If you’re feeling a little withdrawn, you’re not alone. Constipation is one of the leading gastrointestinal complaints in America — approximately 63 million people in the United States suffer from the condition, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Probably most of us have experienced constipation, a condition that becomes more common as we age.
In layman’s terms, constipation is the inability to completely or regularly empty your bowels — when fecal matter (stool) moves through the large intestine (colon) too slowly. Three or fewer bowel movements per week is an indicator of constipation. Sandra J. Arevalo Valencia, MPH, RDN, Director of Community Health & Wellness at Montefiore Nyack Hospital remains unresolved and says constipation can lead to increased discomfort and pain as well as the development of hemorrhoids. Yeah, that’s definitely no fun.
While there are myriad causes of constipation, including stress and the use of certain medications, in many cases the origin can be diet-related. Sometimes this condition can be improved by adding certain foods to the diet by eliminating or reducing the intake of others. These nutritional steps can help clear this internal congestion.
Eat and drink more of it
Take inspiration from the Scandinavians and stuff your sandwich between slices of savory rye bread. A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that people with constipation who consumed rye bread daily had an improvement in defecation frequency and ease of bowel movements compared to white bread. “The added fiber helps form the poop, which gives them weight so they can get out of your system more easily,” says Arevalo Valencia. She warns that a low-fiber diet common in America could also be a trigger for constipation. Therefore, it’s important to reach for higher-fiber options like rye bread. For additional fiber, look for options that list whole rye flour/meal as the first ingredient.
Yes, it’s true, eating dried prunes (aka prunes) can lead to more productive bathroom visits. A study in the journal Clinical Nutrition discovered that healthy adults with reported infrequent bowel habits and who typically consumed low amounts of fiber experienced increased stool weight and frequency from daily consumption of 80 grams of prunes — about 8 dried fruits. Prunes are likely to help treat constipation as they are high in fiber and sorbitol. The latter is a type of indigestible sugar that draws water into the intestines to facilitate intestinal flow, giving this delicious dried fruit its natural laxative properties.
sauerkraut and yogurt
“It’s good to increase the number of good bacteria in your digestive system in order to have more regular bowel movements,” notes Arevalo Valencia, who adds that fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt are high in these beneficial probiotic bacteria. Interestingly, research in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating high-fiber rye bread along with a probiotic-rich yogurt helped reduce gastrointestinal distress like gas, which is often associated with increasing fiber intake as a way to relieve constipation to be brought.
These tiny seeds are a good source of gel-forming soluble fiber. By resisting fermentation and remaining relatively intact during passage through the colon, these soluble fibers increase stool water content, resulting in bulky, soft, and easy-to-pass stools. Chia seeds are very versatile and can be added to many foods, significantly increasing the fiber content without much effort. They work well when sprinkled on cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt.
According to a 2021 article in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, people with chronic constipation fed 2 kiwis daily experienced increased spontaneous bowel movements, improved stool consistency, and less effort required to have a bowel movement. The fiber and high water content of kiwi can also help get things moving.
When the colon is dehydrated, it cannot supply enough water to form stool properly, resulting in hard stools and more constipation. Note: As you add more high-fiber foods to your diet, be sure to drink plenty of fluids to allow fiber to flow properly through your digestive tract. “The added water combines with fiber to make the poop softer and easier to pass,” says Arevalo Valencia. Foods high in water, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, can also improve fluid status.
Eat and drink less of it
Heavily processed foods. According to Arevalo Valencia, the big problem here is that these foods tend to crowd out high-fiber foods from your diet and can have an unfavorable effect on the bacteria in your gut. Processed foods tend to be high in fat and low in fiber, a combination that puts strain on the colon.
Alcohol. Beer, wine and spirits act as a diuretic and can contribute to constipation. And when someone drinks alcohol, they’re also likely to use less water.
Fatty meat. If you’re prone to constipation, go easy on the sausage and marbled steaks. Some research suggests that too much saturated fat can contribute to constipation. And typically, people who eat a lot of fatty meat pair it with a low fiber intake. But always remember: certain foods (and how much of them you eat) affect people’s gut function differently.
Note: Constipation can indicate a more serious gastrointestinal condition, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other health problems like cancer. If your constipation lasts for several days or isn’t responding to dietary remedies, it may be time to call your doctor.
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