Constipation is a common problem that affects up to 27% of adults, causing uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating and gas. While there are many potential causes, certain foods can make constipation worse. Alcohol, processed grains, red meat, dairy products, sugary treats, and high-fat meats are some of the most common culprits. Eating too few fiber-rich foods can also contribute to constipation.
Fortunately, there are some foods that can help relieve constipation and keep you regular. Alcohol is frequently mentioned as a likely cause of constipation. Unfortunately, no studies have been found on the direct relationship between alcohol consumption and constipation. However, alcohol can have a dehydrating effect that can increase the risk of constipation.
The effects may vary from person to person, and more studies are needed before solid conclusions can be reached. To counteract the potentially dehydrating and constipating effects of alcohol, try to compensate for each serving of alcohol with a glass of water or other non-alcoholic beverage. Processed grains and their products, such as white bread, white rice and white pasta, are lower in fiber and may cause more constipation than whole grains. Many studies have linked higher fiber intake to a lower risk of constipation. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 25 grams (g) of fiber for women and 38 g of fiber for men per day.
Swapping processed grains for whole-grain bread and brown rice could go a long way in relieving constipation. Red meat is generally high in fat and low in fiber, a combination of nutrients that can increase the risk of constipation. If you let red meat replace fiber-rich foods in your diet, it can increase your risk even more. People with constipation may benefit from replacing red meat in their diet with alternatives rich in protein and fiber, such as beans, lentils and peas. Dairy products are high in calcium, which has high-binding properties and can cause constipation in some people. Babies and toddlers may be especially sensitive to dairy products.
Many highly processed pastries and snacks also contain refined carbohydrates, which can have negative effects on digestion. Bananas can be a cause of constipation or a source of constipation relief depending on their maturity. Green bananas can be used to treat diarrhea. Persimmons contain a large amount of tannins, a compound believed to reduce intestinal secretions and contractions, thus slowing bowel movements. Fried foods and fast foods often contain large amounts of salt, which can reduce the water content of stools, dry them out and hinder their circulation through the body. Exercising regularly is important for relieving constipation. Even if you don't feel like exercising because you're constipated and bloated, moving your body will help you evacuate your bowels. If you have questions about constipation and diet or any other aspect of nutrition and how this might affect your health, consult a clinical dietician or doctor.