Although constipation is the number one gastrointestinal complaint encountered by a huge cross section of the population, most of us don’t like to talk about it. At some point or other, everyone experiences constipation but certain people have higher tendency.
Women report constipation more than men, especially during pregnancy. Also, the elderly have higher cases of constipation.
What it feels like?
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In truth, frequency of bowel movements varies a great deal but constipation is defined as bowel movements fewer than three times a week along with the difficulty to eliminate feces.
For instance, many describe chronic constipation as feeling like you need to have a bowel movement, but no matter how long you sit, it just won’t happen.
You may have hard stools, small stools, or a combination of infrequent hard, formed or small stools.
When food passes through the digestive tract, water and nutrients are absorbed into the body. What is leftover is bodily waste or feces. Muscle contractions push the stools through the intestines to the colon before expelling from the body.
Sluggish colon contractions make the stool passage slow, making the stools dry hard and difficult to pass.
The resulting abdominal pains and bloat lead to constipation.
What causes it?
Constipation, and the discomforts associated with this condition, can be brought on by numerous factors, like hormonal disorders, poor dietary habits and even stress.
Certain diseases like hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis etc can cause constipation too.
Eating the right way can be the best way to stop irritable, bloated feeling. It is a common condition and It often can be combated through diet and exercise.
What to eat?
The American Dietetic association suggests eating 20 to 35 gm fiber a day. As you may know fiber comes in two forms, soluble and insoluble. Both types of fiber are essential for keeping your intestinal system running smoothly.
Soluble fiber allows more water to remain in your stool, making waste softer, larger, and thus, easier to pass through your intestines.
Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your fecal material, which hastens its passage through your gut and prevents that constipated feeling.
To avoid bloating and cramping, you’ll want to gradually add fiber to your diet.
You don’t want to suddenly go from eating 10 grams of fiber to 25 in a day. Add more fiber-filled foods to your diet gradually and be sure to drink plenty of fluids.
Drinking more fluids is important as it lubricates the colon and adds bulk to stools making them softer and easier to eliminate.
Some foods that fight constipation
Beans for Fiber
Just 1 cup of kidney beans provides 19.4 gm of fiber, twice as much fiber as most vegetables.
It is advisable to thoroughly rinse if you are using canned. Also, soaking the beans overnight and adding fresh ginger or fennel seeds while cooking helps prevent flatulence. Being incredibly versatile, they can easily be a part of pasta, salad or soup.
Switch to whole grains
The healthiest kinds of grains are whole grains since the essential parts of naturally occurring nutrients are intact.
Whole grains are the grains that do not have the bran and germ milled out. Bread is the most staple meal accompaniment. If you want to keep constipation at bay, then the bread you eat should be made from whole grains.
Whole-grain breads those are low in fat and high in dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates.
Check the label before buying: The first ingredient should say “whole” before the grain e.g. whole wheat. Some other choices of whole grain are- amaranth, rye, barley, oats and quinoa.
Unprocessed Wheat Bran
Wheat bran is the outermost layer of wheat berry and is one of the richest forms of fiber. One cup of wheat bran provides about 99% of recommended daily intake of fiber making it a great constipation cure. Truly raw unprocessed wheat bran is not toasted and must be refrigerated.
You can add it to bake goods- cookies, breads, pizza base and also mix with different dough.
High fiber Breakfast Cereals
In their natural state breakfast cereal is an important source of dietary fiber. Aim for cereals that provide 5gm fiber/ serving.
You can also increase the fiber content by sprinkling flax or chia seed or wheat bran on top.
The skin on dry fruits contains fiber that the body cannot digest and some like prune also contain sorbitol, which is a natural laxative. Sorbitol is a type of carbohydrate that has molecular structure similar to sugar.
The fiber in dry fruits is not digested; it retains water as it passes through gut. The water softens the stool – helping relieve constipation.
Prune, figs, apricots, cranberries are some of the perfect snack foods at the same time add to the necessary fiber in your diet.
Fresh fruits are nature’s laxatives, they naturally relieve constipation.
Constipation can make you feel bloated and eating whole fruits like plums, pears and apples are great choices, most of the fiber can be found in their skins. They are also high in pectin- a naturally occurring fiber. A small raw pear with skin has 4.4 grams of fiber.
Coming to the wise old Papaya, Papaya is a folk remedy that has been used as a digestive aid for generations due to its natural enzymes (papain-protein digesting enzyme occurs in concentrated form in un-ripened papaya) and laxative properties.
Last but not the least the luscious berry group- raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries, all are examples of fruits that have a good amount of fiber. One cup of blue berries contains 3.6 grams of fiber. Go ahead and indulge as they make a low calorie snack too.
All vegetables are beneficial but raw vegetables help more than cooked as cooking can reduce their fiber content. One cup cooked broccoli contains 5.2 gm fiber/serving. For the potato lovers- One medium baked potato, with skin, has 3.8 grams of fiber. Even better is a baked sweet potato with its skin, which provides 4.8 grams of fiber. Other vegetables like cauliflower, okra and spinach have added benefit of lubricating the intestines easing bowel movement.
Fermented foods are those that have been soaked and preserved in salty brine but not heated above 110° F.
Foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and pickles are a natural source of probiotics, whose beneficial microbes colonize the intestinal tract that can aid digestion improve immunity and prevent constipation.
What not to eat
While we have discussed what foods to eat, it is very important to know what not to eat.
Most foods do not cause constipation unless they displace other foods that are rich in fiber.
For instance, cheese can be binding but not if you drink adequate water and eat plenty of fiber. The same is true for saturated fats which in large amount can slow digestion.
Avoid drinking excess quantities of coffee, tea and alcohol when constipated. Although caffeine is a stimulant that can provoke a bowel movement in many, too much of it can be dehydrating and will rob the body of vital fluids.
Some people have constipation from consuming dairy products which may need to be eliminated from their diet. Certain supplements can like iron and calcium can cause constipation. So can an excessive amount of vitamin D.
Some Stay healthy strategies
Physical activity can help prevent constipation, especially in adults.
Pay attention to need to defecate
People who try to ignore the need to have a bowel movement may stop having the sensation –go when the urge strikes.
Seek medical attention
If the problem persists for more than three weeks and there’s blood in stools seek attention quickly.
Use Laxative with caution
A mild case of constipation doesn’t call for treatment with laxative. If you do need, use them for a limited time as they can be addictive.
What to Eat for What Ails You
By Winnie Yu, Winnie Scherer
By Jeanne Simmons