When you suffer from constipation, you certainly are motivated to eat foods that will get your system moving. Typically this means increasing your level of dietary fiber by eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. In this article we will discuss how fiber helps, what foods will help jump-start your system and how to watch out for foods that might make you too gassy.
The most important aspect of eating to ease constipation is to slowly increase your intake of dietary fiber. Fiber is the part of plant material that we cannot digest. Fiber is helpful for constipation because it serves to both add bulk and softness to the stool. Soluble fiber absorbs water and binds with fatty acids, forming a gel-like substance that keeps stools soft. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, thus providing bulk and moisture to the stool. Since both types are found in all plant foods, it is not necessary to try to remember which foods are a good source of which type of fiber. Just focus on eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grains. For the treatment of constipation, it is recommended that you increase your fiber intake to 20 to 25 grams per day.
Fruits for Constipation
Many fruits are an excellent source of dietary fiber, along with a whole host of other nutritional benefits. Although there is no hard science in regard to this, people with constipation predominant IBS (IBS-C) report that eating fruits that have been cooked, stewed or dried is less irritating to their intestinal system. Here are some good choices:
Vegetables and Legumes for Constipation
Vegetables are also a wonderful source of many important nutrients in addition to providing a healthy dose of dietary fiber. As is the case with fruits, you may find that your body responds in a more comfortable way to cooked rather than raw vegetables.
- Beans: Canella, garbanzo, kidney, navy and pinto
- Greens: Chard, kale and spinach
- Vegetables: Artichoke hearts, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, green beans, peas and squash
Whole Grains and Constipation
Buyer beware! Many products are advertised as being “multi-grained”, but are actually poor sources of whole grains. The only way to know for sure is to carefully read the ingredient list. In order to be a good source of whole grains, the very first word in the list should be the word “whole.”
Another caution should be applied to whole wheat products that contain bran. For some people, bran is irritating to the digestive system (See "Why Bran Is Bad for IBS"). You should carefully assess your body’s ability to tolerate bran before using it as a source of dietary fiber.
Here are some examples of whole grains that may help to ease constipation:
- High fiber breakfast cereals (look for at least 8 grams of fiber per serving)
- Whole grain breads
- Brown rice
Flaxseed for Constipation
Flaxseed are the tiny, golden seeds from the flax plant. There is research to support that incorporating ground flaxseed into your diet can ease constipation, bloating and abdominal pain. Flaxseed also serves as an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as of other important vitamins, minerals and phytoestrogens.
Ground flaxseed is relatively easy to find in grocery stores, but if you can't find it, grinding flaxseed is a simple process with the use of a small coffee grinder. Flaxseed has a nice nutty, taste and can be sprinkled on cereal or yogurt, added to baked goods, and mixed into smoothies. Whenever you eat flaxseed, be sure to drink a large glass of water so as to make the most of flaxseed’s stool-softening benefits.
Watch Out for Gassy Foods
Unfortunately, some of the foods that get your system moving also have a reputation for contributing to intestinal gas and bloating. If you find that you are experiencing a lot of gas, educate yourself as to which foods have a reputation for being gassy or non-gassy, as well as learn about FODMAPs, a scientific way of looking at foods. The following articles will help:
You may also find that taking a probiotic supplement helps to reduce gas and bloating:
Essential Reading from Dr. Barbara Bolen, Your IBS Guide:
Lembo, A. & Camilleri, M. Chronic Constipation New England Journal of Medicine 2003 349:1360-1368.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.