Healing Kitchen

Eating foods high in dietary fiber, particularly insoluble fiber, is an effective way to manage constipation. Dietary fiber attracts water, creating soft, bulky stools that stimulate bowel contractions and ease elimination. Fiber provides a good foundation for bacteria to grow on, which is important as sufficient bacterial action results in a larger stool volume and better bowel function. Dietary fiber is classified as insoluble or soluble and both types have notable effects in the body. Insoluble fiber is broken down slowly, if at all, by intestinal bacteria and promotes laxation. Soluble fiber is broken down (fermented) by intestinal bacteria and has little effect on regularity. Two noteworthy soluble fiber exceptions are oats and psyllium seed husks. Both promote regularity and are useful in relieving constipation. Because they are high in dietary fiber, ground flaxseeds can help ease the passage of stools and thus relieve constipation. The recommended dietary fiber intake for adults falls in the range of 20-35g per day, though the average American consumes far less, only 12-15g each day.

Dried fruit, and fresh fruits and vegetables -- particularly peas, beans, broccoli, raisins, and figs -- are excellent choices for elevating dietary fiber and relieving constipation. An added bonus is that these foods are packed with healthy nutrients. Prunes are beneficial for constipation because they serve as gentle laxatives. Drinking prune juice at bedtime is useful for a morning bowel movement, while prune juice at breakfast stimulates an evening defecation. Drinking plenty of water, 6-8 glasses per day, is essential when consuming a high fiber diet. Eating the same amount of fiber each day helps the digestive system adjust to a high fiber diet. Gradually increasing the amount of fiber foods into the diet reduces bloating and flatulence; lightly steaming vegetables breaks down some of the gas-producing components. In addition to dietary fiber, vitamin C and magnesium may help relieve constipation.

A number of additional ways to boost fiber in the diet include:

  • Use brown rice instead of white rice
  • Consume whole grain breads
  • Snack on dried fruits, nuts, and popcorn
  • Cook with whole grain flour
  • Eat high-fiber cereal with fresh fruit for breakfast
  • Substitute legumes (such as beans) for meat
  • Select whole fruits rather than juice
  • Eat the skin of cleansed fruits and vegetables
  • Have a salad with dinner
  • Add beans to salads

Foods that make constipation worse are alcohol, canned fruit, bananas, applesauce, pears, guava, white rice, white bread, and taro root (poi).

We believe that it's possible to manage and/or improve certain conditions through what you eat. When we create "Mega-Recipes" for an ailment, we strive to include the maximum number of the nutrients that are shown to have benefit for that ailment. We also expect the Mega-Recipe to contain at least 25% of recommended intakes for those nutrients. See the list of recipes that have met our criteria for this ailment.

What You Should Eat & Why

fiber, insoluble
Insoluble fiber is important because it provides mass to the stool, helping to ease elimination. The fiber absorbs water and holds onto it in the intestine. When enough fiber is consumed, the water-retaining property helps to enlarge and soften the stool so less pressure is required to expel it.
Leading Food Sources of fiber, insoluble: Figs, Rice, brown, Prunes, Peas, fresh, Raisins & Currants, Beans, dried, Wheat

Magnesium has gentle laxative properties that help to relieve constipation.
Leading Food Sources of magnesium: Spinach, Almonds, Quinoa, Amaranth, Chocolate, Pumpkin seeds, Oysters, Sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, Buckwheat, Barley, Avocados

vitamin C
Vitamin C acts as a gentle laxative, making it useful in the treatment of constipation.
Leading Food Sources of vitamin C: Cabbage, red, Peppers, bell, red, Kiwi fruit, Oranges, Tangerines & other mandarins, Strawberries, Potatoes

Date Published: 05/03/2005
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