Constipation can make you feel sluggish, heavy, and grumpy. Most people experience it only occasionally, but for others it can become chronic. This is also more likely to happen as you age.
Wondering if you are constipated? Red flags include having fewer than three bowel movements per week and hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass.
When you are constipated, the first step is to change your diet. What you eat can have a big impact on how smoothly your digestive system works—especially the amount of fiber you consume. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that naturally helps you stay regular, but most adults only get about half of what they need each day.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, women should consume 22-25 grams of fiber per day and men should consume 28-31 grams of fiber per day. You don’t need to count every gram. Instead, look for high-fiber foods and switch to low-fiber options.
These 10 foods are all high in fiber (and other healthful nutrients), so try adding them to your meals and snacks:
- Pears: Pears are one of the highest fiber fruits, with 6 grams of fiber per medium-sized pear. Leave the peel intact for maximum fiber content.
- Oats: All varieties (whether old-fashioned, instant or steel-cut) are whole grains and high in fiber. Cooked oatmeal contains 4 grams of fiber per cup. You'll get even more if you top your bowl with fresh or frozen fruit.
- Potatoes: In addition to French fries, potatoes are highly nutritious. Each medium-sized potato contains a large amount of vitamin C and 3 grams of fiber. Eat the skin to get them all.
- Flax and chia seeds: Sprinkle these seeds into oatmeal, smoothies, or even baked goods for an easy way to get some extra fiber.
- Legumes: Switch at least one meat-based meal per week to a meal containing legumes. They are rich in protein, iron and fiber. One-half cup of cooked kidney beans contains about 6 grams of fiber.
- Popcorn: This is a perfect option when you’re craving a crunchy snack. It is a natural source of whole grains and contains 1 gram of fiber per cup.
- Lentils: One-half cup of cooked green lentils contains 9 grams of fiber, plus the protein content of 2 ounces of beef.
- High-fiber cereals: Check the label for brands with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Regular chopped wheat and bran cereals are great places to start. Add a handful of blueberries or sliced bananas for extra fiber.
- Apples: Leave the skin on as both the skin and pulp contain fiber. One medium apple contains 4 grams of fiber, plus plenty of water to keep you hydrated.
- Edamame: These nutty soybeans popping out of the pod contain 4 grams of fiber per half-cup serving.
What else can you do?
- As you start adding more fiber into your life, you'll also want to:
- Drink lots of water: If you don't take in enough fluids, eating high-fiber foods won't help. They help stool pass more easily.
- Take your time: Add these fiber-rich foods slowly or you'll also get gas and bloating.
- Move your body: Movement is good for digestion. Just taking a daily walk around the block can help your system run more efficiently.
When food doesn't solve the problem
In some cases, diet alone may not resolve constipation. Therefore, if the condition does not improve, consult your doctor as you may need other treatments such as medication. Always tell your doctor if you have blood in your stool or abdominal pain.