Constipation can occur in anyone due to different factors in our digestive systems, but some experience it more frequently than others. Your system can get plugged up due to irritable bowel syndrome, constipation after surgery may require the use of prescribed laxatives, and certain low-fiber and high-fiber foods can affect your bowel habits too. Issues with your digestive tract are debilitating, and there’s even a link between constipation and back pain. If your constipation issues can be solved by adjusting your diet, you’re probably very willing to shift some foods around. You’re also probably interested in getting to know the foods that cause constipation, so we’ve compiled a list of seven culprits you may want to avoid if you’re all clogged up.
7 Foods That Cause Constipation
Constipation is characterized as having fewer than three bowel movements a week and causing digestive discomfort and often other symptoms like gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. Age and inactivity are contributors to constipation, but so are certain foods and beverages. A food that contributes to or causes constipation can absolutely ruin your day, or your entire week. You can’t stop getting older, but you can potentially limit some of the foods that cause constipation.
1. Gluten-Rich Foods
Avoiding gluten-rich foods can help reduce the risk of constipation. Even if you don’t have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, gluten-containing foods like grains (wheat, rye, barley, etc.) can contribute to chronic constipation and may exacerbate an underlying condition like IBS or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) that is not yet diagnosed.
If you notice that constipation is connected with gluten consumption, seek medical advice to determine whether or not there’s an underlying gluten sensitivity at play, and avoid wheat bread and other gluten-containing foods.
2. Unripe Bananas
Ripened bananas can prevent constipation, but unripe bananas can work against you. Unripe bananas contain a higher amount of dietary fiber known as resistant starch, which humans cannot easily digest. While resistant starch in some scenarios can benefit your good gut bacteria as a prebiotic, if you’re having issues with constipation, that starch may firm up your poop so much that it is unable to move comfortably through your bowels.
Ripening predigests resistant starch, turning it into a natural sugar. The riper the banana, the sweeter it gets and the easier it is on your digestion. Avoid greener bananas and go for those that are deeply yellow and beginning to brown for the gentlest option.
3. Red Meat
Red meat is a triple threat when it comes to constipation concerns. First of all, it contains very little fiber, which is needed to help bulk up stool. That’s right: too much and too little fiber can contribute to constipation. Secondly, red meat is so filling that it often takes the place on your plate and in your stomach of fibrous plant foods. Thirdly, the risk of constipation is increased by the high fat content of red meat, which takes longer to digest.
If you’re having issues with constipation, consider substituting red meat for plant protein options like beans and lentils.
4. Refined Grains
We’ve mentioned gluten foods already, but there’s an extra issue when it comes to grain: processed grains. White rice, white flour foods, and white bread are lower in nutrition than whole grain options, and there are indications that they can be more constipating as well.
The beneficial fiber content is largely removed during processing, and one recent study from 2015 found that the likelihood of constipation was linked to the grams of fiber its human subjects ate: the chance of experiencing constipation was reduced 1.8% for every gram of fiber consumed.
If gluten isn’t the issue causing you constipation but rather low fiber intake is, you may want to try switching to whole grain breads, pastries, rice, etc. instead of processed grains.
5. Dairy Products
Dairy products are often a cause of constipation for some, like young children who are sensitive to the protein content of cow’s milk. Switching to soy milk has been shown to effectively cure chronic constipation in children, and while the scientific research is focused mainly on younger populations, there is anecdotal evidence that adults may still experience constipation due to dairy as well.
Those with lactose intolerance are more likely to experience diarrhea than constipation from consuming dairy products. Either way, consider milk alternatives if you suspect dairy consumption may be disrupting your digestive process.
6. Fried Foods
Many Americans frequently eat fried food, and it could be leading to painful constipation. An order of fried chicken with a side of french fries is likely to be very low in fiber, while delivering a high fat content much the same way red meat does. While foods like fish, nuts, olive oil, and avocados are good sources of healthy fats, the saturated fats found in fast food are not only unhealthy for your waistline, your heart health, and your risk factors for diabetes, but they could also be bunging up your works.
Keep in mind that if it’s not the fat causing your problems, it could be the salt contained in these foods: consuming large amounts of salt can lower the moisture levels in your stool, making it more difficult for your body to move your poop along smoothly.
Fast food, pre-packaged cookies and cakes, fried chips, and full-fat ice cream could all be contributing to your constipation issues, especially if they’re being consumed in place of foods with healthy fiber content.
Much like salt, alcohol dehydrates. Even minimal, responsible alcohol consumption increases the amount of fluid lost through urine, dehydrating your body and your stool. If you’re having a beer or a glass of wine with dinner, it’s recommended you follow it up with a glass of water to replace what’s going out.
Whether you’re having a nightcap or a night out, getting enough water as you go will help you rehydrate and potentially avoid constipation (as well as all the worst symptoms of a hangover, like dry mouth and headache).
Constipation: Symptoms and Solutions
The symptoms of constipation can include:
- Infrequently passing stool (fewer than 3 times per week)
- Hard, lumpy stool
- Straining during bowel movements (which could cause heart strain, hemorrhoids, or even tearing)
- Feeling blocked up or like your bowel movements are incomplete
- The need to manually aid the passage of stool (pressing on your abdomen or inserting a finger into your rectum)
Changing your diet may take a while to help, especially if you’re not sure which food is potentially exacerbating your issues. If you’re constipated right now, there are a few home remedy solutions you can try.
- Castor oil: Castor oil for constipation works as a stimulant laxative to help soften stool. It could also cause nausea, so proceed with caution.
- Olive oil: Much like castor oil, olive oil for constipation works as a stool softener and can be a heart-healthy addition to various meals and recipes.
- Prune juice: Famous for a reason, prune juice for constipation is a classic, natural way to promote gentle digestion.
- Enema: Utilizing an enema for constipation can help soften stool and loosen the rectum all in one go, and it’s also the fastest solution on this list if you’re in need of immediate relief.
You Can Stop Constipation
If you have chronic constipation and have ruled out underlying medical conditions that may affect your digestive system, it could be your food that’s causing the discomfort. For those who want to try natural ways to ease constipation before turning to over-the-counter laxatives, we recommend you start with your food.