What to Eat When Constipated
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. 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 . 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:
- Abdominal pain
- Difficult and painful bowel movements
- Lower frequency of bowel movements (compared to your normal)
- Feeling tired or sluggish
According to ROME IV criteria, 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:
- Straining during more than ¼ (25%) of defecations
- Lumpy or hard stools more than ¼ (25%) of defecations
- Sensation of incomplete evacuation more than ¼ (25%) of defecations
- Sensation of obstruction/blockage more than ¼ (25%) of defecations
- Manual maneuvers to facilitate more than ¼ (25%) of defecations (e.g., digital evacuation, support of the pelvic floor)
- Fewer than three bowel movements per week
- Loose stools are rarely present without the use of laxatives
- 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 . 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 ,. 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
- Fruits: Many different fruits like berries, peaches, and apples are high in fibre. Do not peel their skins if they are edible because the skins also have a lot of fibre. These fruits also contain plenty of water that can help soften the stool as well.
- Starches: Make sure that you eat products baked with whole grains. Rather than eating white rice, choose brown or wild rice. If you like to eat cereal in the morning, choose some with high fibre.
- Vegetables and legumes: High-fibre choices include corn, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes with skin, beans, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, walnuts, and almonds. You can add these into soups, stews, or solids for an extra boost of protein and fibre in a pinch.
- Lean meats: Fish, chicken and other low-fat meat will not make constipation worse, but do not contain any fibre themselves.
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:
- No bowel movements for three days
- Nausea or stomach pain
- Blood in the stool
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. If these strategies aren’t working, they may recommend over-the-counter laxatives including:
- Stimulant laxatives (ex. Lax-A Senna®*): Did you know that there are so many neurons in your gut that it is sometimes called a second brain? Just like caffeine gives the brain an energy boost, these laxatives help stimulate the gut muscles to move waste through the gut. For painful bouts of constipation, these pills work in as little as six hours. The key ingredients in these products are sennosides and bisacodyl.
- Osmotics (ex. Lax-A Day®*): These laxatives hydrate the colon. This makes it easier for the stool to move through when it has pushed forward by the gut muscles. The medicinal ingredient, polyethylene glycol, lubricates your gut but may take 2 to 4 days to produce a bowel movement.
- Bulk-forming laxatives (ex. Lax-A Fibre®*): Often sold as powders that are stirred into a glass of water, these products add more mass to the stool, making it softer and easier to pass. These can take up to three days to work and key ingredients include psyllium and inulin.
- Stool softeners: These laxatives help the stool absorb more water, making it softer. Rather than being hard and pellet-like, the stool becomes softer and squishier making it easier to expel. These may take one to two days to begin working. Check the label for docusate sodium and docusate calcium.
These products may not be right for you always read and follow the label.
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.
- Werth, Barry L. “Epidemiology of constipation in adults: Why estimates of prevalence differ.” J. Epidemiol. Res 5 (2019): 37
- Wald, Arnold. “Constipation and Defecation Problems.” American College of Gastroenterology, 13 Oct. 2016, https://gi.org/topics/constipation-and-defection-problems/
- “Rome IV Criteria.” Rome Foundation, 19 Oct. 2020, https://theromefoundation.org/rome-iv/rome-iv-criteria/
- 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
- Griffin, R. Morgan. “Holiday Foods, Upset Stomachs, Heartburn, and Digestive Problems.” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/winter-holidays.
- 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
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- 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