Struggling with constipation is more than just uncomfortable, it’s downright awful. The feeling of distention, gas, and bloating while not being able to have a bowel movement causes irritability and stress, which can make constipation worse.
Luckily, there are ways to get your bowels going through diet and lifestyle changes. Incorporating certain foods into your menu can help you have a bowel movement and help your gut function efficiently.
What Role Does Nutrition Play in Relieving Constipation
Constipation is a bowel-movement-related disorder resulting in hard, rock-like stool that’s difficult to pass. Diet plays a big role in digestive health, including constipation.
High-fiber foods, prebiotics, and adequate hydration (from food and beverages) are essential for moving food through the digestive system.
Fiber is found in whole grains, starches, fruits, and vegetables. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are important for healthy bowel movements. Soluble fiber forms a gel and absorbs water; it also acts as a prebiotic, feeding good bacteria in your gut. Soluble fiber is found in legumes, wheat, potatoes, barley, rice, and rye. Insoluble fiber, found in the bran of wheat, helps promote intestinal transit, aka it helps move stool through your gut.
It’s important to remember that without drinking plenty of water, it doesn’t matter how much fiber you consume, you won’t have regular bowel movements.
7 Foods for Constipation
Focusing on incorporating high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as foods rich in prebiotics like fermented foods is a great way to get the ball rolling when you’re constipated. Here are the best foods for constipation, according to a dietitian.
Plums, prunes (dried plums), or any “P” fruit for that matter, are packed with fiber and prebiotics that create a laxative effect when eaten. Sorbitol (a sugar found in plums and prunes) acts as an osmotic laxative and holds onto water. This helps add water to your stool, making them softer and easier to pass.
Fruit juice, like pear, apple, or prune juice, is often prescribed with success to children for constipation.
Other fruits that promote bowel movements: peaches, pears, and apples
While avocados are perfectly paired with just about anything – they’re also chock-full of nutrients and fiber. One avocado contains around 13.5 grams of dietary fiber. That means one avocado will get you about halfway to your daily fiber needs.
Other high-fiber fruits: passionfruit, guava, raspberries, blackberries, and pomegranate
Oat bran is simply oatmeal that has not had the bran layer removed. The bran layer contains an abundance of beneficial nutrients including fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Oat bran is an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, as well as beta-glucan, a non-starchy polysaccharide – all of which improve the composition of gut bacteria and promote healthy bowel movements.
A review of studies found that oat bran can significantly increase stool weight and decrease constipation in participants with ulcerative colitis or celiac disease.
Other beneficial grains: wheat bran, oatmeal, barley, and rye
Kiwifruits have been well studied for their effects on constipation with positive results. Kiwifruits act as a prebiotic leading to positive changes in intestinal gut microbiota. In clinical trials on constipated adults, kiwifruits significantly increased bowel movement frequency. Kiwi is also high in fiber, polyphenols, and vitamin C. Vitamin C has been shown to microbial diversity in the gut.
Other fruits that improve gut microbiota: blueberries and bananas
Figs can be eaten both fresh and dried. They contain an abundance of antioxidants, polyphenols, polyunsaturated fatty acids, polysterols, and vitamins. Figs are considered a laxative food and have been shown to treat and reduce constipation.
A randomized, controlled trial compared the effects of flixweed and figs on irritable bowel syndrome with constipation. Researchers concluded that after four months of treatment, both fig and flixweed are useful treatments for IBS with constipation.
Other fruits similar to a fig: dried apricots, prunes, and plums
Flaxseeds are packed with dietary fiber and healthy fats. One tablespoon of whole flaxseeds contains 2.8 grams of fiber and 4.35 grams of poly- and monounsaturated fatty acids. The fiber in flaxseeds helps move waste through the gut and acts as a prebiotic to improve and diversify healthy gut bacteria.
A clinical trial on elderly patients with chronic constipation found that using flaxseeds daily for one month increased the incidence of bowel movements, reduced abdominal distention, and increased the diversity of gut microbiota.
Other seeds packed with fiber: hemp seeds and chia seeds
Fermented foods including kefir yogurt are rich in good bacteria that work to maintain the health of your digestive system. Kefir is a fermented milk yogurt beverage characterized by a strong and tangy taste. It can be consumed on its own or used in smoothies, cooking, and baking,
Research suggests consuming kefir daily could prevent constipation, however, you’ll have to try it to determine whether it’s a viable option for you.
Other fermented foods: kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, miso, tempeh, and unpasteurized kombucha.
How to Incorporate Gut-Friendly Foods Into Your Diet
Gut-friendly foods are abundantly available at any local marker. Here’s how to incorporate them into your regular menu:
- Make a parfait. Yogurt parfaits are a simple way to maximize nutrients, flavor, and textures in a single bowl. Layer up your favorite probiotic-rich yogurt with seeds, nuts, fruit, and granola.
- Try a grain bowl. Fiber found in whole grains and seeds like barley, farro, and quinoa, helps promote healthy digestion and bowel movements. Load your bowl with a grain base, then top with a protein, fresh or grilled veggies, avocado, and a dressing.
- Blend up a smoothie. Use kefir as your liquid base then balance out the tartness of the kefir with fiber-rich fruit including kiwi, blueberries, and mango.
- Step up your oatmeal. Instead of whole oats, try oat bran for a fiber boost. Take it a step further by sprinkling in a serving of flaxseeds, chia seeds, or hemp seeds for added fiber and healthy fats.
- Make a snack plate. Diversify your snack by creating a plate packed with fiber and prebiotics, Think nuts, cheese, crackers, fruit, and a yogurt-based dip.
If you’ve tried everything you can with diet to improve your constipation and nothing seems to work, it’s time to talk with a registered dietitian or other healthcare provider to discuss your options. It’s important to note that some of these food recommendations may be expensive. If that’s the case, store brands, frozen, or canned options may be more budget-friendly.
Other Constipation Considerations
- Drink plenty of water. Fluid is a vital factor for regular bowel movements. Aim to drink half of your body weight in ounces per day.
- When adding fiber, add more water. If you eat more fiber and don’t increase how much water you drink each day, you could end up more constipated than when you started.
- Get moving. Exercise, even walking, can help get your digestive system moving.
- Try massaging your belly with your fist to promote bowel movement.
- Reduce stress and focus on a routine.
While there’s not one food that can cause or cure constipation, a balanced diet is a large part in maintaining healthy bowel movements. Fiber-rich grains, fruits, and vegetables; probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods including yogurt and other dairy products may be beneficial for treating constipation.