Constipated? Fill Up on Fiber-Rich Foods
Chances are you've experienced constipation at one point or another. If the problem is more than occasional or includes severe pain or bleeding, it's important to check in with your doctor, as these symptoms can be a sign of a more serious digestive disorder. But in most cases, constipation is just a sign that your diet needs more fiber and likely fluid as well.
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommended dietary allowances, women ages 31 to 50 should aim to eat at least 25 grams (g) of fiber daily, while men in that age range should eat about 38 g. And as we grow older, our fiber requirements drop: Women 51 and older need about 21 g daily, while men should get at least 30 g of fiber. Getting adequate fiber has longed been known to play an important role in maintaining weight and helping prevent obesity. And a growing body of research, such as that discussed in a review published in January 2013 in Advances in Nutrition, suggests dietary fiber plays a key role in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, which affects several other aspects of our health.
If you need to increase your fiber, add it to your diet gradually to avoid bloating. You don't want to suddenly go from eating 10 g of fiber a day to 25 g, says Charlene Prather, MD, MPH, a professor of internal medicine in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Also, when adding more fiber-filled foods to your diet, be sure to drink plenty of fluids to help the fiber flow properly through your digestive tract.
2. Pick Berries for a Sweet Treat
For a sweet constipation remedy, take your pick of luscious raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. “All are examples of fruits that have a good amount of fiber,” Dr. Prather says. A cup of fresh strawberries provides 3 g of fiber, while the same size serving of blackberries will provide 7.6 g, and raspberries 8 g. Berries are low in calories, so you can eat a big bowl of plain berries with low-fat whipped cream as dessert, toss them on your breakfast cereal, or mix them into pancakes.
3. Pop Some Air-Popped Popcorn
“Popcorn is a great low-calorie way to get more fiber in your diet,” Prather says. But if you pile on the salt and butter, you could undo some of its benefits. Go for air-popped popcorn or a healthy variety of microwave popcorn. Popcorn is a whole grain, and increasing the whole grains in your diet is an effective constipation remedy.
4. Try Beans for a Big Fiber Boost
Cup for cup, beans and lentils provide twice as much fiber as most vegetables. A ½ cup serving of navy beans will provide 9.5 g of fiber, while a similar size serving of pinto beans provides 7.7 g. Lima, great northern, and kidney beans have a little less, but still pack a whopping 4.5 g or more of fiber per ½ cup. Beans are incredibly versatile, and can be tossed into salads, soups, casseroles, or pasta dishes.
5. Snack on Dried Fruit
Dried fruits, such as dates, figs, prunes, apricots, and raisins, are another great source of dietary fiber that acts as constipation relief.
“Prunes, in particular, are great because they not only are high in fiber, they also contain sorbitol, which is a natural laxative,” Prather says. Like fiber, sorbitol is a type of carbohydrate and has a molecular structure similar to sugar.
Since fiber isn’t digested, it retains water as it passes through your gut. This water softens your stool, helping to relieve constipation. Just remember that dried fruits are also packed with calories and may contain added sugar, so if you're watching your waistline, be sure to keep an eye on your portions and choose varieties without added sugar.
6. Switch to Whole-Grain Bread
If you want to keep constipation at bay, the bread you eat should be made from 100 percent whole grains. Whole-grain breads are low in fat and high in dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates. Check the label before buying: The first ingredient should say “whole” before the type of grain, such as “whole-wheat flour.” Don't be fooled by "seven-grain" and "multigrain" breads, which are made from enriched flour. These products may contain several different grains, but there's no guarantee that any of them are whole grains. Look for bread that contains at least 3 g of fiber per slice. Prather’s tip: Diet breads are often higher in fiber. “Bakers make diet bread light by putting more fiber in them,” she explains.
7. Start Your Day With a High-Fiber Cereal
Years ago, high-fiber breakfast cereals tasted like cardboard, but not anymore. “There are so many wonderful high-fiber cereals now,” Prather says. Choose a cereal that has at least 6 g of fiber per serving. Or, if your favorite cereal doesn’t have a lot of fiber, add your own by sprinkling a few tablespoons of wheat bran, chia seeds, or ground flaxseed on top.
8. Bring on the Broccoli
Like beans, broccoli is a superstar source of fiber. It's also low in calories and a great source of nutrients. For the best fiber bang for your buck, eat your broccoli raw, because cooking it can reduce its fiber content. But if you prefer it cooked, try steaming, broiling, or baking your broccoli to avoid extra calories. You can toss it with a small amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper for additional flavor.
9. Eat More Plums, Pears, and Apples
Constipation can make you feel bloated, and eating more fruit can be a constipation remedy because it, too, is high in dietary fiber. Plums, pears, and apples are good choices because much of their fiber can be found in their edible skins — and they're also high in pectin, a naturally occurring fiber. Both an unpeeled small pear and a medium apple with skin contain 4.4 g of fiber each.
10. Surround Yourself With Nuts
Nuts are yet another fiber powerhouse. Among the best are almonds, pecans, and walnuts. A 1-ounce serving of almonds provides 3.5 g of fiber, while a similar size serving of pistachios will provide 2.9 g of fiber, and pecans 2.7 g. Just be sure to watch how many you eat, because nuts are calorie-dense. Prather offers this trick for gauging how much to eat: Cup your hand and fill only the palm part.
11. Get the Skinny on Baked Potatoes
Good news, potato lovers: One medium baked potato, with skin, has 3.8 g of fiber. Even better, a baked sweet potato with skin provides 4.8 g of fiber. Boiling and mashing potatoes — with the skin — is another good way to serve them. You can skip the french fries, as they are high in unhealthy saturated fat. Instead, cut potatoes in the shape of fries, spray them with a little olive oil, sprinkle with your favorite seasonings, and bake in the oven until crisp. They’ll taste like french fries without the added calories and unhealthy fat.