It’s time to talk about irregularity


It might not be dinner table conversation, but constipation is a problem that affects most people at some point. This gastrointestinal disorder, sometimes called irregularity, is a challenge for people of all ages. Even healthy people suffer from constipation. Also, changes in routine, such as those that occur on summer trips, can disrupt regular bowel movements. The good news is that healthy habits and the right foods can help improve regularity.

If you have less than three bowel movements per week, your doctor may diagnose you with constipation. Constipation should not necessarily cause serious concern. Some common causes of constipation include lack of a balanced diet, physical inactivity, insufficient fluid intake, and medication side effects. At the same time, constipation is uncomfortable and sometimes even painful. Knowing how to manage and prevent constipation is essential.

So what are the best foods for constipation? Fiber-rich foods are important for the optimal functioning of the digestive tract. Women need 25 grams of fiber per day and men need 31 grams of fiber per day, but most people don’t meet this goal.

Foods that are important sources of dietary fiber include:

  • Fruits like apples and pears with skin, berries like blueberries, raspberries and strawberries as well as prunes and avocados.
  • Whole grains like whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa and bran cereal.
  • Nuts and seeds like almonds, cashews and walnuts as well as chia, pumpkin, sunflower and flax seeds.
  • Vegetables and legumes, including carrots, beets, broccoli, sweet potato, and beans, peas, and lentils.

Certain foods, including foods low in fiber, can make constipation worse. Low-fiber foods include those made from refined grains like white bread and other baked goods, white rice, red meat, and cheese.

Here are some lifestyle strategies to consider to help manage and prevent constipation.

Increase your fiber intake, gradually

If you haven’t been on a high fiber diet, slowly increase your fiber intake. Consuming too much fiber suddenly can make the problem worse. Aim to add 5 grams of fiber daily until you reach your daily fiber target. Increase your fiber intake by choosing fruits for snacks, replacing refined grains with whole grains, and striving to eat at least three servings of vegetables a day.

Read the food label

The fiber content of foods is listed on the Nutrition Facts label under “Total Carbohydrates”. Foods with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving are good sources of fiber, and foods with 5 grams of fiber or more are great sources of fiber. Minimally processed plant foods are often the best sources of dietary fiber.

Move your body

Those who do not engage in regular physical activity may be more prone to constipation. Even short walks of 10 to 15 minutes after meals can help stimulate the normal functioning of the digestive tract.

Drink plenty of fluids

It is important to combine a high fiber diet with adequate consumption of water and other unsweetened beverages. While daily fluid needs depend on individual factors such as activity level, body size, and the climate one lives in, not drinking enough fluid can contribute to constipation. When your body is properly hydrated, less water will be removed from your colon, which will facilitate healthy bowel movements.

If you’ve tried these strategies and continue to struggle with constipation, contact your healthcare provider for additional support.

LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a Registered Dietitian who provides nutrition advice and consultation to individuals, families and organizations. She can be contacted by email at [email protected].


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