Plugged up? Read this.
We’ve already told you what foods will help you avoid constipation, but sometimes, sh*t happens. Or rather, doesn’t happen.
According to the National Institutes of Health, constipation qualifies as fewer than three bowel movements per week, and/or, small, hard bits of stool that are painful to pass. And it’s a common problem: The NIH estimates that some 42 million people nationwide deal with constipation, and women are apparently more prone than men. Go figure.
The most important thing you should do to avoid constipation is eat a balanced and varied diet, says Leslie Bonci, a registered dietician and the owner of Active Eating Advice. “We’ve got to think about being good to our bowels because if our gut doesn’t feel good, we don’t feel good,” Bonci says.
Fiber is a reliable way to keep things moving, but it’s important to also incorporate carbohydrates, which draw in water and can soften stool, says Bonci. But above all, stay hydrated. “If somebody eats a lot of high-fiber foods and [consumes] no fluids,” Bonci warns, “it tends to worsen the situation.”
When disaster strikes, Bonci says you should definitely avoid these seven foods:
But only if you’re lactose intolerant, Bonci stresses: The idea that dairy constipates is an urban legend, she says. Only people whose bodies can’t process the sugar in milk products might end up constipated or with diarrhea after dairy consumption. Still, about 65 percent of people have difficulty digesting lactose after infancy, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and some dieticians will caution constipated patients against dairy consumption, due to its ability to make you feel bloated.
Bonci says that high-fat diets tend to yield blockages. “A lot of times things that are really high in fat aren’t really high in fiber,” she says, and all those fats “take longer to mobilize from the stomach.” Fat takes a long time to digest, whereas fruits and vegetables typically vacate the body in under 24 hours. If you’re feeling backed up, avoid foods that have been fried in oils or butter.
Fried foods may also be battered in white flour, and while carbohydrates tend to get a bad reputation when it comes to constipation, Bonci says they’re good for the gut. However, she explains, “White flour doesn’t have as much fiber in it, so if somebody’s doing white flour all the time in the absence of adequate fruits or vegetables,” they might become irregular. Bonci suggests people make a gradual switch to “whole grain, high fiber” carbs—think farro and wheat berries.
This one may surprise readers, but Bonci cautions against tea consumption when constipated. While herbal teas are unlikely to have a negative effect, generic, bagged black teas contain tannins, which bind stool together. Tea will often contain caffeine as well, and while a little bit of that can get the digestive system moving, too much can dehydrate the body for the opposite effect.
Bananas are rich in fiber and carbohydrates, but Bonci recommends avoiding them because “they can make the body hold instead of moving things through.” That’s especially true if they’re not quite ripe yet.
Fruits typically offer a solid source of fiber, but Bonci says apricots should be off-limits if you’ve got irregular bowel movements. “Dried apricots can be a little bit more binding,” she adds. It’s also easier to over-indulge on dried fruits than it is on larger fresh fruits, meaning you might overload on fiber and end up messing with your GI tract.
Rice is another food item that sits in your digestive system rather than passing quickly through, Bonci says. While carbohydrates are good in moderation, white rice lacks the fibrous elements that brown rice retains. Given the option between the two, opt for brown rice for a healthier gut.