high fibre foods for constipation

What to Eat When Constipated

Simon Spichak, M.Sc

Written by: Simon Spichak, M.Sc

Updated: March 13th, 2023

When you’re constipated, you want to do whatever you can to help pass the stool. According to a study published in Gastroenterology, one in four Canadians experience occasional constipation[1]. This means you’re not alone in trying to find a solution. Many foods that can help relieve the constipation. These foods are high in dietary fibres and help bulk up the stool to keep it moving along through your gut. But when dietary strategies aren’t working, you might want to consult with a doctor or registered dietitian.

What is constipation?

Constipation is the most frequent gastrointestinal complaint [2]. It happens when stool isn’t moving through your gut because it is too hard or dry. This leads to a lot more straining, and time spent on the toilet. Once you finally pass the stools, you might still feel like the rectum hasn’t completely emptied.

Other signs and symptoms of constipation include:

Diagnosing constipation

According to ROME IV criteria[3], functional constipation is diagnosed if two or more of the following symptoms occur over the course of the last three months with symptoms starting at least 6 months prior:

  1. Straining during more than ¼ (25%) of defecations
  2. Lumpy or hard stools more than ¼ (25%) of defecations
  3. Sensation of incomplete evacuation more than ¼ (25%) of defecations
  4. Sensation of obstruction/blockage more than ¼ (25%) of defecations
  5. Manual maneuvers to facilitate more than ¼ (25%) of defecations (e.g., digital evacuation, support of the pelvic floor)
  6. Fewer than three bowel movements per week
  7. Loose stools are rarely present without the use of laxatives
  8. Insufficient criteria for irritable bowel syndrome

The last thing you want to do when you’re constipated is make the situation any worse. There are some general tips for what you shouldn’t do with your diet as well as some foods that can help. 

A recipe for disaster

Continuing to eat processed junk food, fried food or fast food can prevent your stool from getting moving [4]. This is because these foods tend to come in large portions that are high in sugar, salt, and fat while being low in fibre. The large portions can disrupt the digestive process while sweet and salty foods are positively associated with symptoms of constipation [5],[6]. In addition, if you forget to hydrate, it becomes harder to move the stool along, as it becomes harder and the gut becomes drier. 

What to eat when constipated

There are many foods that work like natural laxatives. They are high in fibre and help bulk up your stools. Here are some foods that can ease constipation[4]:

Constipated man sitting on toilet holding toilet paper

When you should see your healthcare provider

If the constipation symptoms continue to persist, you should speak to your healthcare provider. Contact your doctor if you experience the following: 

Registered dietitians are qualified to provide dietary recommendations that prevent or treat constipation. Note that this is different from nutritionists, which in some jurisdiction like Ontario, is unregulated[7]. If these strategies aren’t working, they may recommend over-the-counter laxatives including[8]:

These products may not be right for you always read and follow the label.

Conclusion

High-fibre foods are a great way to relieve constipation. Fibres are carbohydrates that can’t be digested by the body, so they help add bulk to the stool. In addition, foods that are high in water content help hydrate the gut and soften the stool to keep it moving along. If you are still constipated after a few days, it might be best to contact your doctor or a registered dietitian. 

Lax-A Day®, Lax-A Fibre® and Lax-A Senna® are registered trademarks owned by Norwell Consumer Healthcare Inc. 


References:

  1. Werth, Barry L. “Epidemiology of constipation in adults: Why estimates of prevalence differ.” J. Epidemiol. Res 5 (2019): 37
  2. Wald, Arnold. “Constipation and Defecation Problems.” American College of Gastroenterology, 13 Oct. 2016, https://gi.org/topics/constipation-and-defection-problems/
  3. “Rome IV Criteria.” Rome Foundation, 19 Oct. 2020, https://theromefoundation.org/rome-iv/rome-iv-criteria/
  4. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Johns Creek (GA): Ebix, Inc., A.D.A.M.; c1997-2020.; Constipation – self-care.; [about 4 p.]. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000120.htm
  5. Griffin, R. Morgan. “Holiday Foods, Upset Stomachs, Heartburn, and Digestive Problems.” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/winter-holidays. 
  6. Rollet, M.; Bohn, T.; Vahid, F.; on behalf of the ORISCAV Working Group. “Association between Dietary Factors and Constipation in Adults Living in Luxembourg and Taking Part in the ORISCAV-LUX 2 Survey.” Nutrients (2022): 14, 122. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu1401012
  7. Veloce D, Fisher M, O’connor C, Hartman B, Horne JR. The Ontario Public Does Not Understand the Difference Between Registered Dietitians and Unregulated “Nutritionists”: Results from a Cross-Sectional Mixed Methods Study. Healthc Policy. 2020 Nov;16(2):111-127. doi: 10.12927/hcpol.2020.26349. PMID: 33337318; PMCID: PMC7710961
  8. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, March 3). Over-the-counter laxatives for constipation: Use with caution. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/constipation/in-depth/laxatives/art-20045906

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