Have you ? today? What about yesterday? If you answered ‘no’ to these questions, you may be looking for some constipation relief.
But now, it’s time to tackle the topic of food. We’re getting down to the nitty gritty of how what goes in affects what comes out. We’ll explore foods that can kickstart your sluggish system, give your bowels a gentle nudge, and encourage that long-awaited relief.
Hydration is key when it comes to regularity. Water is critical to survival, so much so that your body will leech the water out of your stool to use elsewhere. So if your BMs tend to be dry and hard to pass, hydration is a good place to start.
Water should be your go-to beverage. There’s nothing wrong with drinking other liquids too. But water should top the list each day. Generally, I recommend my clients drink ½ their body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for 75 ounces of water per day.
If you’re actively constipated, try slowly drinking a quart of water before you have breakfast. Drinking water first thing in the morning can encourage your bowels to move.
Herbal tea can have a relaxing and soothing effect. And warm liquids can help encourage intestinal contractions called peristalsis, which then move your stool along.
If you’re looking for constipation relief, consider anise tea or fennel tea. Both have a licorice-like taste and are thought to have a laxative effect.
You can find aloe vera juice in many health food stores. This juice comes from the aloe vera plant — the one you might use for burns. Drinking this juice may have a laxative effect.
Coffee is thought to stimulate peristalsis, those intestinal muscle contractions I mentioned above. For many people, that early cup of coffee can get things moving.
First, let’s start with what not to eat when you’re constipated. You’ll want to stay away from highly processed foods like chips and most packaged snacks, fast foods, frozen meals, hot dogs, and the like.
Your best bet is to stick with foods that are high in fiber and water, like fruits and veggies. Fiber needs vary by age and body type. But most adults should eat 22 to 34 grams of fiber per day. But if you’re not used to a higher-fiber diet, start slow. Adding too much fiber too fast can cause discomfort.
As you start adding more fiber into your diet, there are some specific go-to foods that can help with constipation above and beyond just your basic higher-fiber items.
Prunes, those wrinkly and delicious fruits, are a powerhouse when it comes to relieving constipation. Prunes are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. The soluble fiber can help increase stool weight. And the insoluble fiber (known as cellulose) can increase the amount of water in the stool.
But that’s not all! Prunes also contain sorbitol, a type of sugar alcohol that has a natural laxative effect for some people. While sorbitol is poorly absorbed by the body, it draws water into the colon, softening and stool. Additionally, prunes contain phenolic compounds that stimulate beneficial gut bacteria.
But if you’re on a low FODMAP diet, you’ll want to skip the prunes because sorbitol is a FODMAP. You might want to choose one of our next two featured fruits instead.
Don’t let their small size fool you — these fuzzy wonders are packed with fiber. In fact, each kiwi contains about 2.3 grams of fiber, 9% of the recommended daily intake. That’s some serious fiber power!
Multiple studies have highlighted the positive impact of kiwis on bowel movements. Even IBS patients experienced improved bowel habits and faster transit times just by eating 2 kiwis per day.
But the benefits of kiwis go beyond fiber. They contain an enzyme called actinidin, which is believed to play a role in enhancing gut motility. And kiwis have the added benefit of being low FODMAP!
When it comes to supporting a healthy digestive system, citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines are nature’s refreshing superheroes. The soluble fiber pectin, found abundantly in citrus fruits, is known to speed up colonic transit time and alleviate constipation. Citrus fruits also contain a flavanol called naringenin, which may contribute to their positive effects on constipation. And yes, citrus fruits are safe on the low FODMAP diet.
Spinach, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli not only offer a substantial amount of fiber, but are also excellent sources of folate, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
Greens add both bulk and weight to your stool, facilitating easier passage through your digestive system. Cooked spinach packs a fiber punch, with just one cup containing roughly 4.7 grams of fiber, fulfilling 19% of your recommended daily intake. Spinach is a good choice on the low FODMAP diet.
Brussels sprouts offer their fair share of benefits too. Just five sprouts can provide you with 14% of your daily fiber needs. Whether boiled, steamed, grilled, or roasted, Brussels sprouts make a delicious addition to your plate. Be careful if you are following the low FODMAP diet, as a typical portion of Brussels sprouts is high FODMAP.
And let’s not forget about broccoli, which offers 2.4 grams of fiber in a single cup. If you’re on the low FODMAP diet, broccoli can work. But make sure to eat the florets instead of the stalks.
These little wonders are a fantastic source of fiber, earning them a top spot among the most fiber-rich foods out there. Just one ounce of chia seeds provides 9.8 grams of fiber, meeting a whopping 39% of your daily needs.
The fiber content in chia seeds is a blend of 85% insoluble fiber and 15% soluble fiber. When these little seeds come into contact with water, they work their magic by forming a gel-like consistency. Once in the gut, this gel can help soften stools, making them easier to pass.
Chia seeds have a remarkable ability to absorb up to 12 times their weight in water, making them an excellent tool for adding bulk and weight to your stools. And chia seeds are a great choice on the low FODMAP diet.
Walnuts are a good source of fiber and come with an added bonus in the form of omega-3 fatty acids. These beneficial fats lubricate the intestinal walls, making it easier for stool to pass through and easing the discomfort of constipation. And if you’re worried about FODMAPs, walnuts are a good choice.
You’ve probably heard of probiotic supplements. But did you know there are also a range of probiotic foods available? Probiotic foods are naturally fermented and develop their own colony of beneficial bacteria. This bacteria enters your gut and adds to the population and diversity of your microbiome — and that is a very good thing.
A 2017 study showed promising results for the effects of kefir on preventing and reducing constipation in certain populations. Kefir is a fermented beverage typically made from milk. And because the lactose is broken down during the fermentation process, kefir is low FODMAP.
Another probiotic gem is sauerkraut, a tangy and fermented cabbage dish. Sauerkraut houses probiotic bacteria that can promote a healthy gut and potentially relieve constipation. In fact, a study conducted in 2016 discovered that just two tablespoons of homemade sauerkraut contain the same amount of bacteria as you’d find in probiotic supplements.
Eating the foods and beverages listed above can give you some relief from constipation. But it may take more than just a few nutritional tweaks to get things back on track for the long term.
If you have constipation — especially if it’s chronic — there’s a reason. It’s not just that you’re getting older, or whatever other rationalization you may have heard. Chronic constipation has a cause. But it’s not the same cause for everyone. That’s why it’s important to work directly with an experienced practitioner to figure out what that cause is and to address it.
For some clients in my practice, that solution involves a therapeutic diet like the low FODMAP diet, the SIBO diet, adjusting for food sensitivities, or something else. There’s no way to know the right solution for you until you know the underlying cause of your digestive issues. If you’re ready to dig in and figure it out, let’s talk!