While many people experience occasional constipation, some people suffer from chronic constipation, which is usually associated with difficulty passing stools, hard or lumpy stools, or excessive straining to pass a bowel movement. While chronic constipation is a problem that is more likely to affect the elderly due to poor nutritional habits, medications and lack of physical activity, it can affect all ages. What you eat is a huge part of treating (and preventing) constipation, starting with fiber.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water, adds more bulk to your stool and helps to move that stool through the intestines. This produces a natural laxative effect, helping to ease constipation. Here are the best sources of insoluble fiber to add to your diet and keep your system moving properly.
Look on the ingredient label and choose products that state they are made with “100% whole grains” (not enriched wheat flour). These include whole grain breads, cereal made from whole grains, brown rice and whole wheat pasta. Corn bran, wheat bran, barley, couscous and bulgur are also good sources of insoluble fiber.
All seeds are high in insoluble fiber. Pumpkin, sunflower, chia, flax and hemp seeds can be easily added to your cereal, salad or yogurt for a great fiber boost. They are also a great option for people who are allergic to nuts or can’t tolerate gluten found in wheat products.
Nuts are packed with healthy fats, and they are also a great source of fiber. Snack on almonds, walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts or pecans to add extra insoluble fiber to your diet.
Almost all fruits contain insoluble fiber, which is found in the skin, hulls and seeds of the plant. You will only get fiber from fresh or dried fruit (not juices or canned fruit since the fibrous skins have been removed).
Consuming vegetables, especially those with skin, are very helpful in preventing constipation. Zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers and root vegetables (such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and beets) are high in insoluble fiber. Dark, leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, broccoli, celery and green beans are also strong options.
Adding Fiber to Your Diet
If you want to get more insoluble fiber into your diet, increase it gradually over two weeks, since a rapid increase in fiber intake can lead to excessive bloating and discomfort. Your final fiber goal should be at least 25 grams of fiber each day. Most experts agree that 25-35 grams of fiber each day yields the most health benefits and has a positive effect on relieving constipation.
The Bottom Line
Occasional constipation is normal, but chronic constipation can be a serious problem. Seek advice from your medical professional for a thorough evaluation of the underlying cause of your constipation. If dietary changes are not helpful, there are medications that can be prescribed to treat chronic constipation, but they should be used under the guidance of a physician.
Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a registered dietitian, receiving her undergraduate degree in dietetics from James Madison University and her master’s degree in health education and administration from Towson University. She is a certified specialist in adult weight management and teaches cooking classes. Carmen enjoys educating her clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness. She also loves volunteering, including as a Girl Scout troop leader.