Chronic constipation affects between 9-20% of Americans and is defined as a “functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that leads to difficult, infrequent, or incomplete defecation”. It can be painful, frustrating, and at times debilitating, both mentally and physically. It can be caused by numerous factors including poor hydration, medications, suboptimal diet, lack of activity, intestinal issues, or changes in lifestyle.
Here are some key factors that can help alleviate constipation and decrease the risk of recurrence.
Fiber plays a big role in overall health. It can help decrease cholesterol levels, promote blood sugar control, support appetite management, and also improve digestion and regularity of bowel movements. According to the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), more than 90% of women and 97% of men do not meet the recommended intakes for dietary fiber. The recommended intake for adults is about 25-35 grams of fiber per day.
- Check the nutrition labels for options that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving or more. Options can include whole wheat or whole grain breads, brown rice, whole grain cereals, oats, barley, quinoa, or bran.
- Add in beans, chickpeas, edamame, or lentils to a favorite recipe.
- When able, choose a whole fruit rather than the juice. Juicing can remove up to 90% of the fiber from the fruit. Prunes, raspberries, blackberries, and pears are a few of the higher fiber fruit choices.
- High fiber options include sweet potatoes, green peas, broccoli, cauliflower, and canned pumpkin.
Remember to increase fiber gradually over a couple weeks if you have been falling short of this nutrient. Increasing too quickly can cause abdominal discomfort or make constipation worse.
While increasing fiber, ensure that you are drinking enough fluids as well. Adequate hydration will help keep stool soft and easier to pass. If adequate fluid is not consumed, it increases the chance of constipation or can make it worse. Your individual fluid needs vary depending on many factors including age, weight, activity level, the climate you live in, and your medical status. Most fluids consumed should be water or other unsweetened beverages. However, drinking prune juice daily, starting with as little as ½ cup, has been known to aid in alleviating constipation. It can also be helpful to drink a warm liquid in the morning for regularity.
Feelings of constipation can have you wanting to curl in a ball in bed but getting moving can be greatly beneficial, not only for digestion but also for overall health. You don’t have to partake in intense physical activity to reap these benefits. Simply adding light movement throughout your day can help to improve digestion and mood, enhancing quality of life.
If you feel your constipation may be diet related, talk with a registered dietitian to find the right plan for you. They will be able to help you identify opportunities to alleviate constipation and improve bowel regularity, specific to your individual situation and lifestyle. If your constipation is not improving, seek guidance from your physician about whether over-the-counter medications may be helpful for relief.
Kim Meeuwsen, RDN, CSOWM is a registered dietitian and Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management from West Michigan. Kim has over 10 years of experience providing nutrition care to both inpatients and outpatients in acute care and rehabilitation settings. Her experience is diverse, counseling families and patients with various disease states across the lifespan. Kim’s passion is promoting and teaching health optimization with food first.
If you have more questions about your diet, it’s always a great idea to speak with a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are the only credentialed experts qualified to address your unique health questions. Click here to request a direct consultation with a dietitian today!
Oh SJ, Fuller G, Patel D, et al. Chronic constipation in the United States: Results from a population-based survey assessing healthcare seeking and use of pharmacotherapy. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2020;115(6):895-905. doi:10.14309/ajg.0000000000000614
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.