Food can either cause constipation or relieve constipation; the trick is knowing the right foods to eat and when. Constipation can affect anyone at any age, but it is a common problem among older adults.
Constipation is the inability to pass a complete stool or have regular bowel movements. Constipation can be temporary or it can last for a longer period of time – it all depends on the individual. If constipation is chronic, it can be quite painful and impede on a person’s quality of life.
Role of food in constipation
Diet and food play a large part in our bowel movements and constipation. Typically, constipation results from a lack of dietary fiber, which many Americans do not get enough of. Other dietary factors which can contribute to constipation are the use of special diets to treat an ailment (i.e. wheat allergy) and suffering from an eating disorder.
There are certain foods which can promote constipation, and then there are others which can help relieve it, you just need to know which foods play what role.
Generally speaking, high fiber foods can aid in the relief of constipation but approach with caution: If inadequate fluid is taken with fiber, it will just leave you more backed up than when you started. Allergies can also play a large role in constipation, a common one is lactose intolerance. Those with a food allergy may find they become constipated after consuming foods which they are allergic to. It’s important to get yourself checked if you think you may have a food allergy.
Surprising foods that cause constipation
When it comes to constipation, you are probably already aware of some contributing foods; however, some might surprise you. Here are some foods you should probably avoid or minimize your intake of if you want to avoid constipation.
- Chocolate: Milk chocolate contains a common food allergen: milk. Because of this, it can contribute to constipation as many people have intolerances or sensitivities to it. Chocolate is also high in fat, which can slow down digestion and make the passage of food move slowly through the digestive tract thus resulting in constipation.
- Milk and milk products: Milk is common for causing constipation because it’s a common food allergen. If you find when you consume milk you become constipated, try staying away from it for a while to see if you feel the same. If you can’t get off the white stuff, opt for almond, soy, or coconut milk instead. As another milk product, cheese can cause constipation.
- Red meat: Red meat, in general, can contribute to constipation. Red meat doesn’t contain fiber, so if you don’t pair it with fiber-rich veggies, it can plug you up. Red meat is also higher in fat which can make the digestive process slower.
- Rice: When choosing rice, stick with brown rice for more fiber because white rice can constipate you.
- Unripe bananas: Bananas are generally ideal to combat constipation but when they are unripe it is hard for your body to digest, thus contributing to constipation. This is because unripe bananas are higher in tannins which slow down digestion.
- Potato chips: Any high-fat food delays digestion, which makes you feel too full. They also don’t contain much fiber.
- Cookies and pastries: Refined sugars, low fluid, and low fiber is a recipe for constipation.
- Fried and fast foods: Fried food items tend to move slower in the digestive tract, contributing to constipation. Fast and fried food is low in fiber and high in fat which are two largely contributing factors to constipation. You can make fast food items healthier by making burgers yourself with other meats like turkey and using sweet potatoes as fries and bake them.
- Caffeine: Caffeine is dehydrating, and you need proper hydration for digestion to be successful.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is dehydrating and can slow down digestion. Some alcohol is also high in tannins.
- Gluten-containing foods: For those with gluten intolerance, consuming gluten-containing foods can lead to constipation along with other gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Processed grains: Processed grains do not contain fiber and are heavy in starches which can contribute to constipation.
- Persimmons: Persimmon fruit is high in tannins which can aggravate constipation and slow down digestion.
Foods that can help relieve constipation
Just how foods can contribute to constipation, there are many foods which can offer relief and promote regular bowel movements. Foods that can help relieve constipation are:
- Shredded wheat
- Winter squash
- Green peas
- Sweet potato
- Collard greens
- Brown rice
- Aloe juice
Other remedies to help relieve constipation
Aside from food, exercise can play a role in regular bowel movements as well. Exercise limits the amount of time it takes for food to be digested by speeding up your metabolism. It also moves food along more quickly in the large intestine, minimizing the amount of fluids it absorbs.
Although you shouldn’t exercise immediately after a meal, as long as you wait one hour you’re good to get going. Here are some effective exercises you can do in order to promote regularity and reduce constipation.
This exercise is performed while lying on your stomach. Simply alternative lifting each leg like you’re “fluttering” (think of swimming). Do this at least 10 times per leg.
Basic leg lift
This exercise is performed while lying on your back. With legs together raise them in unison and hold them in the air (at least one foot off the ground) for 10 seconds. Then proceed to lower them back down. You may wish to put a pillow or your hands under your lower back for additional support. Complete three sets of this exercise.
Start by lying on your back and raise your legs straight in the air so you look like the letter L. While exhaling moving your upper body upward and lower your legs – you should now be in a reversed L position. Complete this move five times.
The best ways to relieve constipation are through natural means: diet and exercise. You don’t have to suffer from constipation as long as you become more mindful about what you are eating.
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