Foods to Eat When You Are Constipated

1
Fiber's Role in Digestion

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When you suffer from constipation, you certainly want to eat foods that will get your system moving. The key element in foods that are best for constipation is fiber, and you will find that in foods that come from plants.

Types of Foods to Pick

A fiber-rich diet supports digestive health. Several classes of food are particularly beneficial:

  • Fruit: Berries, peaches, apricots, plums, raisins, rhubarb, and prunes are some of the best high-fiber fruits. For the best fiber boost, eat the peel as well.
  • Whole grains: Steer away from white flour and white rice and enjoy whole grains instead, which provide more fiber. Whole grains include oats, brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa, barley, and rye.
  • Vegetables: Whether you're eating the leaves, stalks, or roots, you'll get fiber from vegetables, including what is in potato skins.
  • Nuts: Walnuts and almonds will also add fiber to your diet.
  • Seeds: Several kinds of seeds are excellent sources of fiber. You can add them to your smoothies or sprinkle them on yogurt or salads. Chia, ground flaxseeds, and psyllium are some of the most touted.
  • Beans and Legumes (with caution):  Legumes such as chickpeas, soybeans, lentils, navy beans, and kidney beans are good sources of fiber. However, they are also on the list of high FODMAP foods that can exacerbate Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms, and they have a well-earned reputation for being gassy.
  • Hot Tea: An herbal tea made with anise or fennel might be a soothing way to ease your constipation.

Why Fiber Helps When You Have Constipation

The best thing you can do to ease constipation is to slowly increase your intake of dietary fiber. Fiber is the part of plant material that we cannot digest. Fiber is helpful for constipation because it serves to both add bulk and softness to the stool.

  • Soluble fiber absorbs water and binds with fatty acids, forming a gel-like substance that keeps stools soft.
  • Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, thus providing bulk and moisture to the stool.
  • Both types of fiber are good for constipation. Since both types are found in all plant foods, it is not necessary to remember which foods are a good source of which type of fiber.

However, too much fiber too soon can be hard on your system and may add to symptoms of gas and bloating. Therefore, increase your intake of fruits and vegetables slowly. For treating constipation, increase your fiber intake to 20 to 25 grams per day.

If you have irritable bowel syndrome you may find that your system is better able to handle foods with soluble fiber, as insoluble fiber may trigger your symptoms. 

FODMAPs and Gassy Foods

If you have IBS, you will want to avoid foods that are high in FODMAPs, even if they are good for other people who have constipation. FODMAPs are carbohydrates found in ordinary foods that have been found to exacerbate IBS symptoms. These are noted in the food lists.

Although eating more fruits and vegetables can help to ease your constipation, some of them have a gassy reputation. It may be a good idea to choose foods that are less likely to give you gas until your system is working more readily. After your acute constipation has passed, you can widen your choice of produce.

2
Best Fruits for Constipation

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Fruits are a great option for easing constipation. Most are an excellent source of dietary fiber and they offer you a whole host of other nutritional benefits. Although there is no hard science on the matter, you may find that your body responds better to fruit that has been cooked or dried, as opposed to raw.

If you have IBS pain, gas or bloating alongside your constipation, you may want to consider choosing fruits that are low in FODMAPs and therefore less likely to contribute to your symptoms. In the list below, low-FODMAP fruits are marked with an asterisk (*).

Some fruits that are thought to be helpful in easing constipation include:

  • Apricots
  • Blueberries*
  • Figs
  • Grapes*
  • Kiwi*
  • Papaya*
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapple*
  • Plums
  • Raspberries*
  • Strawberries*

Dried Options:

Dried fruits are considered to be high in FODMAPs.

  • Apricots
  • Dates
  • Figs
  • Prunes
  • Raisins

*Low-FODMAP options.

3
Best Vegetables for Constipation

variety of raw vegetables
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Eating lots of vegetables, including green leafy vegetables, is one of the best strategies for keeping your bowels moving regularly. In addition to offering a healthy dose of fiber, vegetables also provide a whole range of nutrients that are good for your digestive and overall health. As is the case with fruits, you may find that your body responds in a more comfortable way to cooked rather than raw vegetables.

The following vegetables are thought to be beneficial for easing constipation:

Eat Your Greens

  • Kale*
  • Lettuce*
  • Spinach*
  • Swiss chard*

Fill Your Plate With Vegetables

  • Artichoke hearts
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli*
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots*
  • Green beans*
  • Peas
  • Red potatoes with skin*
  • Squash*
  • Zucchini*

*Low-FODMAP choices.

4
Whole Grains and Constipation

variety of whole grain foods
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Switching from refined grains such as white flour and white rice to whole grains is thought by many to make a difference in terms of resolving constipation problems. Some good whole grain choices include:

  • Amaranth*
  • Barley
  • Brown rice*
  • Bulgur
  • Oats*
  • Quinoa
  • Rye
  • Whole wheat

If you suffer from chronic constipation, you may want to try an elimination diet of all grains to assess any effect on your symptoms. Check with your doctor first then load up on fiber from all of the other sources listed in these slides.

*Low-FODMAP choices.

5
Best Teas for Constipation

fennel tea and seeds
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One way to ease constipation is to reach for a soothing cup of tea. Hot liquids may help to prompt your system to action. A tea made with herbs with laxatives effects is ideal. The two best teas for constipation are:

  • Anise Tea: This licorice-tasting tea is thought to have both laxative and antispasmodic effects.
  • Fennel Tea: Also licorice-tasting, fennel tea is thought to speed up intestinal contractions, as well as act as a laxative and an antispasmodic.

6
Best Nuts for Constipation

bowl of mixed nuts
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Nuts are a good source of fiber and omega fatty acids. Good choices include:

  • Almonds* (low-FODMAP if limited to 10)
  • Brazil nuts*
  • Pecans*
  • Walnuts*

*Low-FODMAP choices.

7
Best Seeds for Constipation

green smoothie with chia seeds
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Several different types of seeds that are thought to be particularly helpful in easing constipation:

  • Chia seeds: These little poppy-sized seeds are a good source of dietary fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids. Sprinkle on salads or add to smoothies.
  • Fennel seeds: Chewing on some fennel seeds is thought to help to ease gas and bloating, along with easing constipation.
  • Flaxseed: These pleasant little nutty-flavored seeds need to be ground before consumption to benefit from their fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids. They can be used in baking or added to smoothies.
  • Psyllium: There is a lot of research support for the use of psyllium as a way to ease constipation, which earns it its designation as a bulk laxative.

8
Best Snacks for Constipation

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1. Fruit: Apples and pears are quite portable, but choose low-FODMAP grapes or berries if necessary.

2. Granola: Make your own to reduce added sugar and to ensure that you are adding grains, seeds, and nuts that you can tolerate. You can adjust any of the following recipes to your own needs. Try a sugar-free granola recipe or a nut-free granola recipe.

3. Hummus: A very portable, fiber-rich snack, but unfortunately not appropriate for a low-FODMAP diet. 

4. Nuts: Brazil nuts, pecans, and walnuts are generally well-tolerated by all who aren't allergic to nuts.

5. Trail mix: Make your own to ensure that you are eating foods that are suited for you. You can add some nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, and dried fruit (if tolerated). Try a recipe for low-carb trail mix.

6. Vegetables: If you can tolerate raw vegetables, carrots and green beans are portable and low in FODMAPs.

9
Drink Plenty of Water

Every cell in your body needs water to function to its best ability. If you don't drink enough water, your body will compensate by pulling water out of your intestines. This diversion may result in hard stools that contribute to constipation. Drink water throughout your day. You will know that you are drinking enough if your urine is clear.

A Word From Verywell

When you have constipation, remember that foods that come from plants are your best choices to help get things moving. Drink plenty of water and remain physically active as well.

Sources:

Gibson, P. & Shepherd, S. "Evidence-based dietary management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms: The FODMAP approach" Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2010 25:252-258.

Lembo, A. & Camilleri, M. Chronic Constipation New England Journal of Medicine 2003 349:1360-1368.

Monash University. Monash University Low FODMAP Diet App.

Shepherd, S., Lomer, M. & Gibson, P. "Short-Chain Carbohydrates and Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders" American Journal of Gastroenterology 2013:108:707-717.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. Constipation - self-care. MedlinePlus.

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