When it comes to digestive issues, many people will suffer in silence believing that it’s normal to experience some level of discomfort, be it pain, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation.

But it doesn’t have to be the norm – there are ways to minimise symptoms. In the case of constipation, for example, introducing the following 5 nutrients and foods can have a profound effect on bowel movements.

While everyone is different, the ideal for optimal health is to have 1 to 3 bowel movements daily. Bear in mind that a ‘normal’ transit time – the time it takes to elimination after consumption of food is between 12 to 24 hours.

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1 Water

Adequate hydration is essential for healthy bowel movements. It helps to keep the stool moist and helps it to move through the bowel.

However, if you are dehydrated, water will be absorbed from your bowels, and the stool, making it dry and difficult to pass. Don’t use thirst as a sign of your hydration levels – by the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated.

Check the colour of your urine. If it is darker than a pale straw colour, then you need to take more fluids on board. For most people this is between 1.5-2 ltrs per day. These Flavored water ideas may help you drink more water over the day.

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2 Fibre

A low fibre diet is a major contributor to constipation. It is essential to the creation of the stool that will help to transport toxins and waste from your body. Making sure that you eat both insoluble and soluble fibre regularly can ease symptoms.

Insoluble fibre creates the ‘bulk’ of the stool and so speeds up transit time. You’ll get it from eating plenty of wholegrain cereals, fruit and vegetables.

Soluble fibre absorbs water forming a ‘gel like’ consistency. This makes the stool easier to pass. Sources of soluble fibre include oats, legumes, apple (the skin particularly), and vegetables.

Eating plenty of fibre also helps to keep your gut flora balance healthy. Beneficial gut bacteria feed on fibre and are essential for helping to regulate bowel habits.

However, if your diet leans towards low fibre, high sugar, you’re actually encouraging growth of ‘bad’ bacteria which will have an adverse effect.

3 Flaxseed (Linseed)

Flaxseed is a soluble fibre. Adding some ground flaxseed to breakfast cereals or smoothies can be a great way to boost your fibre intake and for many people this is a solution to their constipation symptoms.

Make sure you drink plenty of water when you have flaxseed, otherwise it can worsen symptoms.

4 Magnesium

Magnesium is a smooth muscle relaxant, and the intestines are made of smooth muscle.

So, by adding magnesium rich foods to your diet you’re aiding the process of peristalsis – the gentle squeezing action of the intestines that pushes the stool along. Increase your intake of whole grains, beans, pulses and dark green leafy vegetables.

Good levels of beneficial bacteria also help with peristalsis – another reason to ensure your gut flora balance is optimised!

5 Removal of dairy

Lactose intolerance has been found to be a contributing factor in constipation. Lactose is the sugar found in dairy.

As we age our production of the lactose enzyme decreases presenting us with difficulties digesting lactose, and contributing to digestive symptoms including constipation.

If you currently eat dairy (milk, cheese, cream or yoghurt), it may be worth cutting it out of your diet for 1-2 weeks to see if that makes a difference.

A probiotic yoghurt may still be beneficial – natural (unflavoured) probiotic yoghurts contain live bacteria which are believed to break down lactose, and as they may provide support to your gut flora they may be tolerated.

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