Constipation can make you feel bloated, distended, anxious and downright miserable. And for some people, its uncomfortable symptoms can interfere with normal life. The good news: making simple lifestyle changes – especially dietary ones – is often all it takes to get your system back on track.
All fibre not the same
Not eating enough fibre often causes constipation and, not surprisingly, adding more of it to your diet can ease, and prevent, the condition. Not all fibre is created equal, though, when it comes to regularity.
Plant foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses and nuts contain two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble, in varying amounts. Soluble fibre, plentiful in oats, oat bran, pysllium (e.g. Metamucil, psyllium-enriched bran cereals) and barley, slows digestion and helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Foods like wheat bran, whole grains, nuts, and many fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, contain mainly insoluble fibre. It’s this type of fibre that retains water and adds bulk to stool, helping it pass more quickly through the intestines.
By keeping your bowel habits regular, eating more insoluble fibre can help reduce the risk of haemorrhoids, diverticulosis, and possibly colon cancer.
How much fibre?
Women aged 19 to 50 are advised to consume 25 grams of fibre each day; men require 38 grams. As we get older and our calorie requirements decrease, so do our fibre needs. After 50, women need 21 grams daily and men, 30 grams.
To ensure your daily diet provides enough, you need to make strategic food choices.
Bran vs. fruits and vegetables
Many people are successful at treating constipation by adding a concentrated source of insoluble fibre, such as wheat bran, to their diet. Two tablespoons of raw wheat bran have 4.5 g of fibre, one cup of bran flakes contains about 5 g and one-half cup of 100 percent bran cereal delivers 12 grams.
But don’t stop there. I also encourage my clients to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables to boost overall fibre intake.
Fruits high in insoluble fibre include apples, berries, figs, kiwifruit, mango, oranges and plums. When it comes to vegetables, bell peppers, carrots, green beans, parsnips, peas and spinach are good sources.
Other decent sources of insoluble fibre include whole-wheat pasta (4 to 6 g fibre per cup, cooked), freekeh (10 g fibre per cup, cooked) quinoa (5 g fibre per cup, cooked), brown rice (3.3 g per fibre cup, cooked), 100% whole grain breads (look for 2 to 3 g fibre per slice) and nuts and seeds.
Increase your fibre intake gradually, over a period of weeks, to prevent bloating, cramps or gas. Drink more water as you add fibre to your diet; fibre needs to absorb water in order to work effectively.
8 foods that help keep you regular
While they can’t beat a bowl of 100% bran cereal for insoluble fibre content, the following foods are great sources of the stuff (plus, they’re loaded with other beneficial nutrients).
One-half of an avocado supplies almost 7 g of fibre, two-thirds of it insoluble. Even better, adding avocado to your salad, smoothies or toast also delivers plenty of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, folate and potassium.
Blackberries & raspberries
These berries rank above others when it comes to fibre, serving up 8 g per cup. And with only 65 calories per cup, both types supply one- third of a day’s worth of vitamin C and plenty of anthocyanins, phytochemicals thought to guard against heart disease, certain cancers and dementia.
According to a 2010 study from Taipei Medical University, eating two kiwifruits daily for one month significantly improved constipation symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome.
Two kiwifruit have 4 g of fibre along with calcium, potassium and more than a day’s worth of vitamin C.
All pulses are packed with fibre – and protein, folate and magnesium – but not all provide as much insoluble fibre as pinto beans do. One-half cup is packed with 8 grams of fibre. Chickpeas and navy beans are also good sources of insoluble fibre.
Four prunes (dried plums) contain nearly three grams of fibre, plus plenty of vitamins A and K and potassium. Prunes also contain sorbitol and dihydrophenylisatin, natural plant laxatives.
One-half cup of peas delivers 4 grams of fibre, along with potassium, magnesium, vitamin K and one-quarter of a day’s worth of folate. Snow peas are another good source of fibre.
One large baked sweet potato (with skin) has 6 g of fibre, two-thirds of it insoluble. It’s also an outstanding source of beta-carotene and potassium, a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure.
Whole grain rye bread
Thanks to its fibre content, eating whole grain rye bread has been shown in four studies to relieve constipation in healthy and constipated adults. Not the fluffy refined type of rye bread, though. Look for dense rye bread made with rye meal, rye kernels and/or whole grain rye flour.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.