Constipation can strike out of the blue – but it’s often for very simple reasons. Diet is a major cause, particularly when you haven’t been eating enough fiber or drinking enough water.((National Institude of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Constipation))
Other causes include a disruption to your normal bowel routine, such as not going to the bathroom often enough. This sort of disruption can occur with traveling or even being in a sedentary desk job. Lack of activity can have a major impact on your bowel regularity.
Certain medications can also upset your bowel movements, especially opioids, anti-inflammatories, antacids, and antihistamines.
Constipation can also be caused by gut imbalances. Candida overgrowth or SIBO can trigger a variety of digestive symptoms including constipation.((The Candida Diet: 11 Candida Symptoms & How to Eliminate Them))
If you find that you’re getting constipated frequently, don’t keep reaching for the laxatives. Think about what’s caused your bowel to slow down, and what you can do to prevent it from happening again.
The most important thing you can do is eat the right foods and watch out for your gut health! Here’s our pick of what to eat when constipated.
1. Pure Water
For some reason, the most obvious cause of constipation is also the last to be considered: hydration!
When you don’t drink enough water, your body quickly becomes dehydrated. This means any waste in your intestines will become slow and ‘stuck’ because your body can’t add enough moisture to your stools. If this is the case, your stools will be small, hard, dry and lumpy.((Eur J Clin Nutr.: Mild dehydration: a risk factor of constipation?))
Try to drink at least 2 liters of clean, filtered water daily. The easiest way to do this is by carrying a drink bottle with you everywhere, so you can sip it regularly. This will help to move food and waste through your body and keep everything flowing naturally.
After all, you wouldn’t try to clean a drain without turning on the tap!
2. Fermented Dairy Products
Yogurt and kefir are two types of fermented dairy products that can be invaluable to a constipated gut. They both contain probiotics, which are a type of ‘friendly’ bacteria that helps to break down food that you eat.
Probiotics have been shown to improve digestion and elimination by supporting a healthy gastrointestinal environment and maintaining bowel regularity.
Numerous studies have shown that adding probiotics to your diet can help to reduce constipation. One study found that when patients with chronic constipation drank an unflavored probiotic yogurt every day for two weeks, their bowel transit time was significantly shortened. This specific yogurt contained Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis.((Nutrition Journal: Effect of yogurt containing polydextrose, Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis HN019: a randomized, double-blind, controlled study in chronic constipation))
3. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are tiny black and white seeds from the plant, Salvia hispanica L. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
The great thing about chia seeds is that they form a lubricating gel-like consistency when they absorb water. This gel can help to improve stool formation, keeping them moist and making them easier to pass. The omega-3 fatty acids are also renowned for their anti-inflammatory properties, which is highly beneficial to an irritated gut.
As well as their amazing lubrication effects, chia seeds are packed with soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is the type that most people find much gentler on the gut, and it’s should be top of your list of what to eat when constipated. It’s easy to add chia seeds to cereals, baked goods, smoothies and yogurt for a fiber-rich snack or meal.
When you’re wondering what to eat when constipated, your best bet is fiber-rich foods. Lentils, beans and chickpeas are great for preventing and treating constipation.
Fiber is an important macronutrient that should be included in your daily diet in order to keep your bowels healthy. It works by adding bulk to your stools, which causes waste to press against your intestines and stimulate peristalsis – the wave-like movements that push waste along to be excreted.
Research has shown that just 100 grams of cooked beans or other pulses provides around 26 percent of your recommended daily intake of fiber.((Medical News Today: High-fiber foods for a healthful diet)) What’s more, these foods are packed with plenty of other nutrients such as potassium, folate, zinc, and vitamin B6, which also help support the health of your gut.
Broths have been a dietary staple for centuries – and for good reason. The rich mineral content of bones and other ingredients makes a broth highly nutritious and easily absorbed by the gut.
Most importantly, bone broth provides a good dose of moisture to an inflamed or dehydrated gut. This can help to soften any hard stools in your intestines and make them easier to eliminate. You’ll also be supporting your nutritional intake if your appetite has diminished, which can happen during bouts of constipation.
It’s easy to make your own bone broth from chicken bones, beef bones or other animal carcasses. Bone broth is particularly beneficial for an irritated gut because it’s rich in gelatin, which can soothe the lining and help repair damaged cells. The warmth of bone broth makes it very easy to digest and very appetizing!
6. Prune Juice and Prunes
Prunes have long been hailed as the king of ‘keeping you regular’! These dried fruits are absolutely packed with fiber, that important macronutrient that keeps waste moving through your gut.
Prunes also contain a type of sugar called sorbitol. Because sorbitol can’t be broken down by your body, it passes through your colon undigested and draws water into your gut. This helps to bulk up your stool and stimulate a bowel movement.
Studies show that sorbitol is a safe and effective remedy for constipation, and it’s often a favorite with older adults.((Medical News Today: Can prune juice help relieve constipation?)) Prunes can increase the frequency of your bowel movements and improve consistency.
If you really have no idea of what to eat when constipated, a handful of prunes could be the easiest remedy in the book. Take care not to overdo the prunes though, as they can also cause some gas and bloating!
Eating bran for breakfast is often associated with older folk – and it’s probably the first thing you’ll be told to eat when constipated!
Bran is a fantastic source of insoluble fiber, also known as ‘roughage’. Bran helps to push stools along the intestinal passage, allowing for better regularity.
Bran is not a grain itself, but actually the tough outer layers of the grain. It’s an integral part of whole grains, and is often eaten as a cereal.
One study showed that eating wheat bran for breakfast each day for two weeks reduced the incidence of constipation in women who previously lacked a fiber-rich diet.((Medical News Today: Which foods are good for constipation?)) The bran also helped to improve their bowel regularity.
If you don’t like the taste of bran, you can try adding it to smoothies or yogurt. It also adds delicious texture to baked goods.
Eating your greens was never so important as when your bowels need some stimulation. Broccoli is a good source of fiber, like other foods mentioned above. But it also contains a valuable nutrient called sulforaphane, which can help to protect the gut and improve digestion.
Research suggests that sulforaphane may even help to ward off ‘unfriendly’ gut bacteria that can upset normal digestion. One study showed that when participants ate 20g of raw broccoli sprouts every day for 4 weeks, they had fewer symptoms of constipation than those who ate alfalfa sprouts. The broccoli also seemed to improve their bowel transit time and the quality of their bowel motions.((J Clin Biochem Nutr.: Daily intake of broccoli sprouts normalizes bowel habits in human healthy subjects))
9. Green Kiwi
Also known as kiwifruit and Chinese gooseberry, the kiwi is a very helpful remedy for a sluggish bowel. One medium-sized kiwi contains around 2.5 grams of fiber, along with a variety of nutrients.
The most important benefit of kiwis for constipation is due to a protease enzyme called actinidine. Actinidine has been found to stimulate motility in the upper gastrointestinal tract, which helps to push waste along the intestines.
Another valuable nutrient in green kiwi is a peptide called kissiper, which promotes healthy digestion and peristalsis. One study showed that when adults with constipation ate just two kiwis a day, their bowel movements increased in regularity.((Pediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr.: Diets for Constipation))
Kiwi is also a rich source of natural phytochemicals that can support the health of the gut. Because it’s technically a berry, you can even eat the hairy outer peel for extra roughage!
Like prunes and kiwi, pears are an excellent source of fiber. This fiber is known as pectin, and it’s contained in the peel of the fruit. To get the most benefit from pectin, you really have to eat the pear raw and with the skin on.
Pears also contain a number of compounds that aid digestion, such as sorbitol and fructose. Their high water content is also helpful in hydrating a sluggish bowel, providing extra moisture for hard stools.
A great way to eat pears is to add them to Bircher muesli. Simply grate the pears and add to oats, seeds and other fruit, then cover with water and refrigerate. The fiber-rich goodness and flavor of the pears will soak into the muesli overnight, creating a delicious breakfast!
So here they are, 10 everyday foods that can improve your digestion and fix your constipation.