Health & Wellness

Always Constipated? 20 Best Foods to Eat for Constipation

You know the feeling: You’re uncomfortably bloated, feel an achiness in your stomach or lower pelvic region, and experience difficult and infrequent bowel movements. Yep—we’re discussing an extremely common yet unpleasant topic here: constipation. While no one wants to talk or even think about being constipated, we’ve all experienced it at some point and know what a pain (no pun intended) it can be. The great news here is it’s typically possible to easily relieve this uncomfortable feeling by making minor adjustments to your diet. All you have to do is learn about the best foods to eat for constipation!

There are many great, nutritious foods you can eat to help prevent and even relieve constipation. But before we dive into the best options, let’s learn a bit more about what makes you constipated and how your diet impacts digestion.

Why Are You Always Constipated?

If you feel like you’re always constipated you may be suffering from chronic constipation. But to understand what constitutes constipation, we must first discuss what’s considered to be “normal.”

I am often asked by my patients what is “normal” in regards to elimination. Think about this: In healthy infants, it is “normal” to eliminate after every meal. Yet, the medical definition of constipation is fewer than three bowel movements a week.

The truth of the matter is that if you’re not having a well expelled, full bowel movement at least once daily, I believe you qualify as some form of constipated. If you’re not removing toxins from your system daily, you will not only feel the abdominal symptoms of constipation, but you may also find yourself very irritable, depressed over your tight waistline, and feeling unattractive.

If you are not eliminating once per day on average, something is amiss in your digestive system.

Many factors can contribute to constipation, which can sometimes make it difficult to diagnose a cause. When the source of your constant constipation isn’t clear, it is known as chronic idiopathic constipation.

Some risk factors for constipation include: [1]

  • Constipation tends to be more common in women than in men. Why? Well, researchers think this is related to the fluctuations in women’s hormones. Pregnant women often experience constipation, both due to hormonal changes and other bodily changes due to the growing fetus.
    Ladies, think about it: Have you ever noticed how your bowels slow prior to your menstrual period, then become loose around the start of your period? Guess what? This is a normal hormonal phenomenon. When your progesterone increases during the week prior to your cycle, your digestion is slowed in preparation for a possible baby—to provide the growing fetus with nutrients. Then when the lining starts to shed, progesterone drops, and loose stools commence removing the toxins that were stored during that week. When your digestion slows, it often also increases your irritability during that week. Moreover, your hormones’ impact on your digestive system also contributes to the bloating symptoms you often associate directly with hormones.
  • One of the most common causes that I find in those with slower bowels is dehydration. You must drink at least half your body weight in ounces of filtered water daily. And for every caffeinated beverage, you need to add another 8 ounces. When exercising, your hydration need also increases.
  • Poor diet. Eating an unhealthy diet that is lacking in vegetables and fruits and other healthy sources of both insoluble fiber and soluble fiber often lead to constipation and other health problems. See my list of the best foods to eat for constipation go get back on track with a healthier diet.
  • Older adults are more likely to experience constipation due to a variety of causes, including a more sedentary lifestyle, higher prevalence of other medical conditions and use of pharmaceutical medications that may cause constipation, and problems with ill-fitting dentures or tooth loss or trouble swallowing that result in a need to eat soft, low-fiber foods that are more chewable. However, keep in mind that constipation can occur at any age.
  • Lifestyle/level of physical activity. Not getting enough exercise and living a sedentary lifestyle can lead to constipation. The intestines are a muscle that contracts and releases, just like all of your other muscles. Gravity is important for normal bowel function, so if you aren’t moving your body, you aren’t moving your bowels either.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which causes alternating constipation and diarrhea, and other medical conditions.
  • Many other medical conditions and diseases can cause constipation, including colorectal cancer, hypothyroidism, muscular diseases, pelvic floor disorders, spinal cord injuries, and depression.
  • Certain drugs, including both pharmaceutical medications and recreational drugs, may cause constipation. This is especially true for opioids. Some supplements such as iron and calcium can also cause constipation.
  • Not responding to the urge to defecate. Ignoring the body’s need to have a bowel movement can lead to constipation.
  • Stress and anxiety. Research shows that stress and anxiety can cause gastrointestinal distress, including constipation. [2] Remember, if you’re under stress and too busy “running from a bear,” you are not going to stop and use the restroom!
  • A family history of gastrointestinal disease, including colorectal cancer, or other medical conditions that can cause constipation, is also a risk factor for constipation.

 

Signs and Symptoms of Constipation

Common signs and symptoms of constipation include: [3]

  • Small, lumpy, or hard stools—or stools that are difficult to pass
  • Incomplete bowel movements that may be skinny or smaller in amount.
  • Weight gain without a change in diet/exercise and less than one full bowel movement a day.
  • Excessive and regularly occurring “gas,” which is a sign that gas is trapping in the gut and usually due to incomplete bowel movements.
  • Acne and other rashes. Your skin is your largest detoxification organ, so if you aren’t eliminating via your bowels, toxins will eliminate via the skin. Constipation is actually a very common cause of acne in all ages.

If you experience the following symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider right away:

  • Blood in your stool
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Lower back pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Unexplained weight loss

If your symptoms continue even after you try improving your diet or other remedies or if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you should see your doctor.

If you have been experiencing chronic constipation for some time with no relief, you may have developed an impacted bowel (fecal impaction). This is a medical emergency as it can lead to a ruptured bowel if left untreated.

 

Diet and Digestion

The best remedy for constipation in most people is by consuming enough water to keep your body hydrated. Once you’re adequately hydrated, the next step is to adopt a healthy diet.

When you’re considering the best foods to eat for constipation, a good rule of thumb to keep in mind is the three “Fs”: fluids, fiber, and fruit. In general, staying hydrated and maintaining a good fiber intake by eating healthy fruits and vegetables will help to ease constipation in otherwise healthy individuals. [4, 5]

A great way to approach your diet to ensure that you are not only eating foods to prevent constipation but also getting the nutrition you need is to eat a plant-based diet.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to become vegetarian or vegan. It simply means that you eat a diet that is primarily based on getting plenty of vegetables and fruits with limited amounts of meat and dairy. In my experience and practice, simply removing dairy from your diet often shows incredible improvement in bowel movements.

Veggies and fruits are a good source of fiber, which your body needs to produce stools that are easier to pass. Eating a salad each day can be a great way to make sure you’re getting enough vegetables. You may want to try my Seasonal Summer Veggie Salad recipe for an easy and delicious way to get started.

 

All About Fiber

After you’ve increased your water consumption to half your body weight in ounces, the next step to improving your diet and relieving constipation is to include plenty of foods that are high in fiber.

It’s important to eat sources of food that contain both insoluble fiber and soluble fiber.

Insoluble fiber doesn’t break down in the digestive tract. It comes from the “tough” parts of foods, such as skins, seeds, and stalks of grains, nuts, veggies, and fruits. Insoluble fiber is what many people refer to as “roughage.” It isn’t absorbed by the bloodstream and it helps to provide bulk to stools.

Soluble fiber comes from sources such as fruits, beans, oats, and chia seeds. It absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance in the digestive system. This in turn softens the stools, making them easier to pass.

Soluble also binds to sugars and cholesterol to limit and slow their absorption into the bloodstream. In addition, soluble fiber helps to boost good gut bacteria and aid in weight loss.

In general, the recommended adequate fiber intake for adults is about 25 to 31 grams of fiber per day. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), children who are 1 to 3 years of age need about 19 grams of fiber per day.

The AHA also recommends that kids ages 4 to 8 need about 26 grams. Once kids hit puberty, their fiber intake needs shift and vary depending on whether or not they are male or female.

It’s a good idea to slowly introduce high fiber foods because your body will need to adjust to digesting them. Otherwise, you may experience gas and bloating if you suddenly start eating a lot of foods with a high fiber content.

You also don’t want to overdo it and consume too much fiber because that can cause changes in your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Talk with your doctor or healthcare provider first before making major dietary changes.

 

A Note About Fiber Supplements

Many of my patients ask me if they should take fiber supplements for constipation. The best way to improve your fiber intake is to make healthier choices with your diet so that you get enough fiber from whole foods. My favorite foods to fight constipation are chia seeds and flaxseeds.

If your water consumption is adequate and you feel like your fiber intake is low, there are some products on the market you can take in capsule form. Most reach for psyllium husk, but that isn’t always helpful because it also causes quite a bit of bloating and gas. Many of the commercial products with this ingredient also contain artificial colors, flavors, and high amounts of sugar. As a result, I prefer apple pectin over psyllium.

 

Magnesium

Not only is fiber a key dietary component to relieving constipation, but it’s also important to get enough magnesium in your diet. Magnesium helps maintain intestinal motility—basically moving food through your intestines (known as peristalsis). If you are deficient in magnesium, you’ll likely experience some form of constipation.

Magnesium is found in foods such as almonds and avocados. If you find that you’re not getting enough magnesium, you may want to try a magnesium supplement. Magnesium comes in many forms, and that can cause a lot of confusion when you’re standing in the supplement aisle. I find the best forms for nutritional absorption are glycinate and orotate.

Oxide and sulfate forms are laxatives, which can come in handy once you’re overly constipated, but they won’t provide a nutritional benefit to solve the root cause of magnesium deficiency.

Citrate falls somewhere in the middle, with better absorption than oxide and sulfate, but less than orotate and glycinate. Be sure to speak with your doctor before introducing any new supplements into your diet and ask about proper starting dosage and adjusting the dosage based on your individual bowel response.

 

20 Best Foods to Eat for Constipation

In addition to water, here is a quick list of some of the best foods to eat for constipation. These foods are basically natural laxative foods.

  1. Almonds and other nuts (as long as you don’t have a nut allergy!)
  2. Apples
  3. Avocados
  4. Beans (black beans, kidney beans)
  5. Broccoli
  6. Brussels sprouts
  7. Carrots
  8. Chia seeds
  9. Coconut oil
  10. Fermented foods such as kim chi and sauerkraut
  11. Flaxseed
  12. Lentils
  13. Oatmeal
  14. Papaya
  15. Peas
  16. Peaches
  17. Pears
  18. Pineapples
  19. Prunes and plums (including prune juice)
  20. Sweet potatoes

Eat Your Ps - Dr. Pingel

What Not to Eat

Now that you know the best foods to eat for constipation, I want to take a moment to share some foods that make you constipated. Limit or avoid the following constipating foods to help relieve constipation. [6, 7]

  • Processed foods and frozen meals
  • Chips
  • Chocolate
  • Fast food
  • Dairy products (For those who are lactose intolerant, dairy may actually cause diarrhea.)
  • Red meat
  • Sugar and other sweeteners
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine (To some degree, caffeine can stimulate a bowel movement, if you are well hydrated. But it can also be dehydrating, which then can cause problems with constipation.)
  • Gluten (If you have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, gluten can cause constipation.)
  • White rice
  • White bread

Key Takeaways

  • If you’re not having a well expelled, full bowel movement at least once daily, you’re likely experiencing constipation.
  • Constipation may be caused by a variety of factors, including hormonal fluctuations, dehydration, poor diet, aging, and more.
  • Not surprisingly, a healthy diet, including adequate water intake, and lifestyle are key to regular digestion.
  • In general, vegetables and fruits that are high in fiber are the best natural remedies for constipation. Refer to my list of the 20 best foods to eat for constipation as a guideline. (Always speak with your doctor first before making any major dietary or supplement changes.)
  • If you are otherwise healthy, relieving constipation can be as simple as making some key dietary changes, especially eating a plant-based diet.
  • If you have chronic constipation that includes symptoms such as rectal bleeding, bloody stools, and abdominal pain, see your healthcare provider immediately.

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