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Constipation Dietary Guide

Diet Advice For Constipation

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Constipation and Diet

What is Constipation?

Constipation is a condition involving infrequent bowel movements coupled with excessive strain when passing stools. Constipation is becoming a common gastrointestinal disorder in the developed world due to increased intake of refined foods, lack of dietary fiber and insufficient physical exercise, all of which help to reduce the frequency and ease of bowel movements. Paradoxically, over use of laxatives can interfere with the functioning of the colon which becomes dependent on them, leading to constipational problems.

How Bad Diet Causes Constipation: Insufficient Food Bulk

Food is propelled along the digestive tract (small and large intestine or colon) by a sequence of muscular contractions called peristalsis. This peristaltic wave of contractions may become less effective over time unless the muscles maintain their strength and tone by having something bulky to "push against". Food bulk is provided by indigestible dietary fiber. It is dietary fiber that helps maintain intestinal muscle tone so they can continue to perform their contractions. By contrast, a diet which is low in dietary fiber and high in refined carbs eventually leads to a shrinking of intestinal muscles, reduced peristalsis and a much longer stool-transit-time through the colon.

How Bad Diet Causes Constipation: Insufficient Water

For efficient passage through the digestive tract, the "wetter" the digested food is, the better. Dehydrated food residues that are dry and hard move through the system much more slowly. This is one reason why it's important to include enough fluid in your daily diet - not just fluid from water or drinks, but also from fruits and vegetables. A high fiber diet is again helpful since dietary fiber retains water as it passes into the colon, thus helping to keep everything relatively fluid.

Diet Recommendations To Reduce Constipation

  • Eat plenty of fiber
    For adults under the age of 50, the recommended daily fiber intake is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. For adults over 50, the recommended daily fiber intake is 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men. See also: Sources of Fiber in Diet
  • Fiber foods: eat more oatmeal,apples, pears, beans and cooked green leafy vegetables for their soluble fiber; whole wheat bread, brown rice and other whole grain cereals for their insoluble fiber.
  • Include enough fluid in your diet
    Women should take in approximately 2.7 liters (about 8 glasses) of total fluid - from all beverages and foods - each day, and men an average of approximately 3.7 liters (about 12 glasses) of total fluid. (Source: US Institute of Medicine, 2004) Note: UK dietitians and nutritionists recommend 3 pints/1.7 liters per day.

Diet Foods That Encourage Regular Bowel Movements

Some foods contain compounds that help to stimulate the colon muscles that perform peristalsis. Such foods include: coffee, rhubarb, figs and prunes. However, increasing your intake of these constipation-friendly foods is no substitute for sufficient fluid and dietary fiber.

Diet and Exercise Go Hand in Hand To Help Constipation

As well as improving your dietary habits, it's important to take regular physical exercise. Regular exercise helps to stimulate bowel movements. In contrast, sitting down for long periods increases the risk for constipation.

Types of Constipation

There are two kinds of constipation: atonic and spastic. Atonic constipation is discussed above and is due to lack of muscular strength and reduced peristaltic function typically caused by lack of fiber, fluid and exercise. Spastic constipation typically involves irregular bowel movements caused by such things as stress, excessive smoking, food irritants or obstruction of the colon.


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