If you're looking for natural ways to combat constipation, there are some unexpected foods you might not have considered. Before you reach for those ultra-strength tablets that leave you feeling worse than before, we’ve got a few natural alternatives worth trying.
Constipation is a common digestive issue that affects a significant portion of the population, with an estimation of 12-19% of people worldwide experiencing chronic constipation at some point in their lives. While it's often considered a minor inconvenience, for many it’s a painful, uncomfortable and chronic condition causing stress, embarrassment and other health issues. The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a complex system responsible for digesting food and absorbing nutrients. It includes various organs like the stomach, small intestine, and colon, all of which play a crucial role in the final stages of digestion and the formation of stool. Unfortunately, things don't always go smoothly. (Pun absolutely intended!)
What Happens in the Gut When We’re Constipated?
Let’s take a look at what happens when we’re digesting food.
- Peristalsis: The colon's muscles move in a coordinated manner to push stool forward. This process is known as peristalsis. When peristalsis slows down or weakens, it can lead to constipation.
- Water Absorption: In the colon, water is absorbed from the stool, making it more solid. However, excessive water absorption can result in hard, dry stool that is difficult to pass.
- Stool Formation: Stool consists of water, bacteria, undigested food, and waste products. A well-balanced stool is soft and formed, making it easier to pass. For those who are constipated, there might be an excess of fats in the stool.
Common Causes of Constipation
Now that we understand the basics of gut function, let's explore some common causes of constipation:
- Low Fibre Diet: A lack of dietary fibre can result in hard, dry stool that is challenging to pass. Fibre adds bulk to stool and helps keep things moving. When we’re eating an ultra-processed diet, we’re often missing out on the fibre that comes from eating whole grains, veggies and fruit in their original forms.
- Dehydration: Inadequate water intake can lead to dry stool and difficulty passing it. Staying well-hydrated is essential for regular bowel movements.
- Lifestyle Factors: Sedentary lifestyles, ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement, and changes in routine can contribute to constipation.
- Medications: Certain medications, such as opioids and some antacids, can slow down peristalsis and lead to constipation.
- Medical Conditions: Chronic constipation may be a symptom of underlying medical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), hypothyroidism, or neurological disorders.
Here are five unexpected foods that can help alleviate constipation.
Kiwi is a fibre-rich fruit that also contains an enzyme called actinidin. This enzyme can help break down proteins in the digestive tract and promote smoother bowel movements. Kiwi is a tasty and nutritious way to combat constipation.
Chia seeds are small but mighty when it comes to their fibre content. When mixed with liquid, chia seeds form a gel-like substance that can soften and bulk up stools, making them easier to pass. Including chia seeds in your diet, perhaps in a smoothie or yogurt, can aid in relieving constipation.
Flaxseeds are another excellent source of dietary fibre. They contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, which can add bulk to the stool and help move it through the digestive system. Ground flaxseeds are more easily digested and can be sprinkled on cereals, yogurt, or added to smoothies.
Sweet potatoes are not only delicious but also a good source of fibre, particularly when you eat them with the skin. They contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, which can add bulk to your stool and promote regular bowel movements. The natural sweetness of sweet potatoes makes them a tasty addition to your diet.
Kimchi and Fermented Foods
Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and yoghurt contain beneficial probiotics that support a healthy gut. Probiotics can help regulate digestion and improve bowel regularity. Consuming these fermented foods as part of your diet may help prevent constipation.
Incorporating these unexpected foods into your regular meals can be an enjoyable and effective way to combat constipation. Remember to maintain good hydration and combine these foods with a balanced diet for the best results. If you experience chronic or severe constipation, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance – after all, chronic constipation can be a symptom of a number of conditions.
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