If you’ve experienced constipation, then you know just how frustrating and uncomfortable it can be. The dark moments of constipation can leave you feeling bloated, lethargic, and frankly, pretty desperate! Luckily, science shows that your diet can reduce constipation, which is something that we have the power to change.
That means, for those with constipation, relief may be found as close as your local grocer. Hundreds of foods and many high fiber products can help you relieve constipation, the good old-fashioned way. Keep reading to learn about the best foods to relieve constipation, prevent it, and even promote regularity!
When it comes to constipation, the 3 most important things to keep in mind are fiber, water and exercise. Increasing your physical activity, fiber, and water have all been extensively proven to relieve and prevent constipation.
Moving your body through the day also promotes movement through your digestive tract (Learn more about this and other natural remedies for constipation here). While fiber helps to bulk your stool and produce "healthier" poops. Water and fluids help the fiber work better and decrease dehydration (a known culprit for constipation). This is key to remember, because as you add more fiber in your diet it is vital to drink plenty of water too!
Many foods are notorious for relieving constipation (prunes, we’re looking at you!), and unsurprisingly, among the most effective, are foods with a high fiber content.
Fun fact – fiber is found only in plants, and all plants have fiber. This means that meat and dairy products don’t have any fiber!
Fiber is defined as the edible parts of a plant that cannot be digested. Studies show that fiber can reduce constipation significantly, especially if you aren’t getting enough fiber in the first place. So, for those who don’t eat their fruits and vegetables, adding more fiber into your diet is the best place to start!
Another thing to consider - there are two main players when it comes to fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber on its own isn’t effective in reducing constipation. While soluble fiber in its lonesome can relieve constipation. And to complicate things even further – a mix of both insoluble and soluble fibers is even more effective than soluble fiber alone. While this may seem confusing, many fibrous foods naturally contain a good mix of soluble and insoluble fiber.
On the daily, the average Canadian woman needs 25 grams of fiber and the Canadian man needs 38 grams of fiber. In reality, the average Canadian is getting about half that amount. That goes to show that – as a nation – we need more plants in our diet!
Whole grains are an amazing source of fiber, making them a great choice to help regulate the bowels. As a matter of fact, research has found that whole grain rye bread is better than wheat bread and laxatives for relieving constipations. This is due to arabinoxylan, the main type of fiber in rye, which helps to keep food moving through the intestine.
Another superstar bread is Ezekiel bread, made of sprouted whole grains and legumes. This bread provides a lot of fiber as compared to others on the market. Other whole grains, such as those in whole wheat bread and pasta, oats, and bran flake cereals, are also great for adding fiber into your diet and reducing constipation.
Lentils, beans, soybeans and chickpeas. All beans deliver over 10g of fiber per cup serving and provide a great mix of soluble and insoluble fiber. This makes them a great option for constipated folk. Many others, like chickpeas, lentils, and peas provide over 5g of fiber per serving, making them a great option too.
Not to mention, certain legumes like chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans and soybeans have prebiotic fiber. Prebiotics essentially act as “food” for the good bacteria in your gut and promote gut health. Many functional gut disorders, such as IBS and chronic constipation, have been linked (unsurprisingly!) to gut health. So prebiotic fiber could be a real win-win for people who experience constipation from those conditions!
An easy (and delicious) way to add more legumes to your diet is to try a lentil or chickpea hummus!
Pears and apples with the skin on are the gold standard for high-fiber fresh fruits. With the skin, an average pear provides between 5 to 6 grams of fiber. Berries and citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, are also particularly high in fiber.
But hands down, the best fruit for constipation is prunes. Fresh plums don’t provide much fiber, but dried plums, also known as prunes, provide 12g of fiber per cup. They also contain sorbitol, a type of sugar, that is commonly (and powerfully) referred to as “nature's laxative.” However, prunes are also very high in sugar, so they come at a price and are not a good option for people with diabetes.
An easy and tasty way to add more fruit to your diet is to have a serving of fruit at breakfast time. Think about it – yogurt and berries, apple pancakes, a side of fresh orange slices. Sounds just like a slice of heaven!
Greens, such as spinach, brussels sprouts and broccoli are arguably the best veggies for fiber. As an added bonus, they are also a great source of Vitamin C – which is vital for a healthy immune system – as many of us now know after living through a pandemic.
Surprisingly, potatoes and sweet potatoes with the skin on are also a great source of fiber, respectively providing 3g and 4g of fiber per potato. Jerusalem artichoke is also a great source of fiber. These artichokes contain inulin, which is another example of a prebiotic fiber.
A great standard practice to add more veggies to your diet is to fill half of your dinner plate with vegetables, and the other half with protein and starches.
Nuts & Seeds:
Certain nuts, such as almonds, pecans and peanuts provide more fiber than other nuts. Seeds, such as buckwheat, chia, flax, sesame and poppy seeds, are also a great source of fiber. For example, a 20g serving of Chia seeds contains 6.9g of fiber.
To get your fill of fiber, try adding a tablespoon of Holy Crap Cereal to your one of your favourite meals. Loaded with all of the super seeds - chia seeds, buckwheat and hemp hearts - one serving of Holy Crap cereal provides 8g of fiber. The fiber in Holy Crap also has prebiotic capabilities – helping to promote that good gut health we all hope and dream of. Add holy crap to smoothies, on top of salads or in oatmeal. Or better yet, make a new creation and share it with us! For more recipe inspiration, check out our recipe page.
Constipation can be beyond frustrating at the best of times. At the worst of times, it can feel hopeless. But it’s important to try to keep perspective and attempt different strategies (alongside the help of a healthcare professional) until you find what works best for you.
One last thing to consider is maintaining a routine. Having a regular eating schedule can train your body to expect food and prepare for digestion and elimination at predictable times. The notion being, when you stick to a schedule, your bowel sticks to a schedule.
Hopefully these tips and tricks can help get things in motion and guide you towards smoother, less painful days!
Government of Canada. (2019). Fiber. Health Canada. Retrieved from:https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/nutrients/fibre.html
Holma, R., Hongisto, S. M., Saxelin, M., & Korpela, R. (2010). Constipation is relieved more by rye bread than wheat bread or laxatives without increased adverse gastrointestinal effects.The Journal of nutrition,140(3), 534–541. https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.109.118570
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2018). Eating, Diet & Nutrition for Constipation. Retrieved from:https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/eating-diet-nutrition
Ramnani, P., Gaudier, E., Bingham, M., van Bruggen, P., Tuohy, K. M., & Gibson, G. R. (2010). Prebiotic effect of fruit and vegetable shots containing Jerusalem artichoke inulin: a human intervention study.The British journal of nutrition,104(2), 233–240. https://doi.org/10.1017/S000711451000036X
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U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2018). Seeds, chai seeds, dried. FoodData Central. Retrieved from:https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170554/nutrients
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