The main dietary causes of constipation are lack of fiber in the diet, accompanied by inadequate intake of water and other liquids.
All types of fiber can help with constipation. However, insoluble fiber helps the most. The best dietary source of insoluble fiber is contained in unprocessed bran. It mixes unevenly with water, forming a soft pulp.
Your body does not absorb insoluble fiber during digestion, so the fiber does not add to your calories. The fiber increases the volume of stool. A larger mass of soft stool is easier for the colon to push against and propel, so larger, softer stools improve constipation.
To treat constipation experts recommend:
- Substitute whole grain foods for refined products. Try whole wheat bread and brown rice instead of the "white" varieties. Or try something different like wheat bulgur instead of rice (it's easy to make and has a rich, nutty flavor).
- Buy wheat bran or oat bran and add them to homemade muffins or breads.
- Mix a 100-percent bran cereal with your usual brand. You can get an additional 5 grams of fiber with a quarter cup of bran cereal. Start with much smaller amounts and increase gradually.
- Add legumes to your cooking, either as a side dish or as part of a casserole — they are among the foods that offer the most fiber per serving.
- Cut back on low-fiber foods such as meats, cheese and processed foods.
- Drink plenty of water. As you increase your fiber, you also will need to step up your fluid intake. Some liquids are better than others for preventing constipation. Water is best. Vegetable and fruit juices are good, but they can be high in calories, and miss most of the fiber that is found in whole vegetables and fruit. Milk can cause intestinal upset in many people, and broth can be high in salt. Caffeine-containing drinks such as coffee, tea and colas have a mildly dehydrating effect on the body, but they do promote contractions in the bowel and can sometimes facilitate bowel movements.
- Eat on a regular schedule to give your body a chance to regulate its elimination.
- Respect your body's signals when you have urges to pass a stool. It is natural for urges to follow meals, and these are the easiest times for you to move your bowels.
Most people have temporary symptoms of increased gas or bloating when they first increase their dietary fiber, so it is best to increase fiber slowly.