A lot of people—about one in five, to be more precise—are constipated. Particularly women. And even if you're having a bowel movement every day, experts still say you could be constipated. That said, if you think you might be constipated, there are plenty of possible explanations behind it, from a lack of exercise and water to too much stress. But your diet is one of the biggest factors that may be causing your bathroom woes. Here are eight foods that cause constipation that could be a (big) part of the problem.
- Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and prenatal and postnatal health expert
What are 3 signs of constipation?
According to Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, CPT, a registered dietitian based in Charleston, there are three main telltale signs of constipation:
Fewer than three bowel movements per week (paired with discomfort or swelling in your abdomen), straining to start or complete a bowel movement (which can be due to hard or lumpy stools, a common symptom of constipation), having a stool consistency that looks like rocks and pebbles, and/or having a feeling of incomplete emptying. Sound all too familiar?
It's also worth noting that according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, all you need is one of the following symptoms, to consider yourself in the midst of a constipation bout. However, maintaining a healthy diet regularly can help prevent this from occurring. Ahead we delve into the main foods that are likely to cause constipation. The good news? Even if you eat them every now and then, your digestion will likely be just fine. "Eating one food on the list of items that may promote constipation once in a while will unlikely have any effect on your digestive system if you eat a balanced and healthy diet," Manaker says. That's to say, going banishing them from your diet cold turkey isn't, I repeat, isn't necessary.
The key, however, is ensuring things are flowing smoothly, and if they're not, taking a closer look at what may be causing the constipation in the first place. "Eating a diet low in fiber on a regular basis can result in difficulty defecating. Including foods that promote bowel movements can work rather quickly depending on the individual, and it's important to drink a lot of water when trying to have regular bowel movements too," Manaker says. Balance is key, baby.
But, when in doubt, or if you're experiencing constipation that's outside of the norm, it's best to speak with a medical professional to determine the best course of action tailored to your specific needs or concerns.
8 foods that cause constipation
1. Dairy milk
Drinking a lot of water can help with constipation by keeping everything well-hydrated, but milk can have the opposite effective in some cases. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it can cause constipation in some people because it's harder to digest. In fact, an older, smaller study of chronically constipated participants found after up to 15 days of not having a bowel movement, cow's milk may have been a leading cause behind the hold up. Luckily, there are an ever-growing number of plant-based milks for you to choose from.
2. Red meat
While red meat may not directly cause the constipation you're experiencing, there's a reason why it may leave you feeling so backed up. If you tend to eat a lot of it, and it takes the place of gut-loving, plant-based foods—like fruits and veggies—which are packed with digestion-boosting fiber that helps you poop, it can leave you extra constipated. So for the sake of your bathroom trips—or lack thereof—ensuring you're supplementing your diet with plenty of fiber-rich foods is the way to go (number two, that is).
3. Pre-made dinners
Making a frozen dinner is tempting, especially when your work schedule is demanding. However, despite saving you time, it may not be the best case scenario for your digestion. The National Institute on Aging says eating prepared foods—from the freezer section or in boxes on store shelves alike—tend to be low in fiber (and high in sodium), which can lead to constipation. On the flip side, not all prepared foods are created equally, and there are tons of prepared meal options or delivery services that provide plenty of nutrients (and fiber!). The key is ensuring you choose wisely from what's on the market.
Milk isn't the only dairy-filled offender on this list. Big sigh. According to the Cleveland Clinic, eating large amounts of cheese can also cause constipation. Instead, reach for some of the vegan cheese options available that are filled with plant-based ingredients, like this sharp, tangy version or this dairy-free nacho cheese sauce.
5. Unripe bananas
While ripe bananas contain high amounts of fiber that can help get things moving, unripe bananas—which are still packed with starch—have the opposite effect, causing constipation or making pre-existing constipation worse. So if you're backed up, just make sure you're not eating unripe bananas that cause constipation (of course, unless it's bright yellow).
6. Fried foods
Although eating fried foods every now and then is perfectly okay, consistently eating it can also lead to constipation. Why? They tend to be low in fiber and higher in saturated fat, which can, in turn, slow digestion, making it easier for your GI system to get backed up.
Although it may not be true for everyone (say it ain't so), yep, even chocolate makes the list. The delicious confection often linked to causing constipation, and according to a study, it was actually the most frequently-mentioned food patients blamed their constipation on. Other offenders they mentioned? Black tea and bread. (Keep in mind, this won't apply to everyone, and, ultimately, consuming these foods in moderation is key in order to keep your gut happy, healthy, and thriving.)
8. Processed grains
Speaking of bread, eating processed grains is another common cause of constipation. While you're good to go on whole grain options, anything made from white flour—be it pasta or bagels—can promote constipation. Because the bran and germ has been removed, you're taking in a very low amount of fiber that can lead to constipation or potentially make it worse.
How to get rid of constipation fast?
Now that you know which constipation-triggering foods to avoid, it's time to turn to ways of alleviating constipation (and we mean fast). The good news? You don't need to solely rely on foods to relieve constipation. In fact, there are tons of natural remedies for constipation, such as drinking warm water for constipation relief, cooking with spices that make you poop (think cayenne pepper and ginger), or targeting acupressure points for constipation.
But for now, while we're on the topic of food, let's hone in on the foods helpful in maintaining regularity with diet.
How to relieve constipation naturally with foods that promote regularity
According to Manaker, there are three types of foods she recommends folks consume to promote regularity: whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. What do they all have in common? Fiber, fiber, and fiber.
1. Whole grains
Despite the foods that may contribute to constipation, there are also foods and drinks that can help alleviate it, Manaker says. For starters, she recommends including adequate amounts of whole grains in your daily routine. "Foods like brown rice, oatmeal, and whole grain bread are rich in dietary fiber, promoting regular bowel movements," Manaker says.
This likely won't come as a surprise, but the registered dietitian says it's imperative to keep up with daily fruit and veggie intake if regularity is the goal. Don't know which ones to choose? Manaker says peaches, apricots, plums, raisins, and, of course, prunes, are all high in fiber, and a great place to start. On the go, but just can't go? Take some prune juice with you, Manaker says. "Prune juice is well-known for its ability to relieve constipation. It contains a natural laxative compound called sorbitol. Sorbitol draws water into the intestines, helping to soften the stool and stimulate bowel movements."
Again, it's not very surprising to find veggies on the list when constipation is the hot topic of discussion. "Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts have high fiber content and provide some fluid to help support regular bowel movements," Manaker says.
Discover the top foods that help you poop:
- Iacono, G et al. “Intolerance of cow’s milk and chronic constipation in children.” The New England journal of medicine vol. 339,16 (1998): 1100-4. doi:10.1056/NEJM199810153391602
- Bae, Sun Hwan. “Diets for constipation.” Pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology & nutrition vol. 17,4 (2014): 203-8. doi:10.5223/pghn.2014.17.4.203
- Taba Taba Vakili, S et al. “Association of high dietary saturated fat intake and uncontrolled diabetes with constipation: evidence from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.” Neurogastroenterology and motility vol. 27,10 (2015): 1389-97. doi:10.1111/nmo.12630
- Müller-Lissner, Stefan A et al. “The perceived effect of various foods and beverages on stool consistency.” European journal of gastroenterology & hepatology vol. 17,1 (2005): 109-12. doi:10.1097/00042737-200501000-00020
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