Constipation is an uncomfortable digestive system that everyone experiences from time to time. However, some people also experience chronic constipation, which persists for weeks or even months.
The type of constipation, and the severity of constipation, vary from person to person. In either case, constipation is characterized by infrequent bowel movements, difficulty passing stools, and passing small or hard stools.
While occasional constipation usually resolves and is not much to worry about, chronic constipation can hurt your health. In either case, the symptoms can be uncomfortable.
Constipation can have a variety of causes—poor diet, dehydration, certain medications, illness, mental disorders, or diseases affecting the nervous system or digestive system. Knowing what is causing your constipation can help you to know best how to treat it.
In most cases (unless a chronic digestive issue causes it), drinking more water, eating more fiber-rich foods, and avoiding foods that contribute to constipation can help to relieve symptoms.
Below, we will discuss the best foods for constipation.
Apples are another one of the top foods for constipation. Like prunes, they are very high in fiber which can help to promote regular bowel movements. Most of the fiber in apples is insoluble fiber. However, apples also contain a type of soluble fiber called pectin. Bacteria quickly ferment pectin in the gut to form short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids help pull water into the colon, softening stool and decreasing the time it takes for stool to leave your intestines.
Figs are another one of the top fiber foods for constipation. One medium-sized fresh fig contains about 1.5 grams of fiber. In contrast, a half cup of dried figs contains about 8 grams of fiber, which is over 30% of the recommended daily intake for fiber. Eating a handful of dried figs is an easy way to boost your fiber intake and help to improve your regularity.
In addition to being high in fiber, figs contain an enzyme called ficin that may help to stimulate bowel movements and regulate normal bowel function. Figs' fiber and ficin content make them one of the best natural foods for constipation.
Prunes are one of the oldest constipation remedies in the book. Prunes are dried plums containing a very high amount of fiber. Cellulose, a type of insoluble fiber in prunes, helps to increase the amount of water in your stool. This increases the bulk of your stool and can make it easier to pass.
Prunes also contain soluble fiber, which helps increase the weight of your stool and makes it easier to pass. In addition to being high in fiber, prunes also contain sorbitol which has a gentle laxative effect on the body.
You can consume whole prunes for these benefits or drink prune juice; both have been used for centuries to help relieve constipation symptoms.
4. Leafy Greens
When it comes to foods good for constipation, we can't leave out leafy greens. Greens such as lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and kale have high fiber and are excellent sources of essential nutrients.
Leafy green vegetables are very high in fiber and help to add bulk and weight to stools, making them easier to pass through the digestive tract. For example, just one cup of cooked spinach provides about 20% of your daily fiber needs.
Not only are leafy greens great for you, but they are also easy to incorporate into your diet. They can be eaten raw, cooked, sautéed, steamed, and served in various ways.
5. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are an incredibly nutritious food, and they are packed with fiber. They are one of the most fiber-dense foods in the world, with just an ounce of chia seeds containing nearly 10 grams of fiber, which is about 40% of your daily fiber needs.
Chia seeds contain about 85% insoluble fiber and 15% soluble fiber. When soaked in water, chia seeds form a mucilaginous gel that helps to soften stools and make them easier to pass. Chia seeds are also highly absorbent and help to add bulk and weight to your stools.
Furthermore, they are straightforward to add to your diet and can be added to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, or baked goods.
6. Oat Bran
Oat bran is the outer layer of the oat grain. It is packed with fiber, with just 1/3 cup containing nearly 5 grams of fiber. Studies on oat bran have found that it positively affects bowel function, helping to improve regularity. Oat bran is also easy to add to baked goods or granola, making it an easy way to add some extra fiber to your diet.
Kiwi is another high-fiber fruit. Just one kiwi provides about 10% of the recommended daily fiber intake. Aside from being high in fiber, kiwis also contain an enzyme called actinidin, which has been shown to positively affect gut motility and bowel habits, according to several studies.
High-Fiber Foods List for Constipation
If you are struggling with constipation, try incorporating some more of these high-fiber foods into your diet:
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potato
- Chia seeds
- Oat bran
- Citrus fruits
How Much Fiber Do I Need?
According to the Mayo Clinic:
"Women should try to eat at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber daily, while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams daily."
You can get plenty of fiber in your diet by eating various fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
What Are Some Other Tips for Relieving Constipation?
In addition to eating a diet high in fiber-rich foods, some additional tips for helping to relieve constipation include:
- You are drinking a lot of water. Water helps to move food through your intestines and flush out waste. It also makes stool softer, which helps to prevent constipation. Additionally, water is necessary for the healthy functioning of all your organs. Dehydration is one of the significant causes of constipation, so just by drinking more water, you may be able to relieve your symptoms. Staying hydrated may also help to prevent constipation in the future.
- Exercising regularly. Exercise improves circulation and helps to reduce the time it takes for food to move through the large intestine. Exercising at least a few weekly days can help keep your bowel movements regular.
- Keeping stress levels low. While constipation is a physical symptom, its origins can be psychological. Studies have linked stress and anxiety with changes in bowel movements. Stress causes the body to divert blood flow from the intestines toward vital organs, such as the brain, heart, and lungs. As a result, bowel movements slow down, and constipation can occur. Keeping your stress levels low can help to keep your bowel movements more regular.
Should I Take Laxatives for Constipation?
In extreme cases of constipation, a laxative may be helpful. However, the issue with laxatives is that they easily become dependent on them. They relieve the symptoms but do not treat the underlying cause of constipation. Many laxatives also contain harsh ingredients that can hurt your health.
If you are going to use a laxative, opt for an herbal laxative instead of a synthetic laxative, and only use it for short-term relief, not as a long-term solution. Even among herbal laxatives, some are better than others. For example, Senna leaf, while powerfully laxative, can cause a gripping pain in your stomach. Instead, use a gentler laxative herb like cascara sagrada. This can be taken as capsules, as a powder, or drunk as tea.
If you suffer from constipation, try to find out what is causing your constipation and focus on treating it at the root instead of just relieving symptoms. The best thing you can do to keep your bowel movements more regular is:
- Eat a high-fiber diet
- Drink plenty of water each day
- Exercise regularly
- Keep your stress levels low
- Avoid or limit foods that may cause constipation (typically diets too high in animal foods like cheese or processed meat, as well as fried foods and processed foods loaded with chemicals).
While laxatives may provide short-term relief, they will not treat the underlying cause. With all health conditions, including constipation, it is essential to understand what the cause is and to fix the issue at the root, otherwise, the symptoms will only continue to reoccur.