Constipation, or bowel irregularity, is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints in the United States, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. It is reported that $725 million dollars is spent on laxative purchases each year to alleviate constipation and promote regular bowels. Individuals may look in their own food pantries and at their own plates to determine if the foods they are consuming contribute to regular or irregular bowel movements.
Fiber-rich foods are highly recommended to promote regular bowel movements. It is recommended women and men, respectively, consume 25 grams and 38 grams of dietary fiber every day. Many Americans do not consume recommended amounts of dietary fiber, according to the U.S. Agricultural Research Service data. High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes or beans, whole grain cereals and breads.
On the contrary, low-fiber foods, such as cheese and processed foods, are not going to promote bowel regularity. Fiber is extremely important to make stool the right consistency so that the colon can easily push it out of the body. Without adequate dietary fiber, too much water gets absorbed by the colon, making existing stool hard and dry, thereby resulting in constipation.
Fluids and Constipation
Since constipation basically results from not enough water in the stool, adequate hydration is also important for preventing constipation. Consuming the recommended amount of fluids promotes bowel regularity. Fluids from beverages and also foods, such as soups and stews, count toward fluid intake. Caution is warranted with drinks containing alcohol and caffeine, however, as they can cause dehydration, which may worsen constipation.
It is also important to obtain a balance of fiber in the diet. Two types of fiber act to regulate the bowels. Insoluble adds bulk to the stool by not dissolving in water. Soluble fiber does dissolve water to become a gel-like substance. Both act together to create bowel harmony! Foods with soluble fiber include oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. Foods with insoluble fiber include wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains.
Jennifer Lemacks is an assistant professor at the University of Southern Mississippi with a doctorate in human nutrition from Florida State University, and is a registered dietitian trained in child and adolescent weight management. She has prepared, edited and presented various manuscripts for peer-reviewed journals and professional conferences.