Constipation has a range of causes, including taking medications for pain or antacids that include calcium or aluminum, stress, an under-active thyroid, not drinking enough water, not being active, suffering from other digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome and more. Although most people will occasionally experience constipation, you can help keep your system on track with the foods you eat and those you can avoid.
Fill Up with FIBEREven though the American Dietetic Association recommends that Americans get 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day from plant foods, including both soluble and insoluble fiber, most Americans get only half this amount. You can find relief from constipation by avoiding certain foods and adding high fiber, plant based foods to your diet. So if you’re struggling with constipation, here are some foods you should avoid and substitutions to help keep you satisfied.
Dairy – Cheese. Ice cream. Yogurt. What’s not to love? Unfortunately, due to the high fat and low fiber content of many dairy products, too much can lead to constipation.
What to try instead: Reach for coconut milk or unsweetened almond milk, which is also rich in calcium.
Avoid: Red Meat
The heaviness of red meat and its high iron count both contribute to a slow digestive system.
What to try instead: Instead of a beef burger, choose lean ground turkey – or even a veggie patty – and put it on a whole grain bun. Sub out your French fries for sweet potatoes – they’re high in fiber and nutrients, and they’re help relieve constipation. If you can’t stand the thought of giving up a nice, juicy steak, here’s a good way to balance it out – pair it with a crisp salad and baked potato (don’t forget the skin!).
Avoid: Cakes, Cookies and Pastries
These processed dessert foods are low in fluid and fiber, but high in fat. The refined carbohydrates in these snacks are known to slow your system down.
What to try instead: Satisfy your sweet tooth with plump raspberries, blackberries or strawberries. They’re low in calories and taste great on high fiber cereal, mixed into pancakes, or with a dollop of low-fat whipped cream as a healthy dessert. Grapes also make a great afternoon snack – just 10 provide 2.6 grams of fiber!
Dried fruit is another great option, including apricots, raisins, dates, figs, and prunes. We’ve all heard that prunes help with constipation, but did you know why? In addition to being high in fiber, they also contain a natural laxative to help you go a little easier.
Avoid: Fried Foods and Packaged Dinners
Doughnuts, onion rings, French fries or anything breaded has a tendency to move slowly through your digestive system. Frozen dinners are also a no-no. They may be convenient, but they’re often high in fat and sodium and low in fiber.
What to try instead: Beans and lentils are an awesome source of fiber, and they’ll help you feel satisfied. Just one cooked cup provides 15 grams of fiber or more – that’s more than half your daily requirement in one meal! Whole grain breads and cereal like oats, brown rice, bran and barley are all fiber-packed foods. And as part of an overall healthy diet, whole grains and beans may also help improve cholesterol, and lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes according to The American Heart Association. Side benefit: it may help you reach or maintain a healthy weight!
Seriously Good SnackingCan’t make it until dinner without a snack? These are great choices:
Popcorn. This low-calorie, high-fiber snack can keep your hands and mouth busy so you don’t reach for something that will weigh you down. Just use a light hand when it comes to the butter and salt, and try air-popped popcorn instead of the microwaved variety.
Nuts. In addition to their high fiber content, nuts are also a great source of magnesium. Diets low in this key nutrient may also contribute to constipation.
Bananas. This one is tricky – bananas can either be the cause or source of constipation relief. It all depends on their ripeness. Ripe bananas (bright yellow in color) are high in soluble fiber - this is what helps push waste through your system. If the banana is still green, wait a few more days before digging in!
Looking for more ideas? Check out this great list of high fiber foods and their fiber content if you’re looking to inject some variety into your diet!