Struggle with constipation? You are certainly not alone. Although it is not the most glamorous of topics, it is far more common than you may think, as it is reported to affect 15% to 25% of the general population. (1) The frequency, type, and severity can vary from person to person, however, most experts agree that three or fewer bowel movements per week could indicate a problem. Fortunately, there are many lifestyle factors, including diet, that can help to limit constipation or alleviate it once it occurs. Here is a list of foods that can help to ease constipation.
What is constipation?
Constipation is generally described as having infrequent bowel movements or bowel movements that are difficult to pass. This can include having fewer than three bowel movements a week, straining to pass a bowel movement, feeling blocked, having hard or lumpy stools, or a sensation of incomplete evacuation. Although digestion will vary from one person to the next, most experts agree that bowel movements should be soft, pass easily through your body, and occur every one to two days.
Can foods help with constipation?
Two of the key factors in regular bowel movements are fiber and fluids. Fiber helps to regulate water content in our stool, softening stools so that they pass through the digestive tract more easily. Generally speaking, constipation occurs when food moves too slowly in the intestines, resulting in too much water absorption, which can result in hard, lumpy, or dry stool that is difficult to pass. Therefore, constipation can be aided or alleviated by consuming high-fiber foods and adequate water.
Foods to Help Constipation
Fortunately, diet can play a big role in preventing and alleviating constipation. Here is a list of 14 foods to help ease constipation naturally.
Dehydration is one of the most common symptoms of constipation. Given water helps to hydrate the body, the colon, and our stool, dehydration can lead to hard, lumpy stools and cause constipation. Although the exact amount of water required will vary from one person to the next, as a general rule, aiming to drink 2 to 2.5 liters of water every day is a great place to start.
2. Prunes (and figs)
Prunes are widely known as a natural remedy for constipation. Prunes, or dried plums, are rich in insoluble fiber, specifically cellulose, which increases the amount of water in the stool and helps to add bulk. Prunes also contain sorbitol, a natural sugar alcohol that has been shown to have a laxative effect. (2)(3) A one-ounce serving of prunes, about 3 prunes, provides 2 grams of fiber, which is roughly 8% of the recommended daily intake. (4) Although prune juice is also a popular remedy, it does not contain as much fiber as fresh plums or dried prunes, so try to limit the juice and opt for the whole fruit instead.
Prunes are easily consumed on their own as a simple snack, baked into sweet dishes or cooked into savory dishes like stews.
Not only do apples contain fiber, but they contain a specific type of fiber called pectin that is turned into short-chain fatty acids in your gut, which can help to pull water into the colon, soften the stool and increase transit time. (5) One medium-sized apple (182 grams) with the skin on contains 4.4 grams of fiber, which is 17% of the recommended daily intake. (6)
Apples are the original grab-and-go snack but also work incredibly well in homemade apple muffins and baked goods.
Pears are another high-fiber fruit that can help ease constipation. One medium-sized pear (178 grams) with the skin on contains 5.5 grams of fiber, which is 25% of the recommended daily intake. (7) Much like apples, pears contain soluble fiber, sorbitol, fructose, and high contents of water. For the most health benefits, it is best to eat pears with the skin intact as it contains beneficial nutrients.
Pears make a great snack on their own, can be topped onto salads for a fresh bite, baked into bread or cooked into your morning oatmeal.
5. Yogurt & Kefir
Yogurt and kefir are fermented dairy products, which contain beneficial bacteria, known as probiotics, that have been shown to be beneficial for gut health and digestion. The live bacteria in yogurt, specifically Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis, have been shown to be beneficial in alleviating constipation. (8) However, not all yogurt contains beneficial live bacteria, therefore, it is imperative that you read the ingredients to ensure that you are consuming unflavored yogurt containing probiotic bacteria for optimal health benefits.
6. Raspberries (and other berries)
Berries, especially raspberries, are a great food to help constipation. A 1-cup serving (123 grams) of raspberries contains 8.0 grams of fiber, which is 32% of the recommended daily intake. (9) Raspberries contain a tiny seed in every bite, which helps to increase their overall fiber content, and they are also one of the most hydrating foods with 105 grams of water in a 1-cup serving.
Berries can be consumed fresh or frozen, blended into smoothies, or topped onto oatmeal, yogurt, or salads.
7. Spinach (and other greens)
Spinach is a good source of fiber as well as magnesium, which is considered nature’s muscle relaxer and can help to relax the smooth muscle tissue in the colon to ease the passage of stool and alleviate constipation. (10) A 1-cup serving (180 grams) of cooked spinach contains 4.3 grams of fiber, which is 17% of the recommended daily intake. (11) In addition to spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and Swiss chard are also good sources of insoluble fiber, which can help constipation.
Spinach is one of the most versatile leafy greens as it can be eaten raw or cooked and wilts downs to the point that it can go unnoticed in dishes. Spinach can be added to your morning eggs, cooked into soups and stews, pasta dishes, curries, or as a simple side dish.
8. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a good source of soluble fiber, in the form of pectin, but mostly contain insoluble fiber in the form of cellulose and lignin. One medium sweet potato (130 grams) contains 3.9 grams of fiber, which is 16% of the recommended daily intake. (12) The skin contains most of the fiber so be sure to leave it on for maximum benefit.
9. Beans & Lentils
Also known as pulses, beans, lentils, and chickpeas are one of the most inexpensive high-fiber foods and are great for helping constipation. A 1-cup serving (172 grams) of cooked black beans contains 15.0 grams of fiber, which is 60% of the recommended daily intake, while a 1-cup serving (198 grams) of cooked lentils contains 15.6 grams of fiber, which is 63% of the recommended daily intake. (13)(14) Beans and lentils contain a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber so they can help add bulk to stool and ease passage at the same time.
Beef broth, chicken broth, vegetable broth, or broth-based soups are other great food to help constipation. Not only is broth predominantly water, which can help to hydrate the colon but some broths, but bone broths contain additional minerals, including magnesium, and healthy fats which can help to relax and soothe the intestinal wall and ease the passage of bowel movements. (15) Not to mention, broth-based soups filled with vegetables can help to add a healthy dose of fiber at the same time.
Homemade bone broth is very simple to make and can be consumed on its own or used in soups, stews, or risotto.
Artichokes, especially Jerusalem artichokes, are rich in antioxidants and are particularly high in fiber known as inulin. One medium-cooked artichoke (120 grams) contains 10.3 grams of fiber, which is 41% of the recommended daily intake. (16) Inulin, the fiber found in artichokes, is a form of prebiotic fiber which has been shown to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and support digestion. Inulin has also been shown to increase stool frequency, improve consistency and decrease gut transit time. (17)
Artichokes can be roasted, steamed, or boiled and work well as a simple side dish, in dips, or as a topping to salads or pizza.
12. Oats (and other whole grains)
Whole grains such as oats and rye are good sources of dietary fiber. Oats contain a large amount of beta-glucan, a form of soluble fiber, which has been correlated to reduced cholesterol levels, reduced blood sugar and insulin response, and increased growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract. (18) A 1/2-cup serving of dry rolled oats (40 grams) contains 4.1 grams of fiber, which is 16.5% of the recommended daily intake. (19) In addition to being a good source of fiber, oats are low in calories and a good source of manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, and folate, as well as vitamins B1 and B5. (19)
13. Citrus Fruit
Citrus fruits such as lemon, limes, oranges, and grapefruits are a good source of soluble fiber and water. For example, one medium orange (159 grams) contains 7.2 grams of fiber, which is 29% of the recommended daily intake. (20) According to Ayurvedic medicine, the acidic nature of some citrus fruits, namely lemons and limes, can also help to stimulate the digestive process by supporting the production of HCL in the stomach, which can help to stimulate the peristalsis motion required for a bowel movement to help ease constipation.
Citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits, are best consumed whole on their own for optimal digestive benefit, while lemons and limes can be added to water or homemade sports drinks, included in dressings, or consumed whole if you can handle their sourness!
14. Herbal Teas (and Coffee)
Certain teas can help with constipation, either directly or indirectly. Given tea is primarily a source of water it can help to hydrate the colon, while specific herbs can have a laxative or muscle-relaxing effect to help aid constipation. Senna, cascara, and dandelion tea are commonly used in herbal medicine, as they appear to have a laxative effect and can, therefore, work to stimulate movement in the intestines. (21)(22) While ginger tea, peppermint tea, and licorice root tea also appear to aid digestion. Ginger is a “warming” herb that can help to improve overall digestion, while peppermint has the soothing soothing effect of menthol and can help to relax the muscles of the digestive tract, and licorice root is said to have strong anti-inflammatory properties and has been used in as a digestive aid in Chinese medicine for centuries.
Caffeine can also stimulate the muscles in your digestive system to contract, which can help to enable a bowel movement. Although you can use coffee to help constipation from time to time, it’s not recommended as a solution as it can have a dehydrating effect when used excessively. Instead, focus on drinking adequate water, consuming adequate fiber, and improving overall gut health for long-term digestive success.
The Bottom Line
High-fiber whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are a great way to help constipation once it occurs or prevent it from happening in the first place. In addition to fiber, drinking adequate water is vital for optimal digestion as it helps to hydrate the colon and your stool to help ensure that bowel movements are easy to pass.
If you have been dealing with chronic constipation and have seen no improvements from dietary changes it is best to consult a medical professional to ensure that you are not dealing with an underlying health condition that may be contributing to constipation.