweets are a challenge to our digestive system, and tend to slow down transit time.

Diet to Overcome Constipation

Even as one’s diet can play a key role in causing constipation, diet can also help to reverse constipation. 

Most symptoms of constipation, including chronic constipation, can be treated by a balanced diet, proper physical activity and proper toilet habits.

Eating the right constipation diet can help stop those irritable, bloated feelings caused by intestinal blockage.

Foods for avoiding constipation

There are many dietary items which should be included in our constipation diet, as follows:

  • Eat fiber: A high fiber diet is needed to treat constipation. Fiber retains water, softens stools and eases evacuation.  A combination of soluble and insoluble fiber is needed to form soft, bulky stools. We should consume 30-35 grams of fiber each day. Our diet should include fiber rich foods such as raw vegetables, fruits, prunes, bran cereals and whole grain products.

  • Hydrate: Drinking water is necessary to keep things moving. Increasing our intake of water and juices makes a significant difference in breaking constipation’s grip.

  • Beans: Most beans and other legumes are high in fiber, including split peas, lentils, black beans, kidney beans. 

  • Whole grains: The healthiest types of grains are whole grains that include the bran and germ. Whole grains include whole wheat, rye, barley, buckwheat, corn and oats. Whole wheat and oatmeal are a nutritious way to start morning.

  • Fruits and Vegetables: Many fruits are natural laxatives and gently relieve constipation. Their fiber is easily absorbed. The best fruits for constipation include berries, papaya, oranges, apples, prunes and pears. 

Vegetables are also beneficial, especially when they are raw. Vegetables such as okra, cauliflower and spinach have the added benefit of lubricating the intestines and easing bowel movements.

Foods we should avoid

Foods that make one feel constipated and bloated should be avoided. 

These include food items that contain a lot of sugar, salt, trans fat and hydrogenated oils. Processed foods are loaded with these, and should be avoided.

Here are some of the food items that tend to cause constipation:

  • Foods with excessive sugar: cake, cookies, crackers and pastries are low in fiber and high in sugar, and increase the risk of constipation. People who regularly indulge in these generally have more of a problem with constipation.

  • Dairy products: milk, cheese, and ice cream are known to bind up the digestive system and cause constipation. They are rich in hard to digest fats and low in fiber.

  • Red meat: this is more difficult to digest, meaning it spends longer in the colon, giving more opportunity for water to be extracted. It also contains a lot of iron, another cause of constipation.

  • Fried foods: hamburgers, french fries and potato chips may also aggravate constipation.

  • Caffeinated drinks: tea coffee and hot chocolate are known diuretics, causing excessive water to be flushed out by the kidneys. The resulting dehydration can cause constipation.

The role of magnesium

Magnesium serves as a muscle relaxant, and can help to relax tense colon muscles. This can improve transit times.

Magnesium is also called the laxative mineral.  It draws water into the colon, resulting in moist, soft and easier to pass stool. Certain foods are rich in magnesium, including spinach, figs, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, and avocados.

Even when we eat right we may not get enough magnesium in our diet.

This is because chemical farming practices have left our soils with little magnesium. That is why some doctors and health practitioners are now recommending that people take supplemental magnesium.

Taking a magnesium supplement may result in numerous health benefits, including the restoration of normal bowel movements.

Other laxatives are habit forming, but not magnesium. This is why taking it regularly may provide long-term relief of constipation.

Conclusion, constipation diet

To stay healthy, our bodies need certain things to work properly.

To help our digestive system out, we should consume the right types of foods in the right quantities.

Changing our eating habits now may prevent a lot of problems both now and later.

(Return from Constipation Diet to Foods for Constipation)

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