We are talking about constipation.
It’s not a topic you probably want to talk about, but if you are constipated, making healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle can help get things moving again.
IDENTIFYING THE SOURCE OF THE PROBLEM
Constipation is generally defined as having fewer than three bowel movements per week. While it can be caused by something serious such as a bowel obstruction or colon or rectal cancer, other conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders and pregnancy can also cause constipation.
Some of the primary risk factors for and causes of constipation include:
- Age (older adults are more likely to suffer from constipation)
- Low-fiber diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Certain medications such as sedatives, narcotics or certain blood pressure-lowering drugs
FIBER AND FLUID FOR THE WIN
Making lifestyle changes such as eating more fiber, drinking more water and moving more can help alleviate constipation. Most people should start with these three recommendations before seeking other interventions.
When it comes to fiber, aim to eat 25-35 grams per day. The typical American consumes about 12-15 grams of fiber per day, so most of us would benefit from more roughage in our diets. Go slow as you consume more fiber, adding a few more grams per day into your meal plan.
Here are some tips for eating more fiber:
- Choose brown instead of white rice.
- Add dried or canned beans to salads, soups and casseroles.
- Swap juice and canned fruits and vegetables for fresh ones with the skins left on.
- Bake with whole-wheat flour or other whole grains.
- Look for the words 100% whole wheat, rye, oats or bran as the first or second ingredient in your bread foods.
When you increase your fiber, you also need to increase your water intake. Aim to drink at least eight cups per day, but you may need more with additional fiber intake. Fluid allows your body to process all of that fiber without gastrointestinal discomfort.
THE 3-2-1 RULE
For people complaining of constipation, the 3-2-1 rule can help. Each day aim to eat three pieces of fruit, drink 2 liters of water and include one serving of either bran or prunes. Bran and prunes are especially helpful in alleviating constipation. Bran helps increase fecal bulk and prunes contain a compound that speeds their transit through your gut.
MOBILITY FOR MOTILITY
Sitting down for much of the day can contribute to constipation. Physical activity gets things moving and can help promote more regular bowel movements. Make a point to be active for 30-60 minutes per day.
Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE is a consultant, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator based in San Diego, CA. She specializes in nutrition communications and is the author of Diet Therapy in Advanced Practice Nursing (McGraw Hill 2014). As an advocate for foods you can eat MORE of, Katie serves as a media spokesperson and writes the popular blog www.fiberisthefuture.com
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