Best Foods for Easing Constipation

6 Foods That Help Relieve Constipation Naturally

Constipation is a common issue affecting many adults. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 16% of adults and one-third of individuals over 60 experience constipation. Typically, constipation is defined as having three or fewer bowel movements per week, often accompanied by straining, discomfort, and dry or hard stools.

If you deal with chronic constipation, consult your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to identify the underlying cause. Meanwhile, consider incorporating these six foods into your diet to help manage constipation.

1. Ground Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber, which aid in regular bowel movements. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance that softens stools, while insoluble fiber adds bulk, making it easier to pass.

Research indicates that daily consumption of flaxseeds can improve bowel movement frequency and stool consistency. For better digestion, choose ground flaxseeds over whole ones.

2. Kiwi

Eating kiwis can be particularly effective in relieving constipation. Consuming the skin along with the fruit increases its fiber content. Studies show that eating two kiwis a day can promote regular bowel movements, even in individuals with constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-C). Kiwi helps by adding bulk to stools, speeding up intestinal transit time, and relaxing colon muscles. The enzyme actinidin in kiwi also supports smooth movement through the gastrointestinal tract.

3. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are known for their gel-forming fiber, which can significantly aid in constipation relief. When mixed with liquid, chia seeds form a gel that absorbs water, adding mass to stools and making them easier to pass. Just two tablespoons of chia seeds provide up to 10 grams of dietary fiber, meeting about one-third of the daily fiber requirement.

4. Oats

Oats and oat bran are excellent sources of soluble fiber, which helps soften stools and ease bowel movements. Unlike wheat bran, which may worsen constipation, oats are gentle on the digestive system. A nutritious bowl of oatmeal with added blueberries and chia seeds makes a high-fiber breakfast to kickstart your day.

5. Prunes

Prunes and prune juice are well-known remedies for constipation. They offer both fiber and sorbitol, a natural sugar alcohol with laxative properties. While prune juice lacks fiber, it still contains sorbitol, which can stimulate bowel movements. Start with three to five prunes or half a cup of prune juice to see if it helps induce a bowel movement by the next morning. However, be cautious with prunes if you’re sensitive to FODMAPs, as they can cause bloating or diarrhea in some people.

6. Coffee

Coffee can be an effective tool for managing constipation. The caffeine in coffee stimulates muscle contractions in the digestive tract, promoting movement. Additionally, coffee triggers the release of digestive hormones like gastrin and cholecystokinin (CCK), which aid in digestion. Warm beverages like coffee can also speed up stool movement due to their temperature.

Understanding Constipation

Constipation varies widely from person to person. While some may have three bowel movements a day, others might have three a week without discomfort. Irregular bowel movements can be influenced by diet, travel, medications, health conditions, and issues like pelvic floor dysfunction. If your constipation is due to one of these factors, dietary changes alone may not resolve the issue.

How Diet Impacts Constipation

Dietary fiber, found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, is crucial for managing constipation. Soluble fiber forms a gel that softens stools, while insoluble fiber adds bulk and speeds up transit time. Most American adults do not meet the recommended daily fiber intake of 25-38 grams. Gradually increasing fiber intake can help, but it’s important to do so slowly to avoid gas, cramps, and bloating.

Considerations for Managing Constipation

Identify the Cause: Addressing the root cause of constipation is essential. For example, if pelvic floor dysfunction is the issue, physical therapy may be more effective than increasing fiber intake.

Hydration: Drink plenty of fluids to help fiber move through the digestive system and soften stools. General guidelines suggest 11.5 cups of fluids per day for women and 15.5 cups for men, including water from food and beverages.

Consistent Eating: Regular meals help maintain the gastrocolic reflex, which moves food through the GI tract. Eating breakfast within an hour of waking up can be particularly beneficial.

Physical Activity: Exercise can promote bowel movements by accelerating content movement through the GI tract. A short walk after meals can support healthy digestion.

When to Seek Medical Advice

If constipation persists or causes significant discomfort, consult a healthcare provider. Whether it’s a new issue or a long-standing one, a professional can help identify the cause and suggest effective treatment options. Gastroenterologists and registered dietitians can provide personalized, evidence-based plans tailored to your needs

A Quick Review

Constipation, defined as having three or fewer bowel movements per week, affects a significant portion of adults, particularly those over 60. Incorporating specific foods into your diet can help manage this condition. Ground flaxseeds, kiwis, chia seeds, oats, prunes, and coffee each offer unique benefits that promote regular bowel movements. These foods provide various forms of fiber, natural laxatives, and stimulants that support digestive health. For persistent constipation, consult a healthcare provider to identify the underlying cause.

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