Constipation is not the most glamourous topic of conversation to bring up, even if it is with your doctor. But the reality is that it happens to the best of us and it usually strikes more than once in our lifetimes. If you are feeling a bit embarrassed about the tummy troubles you are having, remember that you are not the only one. About 2.5 million people in the USA suffer from regular bouts of constipation too. The good news is that it doesn’t last very long and in addition to taking a supplement, there are a few changes you can make to your diet that will help get your digestive system up and running properly again.
What Causes Constipation?
There are many factors that can bring on constipation including, stress, dehydration, lack of exercise, and certain medications. However, one of the main underlying factors is diet.
The colon’s main function is to absorb all of the water from the foods we eat.
When all the nutrients have been absorbed through the intestines and the colon has absorbed most of the water from the food, the remaining contents are turned into a stool (waste). The muscles in the colon then push the waste through the rectum to be flushed from the body. However, when this waste gets trapped in the colon for a long period of time, the body continues to draw water from the stool, which eventually causes it to become too dry and more difficult for the colon to excrete – leading to what we know as constipation.
The way in which our digestive systems work and bowel movements occur differs from person to person. Some may experience bowel movements up to three times in a single day, while others may only have a bowel movement once every second or third day.
Regardless of how frequent your bowel movements are, there are a few common symptoms to look out for if you think you might be constipated. Here are signs to look out for:
- Stools are hard and dry when passed.
- Additional straining when passing stool.
- Feeling full or ‘blocked’ even after passing a stool.
- Passing fewer bowel movements a week.
- Painful rectal blockage.
Who Is At Risk?
There is no one size fits all diagnosis for constipation, there are various factors that can bring it on. For some, it could be because of an underlying condition and for others, it may just be because of a poor diet. But there are a few circumstances that can make you more prone to regular bouts of constipation including:
- Pregnancy – the pressure of the fetus against the intestines and hormonal changes can lead to constipation.
- Certain types of medications like anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics.
- Age – those who are 65 and older who are not as physically active, have poorer eating and lifestyle habits, and may have an underlying health condition.
- Bedrest – individuals who have been put on bed rest due to injuries may have difficulty passing stools.
Foods That Provide Relief From Constipation
As we mentioned before, in addition to taking a supplement, you can make a few adjustments to your diet you can easily treat mild constipation at home. The trick is to ensure you rev up your fiber and water intake to soften the stool so it is easier to pass.
There are two types of fiber, insoluble and soluble. Soluble fiber is able to dissolve in water, which creates a gel-like substance when it is passed through the intestines. Insoluble fiber does not get dissolved, but instead, passes through the digestive system almost intact. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are combined together with the stool, which helps to soften the stool and also add to its weight and size, making it easier to be passed through the body.
While most fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains contain fiber, some are better at alleviating constipation than others.
Here are a few foods to help get your digestive tract back on track again:
Prunes, which are made from dried plums, are one of the oldest and most common natural remedies for constipation. Prunes are extremely high in fiber, ranking at 2 grams of fiber per a single ounce serving, which accounts for 8% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of fiber.
In addition to that, prunes are rich in a sugar alcohol called sorbitol. Sugar alcohols are known for causing a laxative effect, which can help soften stools and alleviate any blockage you may be experiencing.
When it comes to high fiber content, very few fruits compare to pears. One medium-sized pear offers up about 5.5 grams of fiber, which is equivalent to almost 22% of the RDI. Much like prunes, pears also contain high amounts of sorbitol.
Additionally, pears are also rich in fructose. The body is unable to fully digest fructose and once it reaches the colon, it helps to draw more water into the stool via osmosis.
Green vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and broccoli are excellent sources of fiber. They also are chock-full of vitamins such as Vitamin K and Vitamin C that can help put an end to constipation.
One cup of cooked spinach contains 17% of the RDI for fiber while a serving of just 5 Brussels sprouts gives you a whopping 10% of the RDI of fiber. Broccoli doesn’t fall far behind as one stalk actually contains an impressive 3.6 grams of fiber, which accounts for 16% of the RDI.
Flax seeds are a great addition to your diet because of the many health benefits it has to offer, especially when it comes to your digestive health. Flax seeds are a valuable source of Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin B1, Magnesium, and both soluble and insoluble fiber. In fact, one tablespoon of flax seeds provides 2.8 grams of fiber, which is equivalent to 11% of the RDI.
According to researchers, flax seeds are a great natural alternative to laxatives because it is passed through the small intestines in a shorter period of time, helps to add weight to the stools, and increases water retention in the colon, which softens stools, making it easier to pass.
Chia seeds may be small, but don’t let their size fool you. These tiny seeds are a powerhouse of nutrients and antioxidants including Vitamin B1, Magnesium, and Zinc. What’s even more impressive is the amount of fiber each tiny seed contains. One ounce of chia seeds contains a staggering 10.6 grams of both insoluble and soluble fiber, which is equivalent to 42% of the RDI.
If you are feeling a bit constipated, chia seeds are a great option to have on hand because once the seeds are ingested and come into contact with water in the digestive tract, it starts to form a gel-like substance that softens the stool, making it easier for it to be passed out the colon. Chia seeds are extremely absorbent and can retain water up to 12 times its weight, which helps to build up weight and bulk in the stool.
Chia seeds are also deliciously versatile and can be added to salads, smoothies, yogurt, or sprinkled over your favorite dish!
If you are constipated, you don’t have to suffer any longer. Try adding some of these foods to your diet and get back to yourself again!