Preventing Constipation

Constipation is becoming a common problem among all different age groups these days. It can be the result of various lifestyle factors, like lack of fiber or fluids in our meal plan, lack of exercise, or can even be the result of taking different medications.

Constipation can be defined as having a bowel movement fewer than 3 times per week, with hard, dry, small and difficult to pass stools. When people are constipated, it can be painful to have a bowel movement. Straining, bloating and the sensation of having a full bowel can occur. But certainly each person is individual. Some people may feel constipated if they don’t have a bowel movement every day, while for others, it is much less frequently.
There are certain things that can help prevent or reduce constipation:
Increase Fluids:
The average person does not drink enough fluids, particularly water. Fluids are important in helping to soften stool and in moving waist out of the body more effectively. Try and drink at least eight 8-oz cups of water each day. If you can drink more than this, great. For more information on fluids, check out this past blog post (click the link).
Increase Fiber:
The general daily recommendations for fiber are about 25-30 grams per day. The average American gets about 10 grams per day. Fiber is very important in providing bulk for stools, and helps in moving waist through the intestines for a quicker elimination. Some good foods that add fiber to our meal plan include: vegetables, beans, fruits (including those with edible skins), whole grains and nuts and seeds. A word of caution, though. Just as too little fiber can cause constipation, so can too much fiber. If you find you are eating a lot of foods with added fiber, like double fiber breads, bran cereals, granola bars with added fiber, and other such foods, make sure you are not exceeding about 50-60 grams of fiber per day. Not only can this much fiber contribute to constipation, it can also reduce the absorption of certain nutrients like calcium and iron.
Increase Exercise/Activity:
Being more active on a daily basis, including exercise, can help in reducing constipation. When we move our bodies, this helps us to move things through our bodies, including the elimination of waist. Finding ways to be more active on a daily basis, like taking the stairs rather than the elevator, doing household chores like cleaning or gardening, or taking the dog for a walk, can assist with this movement. As can regular exercise.
Some medications may cause constipation. If you are experiencing constipation and are on medications, check with your doctor to see if the medications could be contributing. If possible, your doctor may be able to suggest a non-constipating substitute.
For more information about reducing or preventing constipation, I found this article (click the link) very helpful.
Rachel Andrew MPH, RD, CD