Most people don’t like to discuss constipation, but it’s a very common problem. Some of the symptoms include hard, dry, lumpy, and less frequent stools. If you typically have less than three bowel movements a week, a GI specialist may diagnose you with constipation. For many individuals, changing up food choices and choosing good eating habits can make a big difference. Foods higher in fiber can help your bowels work regularly.
Choosing Foods High in Dietary Fiber
Dietary fiber is beneficial to your health in different ways. Fiber can be useful for helping manage cholesterol and blood glucose levels. But for those suffering from constipation, fiber can help speed up the movement of stool through the digestive system. This helps encourage regular bowel movements. Healthcare professionals recommend consuming about 14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories. That comes out to about 25 grams of fiber per day for women, and 31 grams per day for men.
Good sources of dietary fiber include:
- Fruit Sources: apples, pears, and peaches with the skin on; prunes either dried or stewed; raisins, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.
- Nuts: unsalted almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts
- Seeds: sunflower seeds, flax and chia seeds, pumpkin seeds
- Vegetable sources: green peas, sweet potatoes, leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, broccoli, and pumpkin.
- Whole-grain sources: brown rice, whole-grain pasta, and bread, wheat bran and cereals with bran.
While you want to focus on eating foods high in fiber, you also want to avoid foods low in fiber. Foods that do not have adequate dietary fiber can contribute to constipation. Avoid foods low in dietary fiber such as white rice and white bread. Also stay away from foods made with white flour such as pasta, cereals, and baked goods.
Slowly Increase Fiber Intake
It’s important to increase your intake of fiber slowly. If you add it into your diet too quickly, it can cause bloating or abdominal discomfort. Take five or more days to slowly add more fiber to your diet. Increase your daily intake of fiber by only five grams per day. Do this until you reach the desired amount of fiber you want to maintain in your regular diet.
Combine High Fiber Foods with Liquid
Drinking more water and unsweetened beverages during the day can help keep stool soft. When the stool is softened, it can be easier to pass. You may try drinking prune juice as part of your daily regimen to help keep you regular. Increase your fluid intake along with your fiber. If you increase your fiber without balancing it out with enough fluids, your risk of constipation may increase. For some, starting the day with a warm beverage helps encourage bowel movements.
Read those labels!
Since you are changing your diet to include more dietary fiber, you will want to read food labels. Look at the nutrient label on the side of the container. The fiber content is under the heading “carbohydrates.” Your goal is to consume 100% or the total number of grams of fiber you need over the day. When choosing products:
- Choose foods that contain more than 5% of the daily value of dietary fiber per serving.
- High fiber foods will contain at least 20% of dietary fiber per serving.
Seek Medical Help If Constipation Persists
You can discuss dietary changes and fiber intake with a dietician or other medical professional. If constipation persists and dietary changes do not help, consult with a GI specialist who can make other recommendations and help develop an effective treatment plan.