Food for Constipation

By Dr. Jeeno Jayan, MBBS

Food for constipation

Constipation is a common concern for many.

While it may be the side effect of medications, caused by stress, or the result of certain diseases, for most people, their constipation is a result of what they eat and drink.

Although laxatives are available for dealing with constipation, most are only for temporary use. For instance, stimulant laxatives irritate the gut as a way of artificially causing the colon to contract and eject stool.

Prolonged use of stimulant laxatives diminish the colon’s normal muscular function, which can result in chronic constipation.

Fortunately there are foods that can help. In this article I will discuss some of the foods that can incorporated into one’s diet as a way of treating or preventing constipation.


Fiber Helps to Relieve Constipation

Fiber-rich foods can help with constipation relief. There are a couple of reasons for this.

1. Fiber bulks up the stool, which stimulates peristalsis

Most of our food is broken down and absorbed into the body, leaving very little residue to be excreted. Fiber, on the other hand, passes through the digestive system largely undigested.

Where there is too little fiber, stool doesn’t have enough bulk to stimulate peristalsis, the wave-like contractions of the colon that moves stool along.

As a result, stool tends to stay longer in the colon, giving more opportunity for water to be extracted and for stool to become dry, hard and difficult to pass.

Fiber makes stool bulkier, which helps the colon to move it along.

2. Fiber is something like a sponge, holding moisture in the stool

Without fiber to hold in moisture, stool tends to be dry and hard.

Fiber helps to keep stool moist.

  • Non-soluble fiber passes through the colon as roughage that can hold onto moisture.

  • Soluble fiber combines with water to form a gel-like matter that mixes with stool to keep it moist and soft.

Types of Foods Rich in Fiber

  • Whole grains and bran, including oats, barley, brown rice and whole wheat.

  • Most vegetables and fruits are rich in fiber

  • Legumes, including lentils, peas and most types of beans 

  • Nuts and seeds

Examples of foods rich in fiber

  • A small unpealed pear contains 4.4 grams of fiber
  • A medium sweet potatoes contains 4.8 grams of fiber
  • An average sized artichoke contains 6.5 grams of fiber
  • A medium unpealed apple has 3.3 grams fiber

Note the amount of fiber in ½ cup of each of the following:

Kidney beans - 8.2 grams

Raspberries - 4 grams

Green peas - 4.4 grams 

Navy beans - 9.5 grams

Pinto beans - 7.7 grams

Prunes - 3.8 grams


These have been known to be a remedy for constipation for many years now. They are rich in fiber and have laxative properties.

Although prunes contain a good amount of fiber, they also contain a form of sugar called sorbitol that is not well digested, and helps with constipation relief.

A study done by the University of Iowa found that people who eat prunes or pitted plums saw more constipation relief than those who took certain types of commercial laxatives.

The fiber in vegetables

Leafy vegetables tend to be high in fiber

Fiber in vegetables can be found in the skin of fruit, in the stem and the leaves. The stalks of broccoli are high in fiber.

Dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, swiss chard, collard greens and spinach have a dual purpose. They are both high in fiber and also high in magnesium.

Taking supplemental fiber

For those who find it difficult to get enough fiber in the foods they eat, there is another option. There are numerous fiber supplements and laxatives on the market that can supply needed fiber.

Increase fiber intake slowly

Increasing the amount of fiber in our diets too rapidly may result in bloating, cramping and gas. Hence, the American Academy of Physicians recommends a gradual increase of fiber in one’s diet.

Foods Rich in Magnesium

Scientific studies have demonstrated that a lack of magnesium in one’s diet tends to promote irregularity. 

In a 2007 study published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition women whose diet contained the least amount of magnesium had a greater probability of constipation.

Therefore, increasing our daily intake of magnesium can help to prevent and treat constipation.

The US recommended daily allowance for magnesium.

Men 19 to 30 years - 400 mg

Men 31 and older - 420 mg

Women from 19 to 30 - 310 mg

Women 31 and older - 320 mg 

Foods high in magnesium

  • A medium baked potato with skin has 50 mg of magnesium
  • A cup of oatmeal has 55 mg of magnesium
  • Half a cup of cooked spinach contains 75 mg of magnesium
  • Two shredded wheat biscuits have 55 mg of magnesium
  • Half a cup of cooked lentils has 35 mg of magnesium

Nuts high in magnesium

  • An ounce of cashews has 75 mg of magnesium
  • An ounce of almonds contains 80 mg of magnesium
  • An ounce of peanuts contains 50 mg of magnesium
  • A tablespoon of creamy peanut butter has 25 mg of magnesium

Taking a magnesium supplement

It can be difficult to get enough fiber in the foods we eat. Fortunately, a magnesium supplement can help to meet this need.

  • Magnesium functions as a natural osmotic laxative that draws water into the colon. This helps to increase the moisture of stool, making it soft and slippery.

  • Magnesium also helps to restore normal muscle tone to a tense colon.

  • Since most Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diet, taking a magnesium supplement may result in numerous health benefits

Conclusion, food for constipation

Foods containing fiber and magnesium can be an effective alternative to taking a laxative.

Including certain food items in the foods we eat can therefore help to remedy constipation. Of course, staying hydrated is also important for healthy bowel movements. 

(Return from Food for Constipation to Foods that Relieve Constipation)

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