Constipation and Fiber
To help relieve symptoms and prevent recurrence of constipation:
- Eat more fiber foods and drink plenty of water and other liquids (six to eight glasses) such as fruit and vegetable juices and clear soups.
Eating a well balanced diet with enough fiber, 20 to 35 grams each day, recommended by the American Dietetic Association, helps form soft, bulky stool.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Americans eat an average of 5 to 14 grams of fiber daily. Both children and adults eat too many refined and processed foods from which the natural fiber has been removed.
High fiber foods include:
- Whole grains.
- Bran cereals.
- Fresh fruits.
- Vegetables such as asparagus, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and carrots.
The most common cause of constipation is a diet low in fiber and high in fats found in cheese, eggs, and meats. People who eat plenty of high fiber foods are less likely to become constipated. For people prone to constipation, limiting foods that have little or no fiber, such as ice cream, cheese, meat, snacks like chips and pizza, and processed foods such as instant mashed potatoes or already prepared frozen dinners, is also important. A doctor or dietitian can help plan an appropriate diet.
Fiber, both soluble and insoluble, is the part of fruits, vegetables, and grains that the body cannot digest. We need both soluble and insoluble fiber in our diet.
- Soluble Fiber
Soluble fiber dissolves easily in water and takes on a soft, gel like texture in the intestines.
- Insoluble Fiber
Insoluble fiber passes through the intestines almost unchanged. The bulk and soft texture of fiber help prevent hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass.
A low fiber diet also plays a key role in constipation among older adults, who may lose interest in eating and choose convenience foods low in fiber. In addition, difficulties with chewing or swallowing may force older people to eat soft foods that are processed and low in fiber.
If you can not consume all of the daily serving requirements of high fiber foods, or if you do not get relief from constipation, fiber supplements, also known as bulk-forming laxatives, may be added to the diet. You can buy fiber products in a pharmacy or grocery store without a prescription. Some fiber products are flavored while others are not. Brand names include:
Adding too much of a fiber supplement in the diet “too quickly” can cause constipation, diarrhea and bloating, intestinal gas (flatulence) and other digestive discomforts. This problem can usually be reduced by increasing fiber in your diet “slowly” over a period of weeks which helps your health and your body to adjust.
When fiber supplements are increased, water must be increased. Be sure to drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water a day if you use fiber supplements, if you don’t, fiber supplements may make you even more constipated.
Follow fiber supplement directions and always check with your doctor when starting any new supplement. Remember to continue to try to get most of your fiber from foods.
Persons with narrowings (strictures) or adhesions (scar tissue from previous surgery) of their intestines should not use fiber unless it has been discussed with their physician.
Some fiber laxatives contain sugar, and diabetic patients may need to select sugar free products.
People who have problems with constipation should try to drink liquids every day. Liquids that contain caffeine, such as coffee and cola drinks will worsen one’s symptoms by causing dehydration. Alcohol is another beverage that causes dehydration. It is important to drink fluids that hydrate the body, especially when consuming caffeine containing drinks or alcoholic beverages.
Source: digestive.niddk.nih.gov – July 2007