Constipation and Fiber

Nobody likes to talk about constipation, but experiencing it is even worse, so let’s get honest about this uncomfortable condition.

If you suffer from constipation, your first thought might be that you’re not getting enough fiber in your diet, and chances are good that you’re right. Fiber causes people to produce more and softer fecal matter, and constipation is caused by hard feces. 25-30 grams of fiber per day is the minimum amount that researchers have found is required for a happy digestive tract. Now look how much fiber you might get in a typical day’s meals:

  • Breakfast: yogurt and an English muffin with butter and honey, 1.1 grams of fiber
  • Lunch: burger and fries with a soft drink, 5.5 grams of fiber
  • Dinner: barbecue with white bread and a salad (iceberg lettuce), 2.6 grams fiber
  • Snack: ice cream, .5 grams of fiber

In an entire day, you could be getting less than half the minimum amount of fiber you need in order to avoid constipation. Swap that English muffin for oatmeal with raisins and almonds, add an apple to lunch, make your salad with spinach and kale and carrots, and top that ice cream with blueberries — now you have enough fiber.

It’s not always that simple, though. Here are some other lifestyle choices that can lead to constipation:

  • Too little exercise
  • Ignoring the urge to use the bathroom
  • Drinking too little water
  • Too much caffeine or alcohol

There is some evidence that, for some people, grains and dairy products can lead to constipation.

And, surprisingly enough, one recent study found that people who suffered from severe constipation (fewer than two bowel movements in a week for three months or more) didn’t improve when they increased their fiber intake. While some commenters point out that this study relied on grains to increase fiber intake, others suggested that people who are already suffering from hard, slow-moving fecal matter in their bodies are not helped by following that up with more soft fecal matter. Low fiber diets helped these patients more.

The patients in this study suffered from chronic constipation with no medical cause. However, there are medical conditions as well as medications that are known to cause constipation. If regular exercise and plenty of fruit and vegetables don’t solve irregularity problems, a conversation with your doctor is in order.