14 Healthy Foods That Help You Poop
By Rachael Link, MS, RD |
June 26, 2017
Constipation is a common problem affecting an estimated 20% of the population (1).
Delayed colonic transit, or a decrease in the movement of food through the digestive system, is one of the most common causes.
A low-fiber diet, old age and physical inactivity can also contribute to constipation.
While remedies for constipation typically include laxatives, stool softeners and fiber supplements, incorporating a few regularity-boosting foods into your diet can be a safe and effective alternative.
Apples are a good source of fiber, with one small apple (5.3 ounces or 149 grams) providing 4 grams of fiber (2).
Fiber passes through your intestines undigested, helping with the formation of stool and promoting regular bowel movements (3).
Apples also contain a specific type of soluble fiber called pectin, which is known for its laxative effect.
In one study, 80 participants with constipation took pectin supplements.
After four weeks, pectin sped up transit time in the colon, reduced the symptoms of constipation and even improved digestive health by increasing the amount of beneficial bacteria in the gut (4).
Apples can be used as a healthy topping for foods like yogurt and oatmeal or enjoyed on their own as a convenient and nutritious snack.
Prunes are often used as a natural laxative — and for good reason.
Not only do they contain 2 grams of fiber per 1-ounce (28-gram) serving, but they’re also a good source of sorbitol (5).
Sorbitol is a type of sugar alcohol that is poorly digested in the body. It helps alleviate constipation by drawing water into the intestines, spurring a bowel movement (6).
One review looked at four studies measuring the effectiveness of prunes on constipation. It found that prunes can help soften stool, improve consistency and increase stool frequency (7).
Another study showed that 40 participants with constipation who were given prunes experienced improvements in both stool frequency and consistency, compared to participants treated with psyllium fiber supplements (8).
Prunes add a hint of sweetness when used to garnish salads and pilafs. A small glass of prune juice with no added sugar can also be a quick and convenient way to get the same constipation-busting benefits found in whole prunes.
Kiwifruit is especially high in fiber, which makes it an excellent food to help promote regularity.
Just one medium kiwi (2.7 ounces or 76 grams) contains 2.3 grams of fiber (9).
Kiwifruit has been shown to stimulate movement in the digestive tract, helping to induce a bowel movement (10).
One 2007 study gave 33 constipated and 20 non-constipated participants kiwifruit twice daily over a four-week period.
Kiwifruit helped to speed up intestinal transit time, decrease laxative use and improve symptoms of constipation (11).
Try adding kiwifruit to your next smoothie for a tasty, high-fiber treat.
In addition to their wide variety of health benefits, flaxseeds’ high fiber content and ability to promote regularity definitely make them stand out.
Each one-tablespoon (10-gram) serving of flaxseeds contains 3 grams of fiber, including a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber (12).
One animal study supplemented mice with flaxseeds for 14 days and studied the effects on constipation.
Not only did flaxseeds speed up intestinal transit, but they also increased stool frequency and stool weight in both normal and constipated mice (13).
Another animal study showed that flaxseed can help treat both constipation and diarrhea. It was found to increase stool frequency and also have an anti-diarrheal effect, reducing diarrhea by up to 84% (14). Flaxseeds can add extra fiber and texture when sprinkled onto oats, yogurt, soups and shakes.
Pears can help alleviate constipation in a few different ways.
First, they are high in fiber. One medium pear (6.3 ounces or 178 grams) contains 6 grams of fiber, meeting up to 24% of your daily fiber needs (15).
Pears are also high in sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that acts as an osmotic agent to pull water into the intestines and stimulate a bowel movement (16).
Furthermore, pears contain fructose, a type of sugar that can only be absorbed in limited amounts.
This is due to the way in which fructose is metabolized in your body. Not only is it absorbed at a slower rate, but also large amounts of fructose can only be metabolized by your liver (17).
Moreover, some individuals may have fructose malabsorption, a condition that affects the body’s ability to absorb fructose.
Like sorbitol, unabsorbed fructose acts as a natural laxative by bringing water into the intestines (17).
Pears are incredibly versatile and easy to add to your diet. They can be included in salads and sandwiches or consumed raw for a sweet snack.
Most varieties of beans are high in fiber and can help maintain regularity.
For example, black beans boast 7.5 grams of fiber per cooked half cup (86 grams), while a half cup (91 grams) of cooked navy beans contains 9.5 grams of fiber (18, 19).
Beans also contain good amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which help ease constipation in different ways.
Soluble fiber absorbs water and forms a gel-like consistency, softening stool and making it easier to pass (20).
On the other hand, insoluble fiber passes through the digestive tract intact and adds bulk to stool (21).
One 2016 study showed that including a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber in the diet can effectively reduce constipation, while also reducing bloating and gas (22).
If you’re looking for an easy way to increase your fiber intake, beans are a good way to do so. Add them to soups, dips or side dishes for a delicious dose of fiber.
Both rhubarb’s fiber content and natural laxative properties encourage regularity.
Each stalk of rhubarb (1.8 ounces or 51 grams) includes 1 gram of fiber, which is mostly bulk-promoting insoluble fiber (23).
Rhubarb also contains a compound called sennoside A, which has a laxative effect in the body. In fact, sennosides are even found in herbal laxatives like senna (24).
Sennoside A works by decreasing levels of AQP3, a protein that controls water transport in the intestines.
Decreased levels of AQP3 result in increased water absorption, which softens stool and causes a bowel movement (25).
Rhubarb can be used in a variety of baked goods, added to yogurt or even be added to oatmeal for a kick of added flavor.
Research shows that artichokes have a prebiotic effect, which can be beneficial for gut health and maintaining regularity.
Prebiotics are a special type of fiber that works by feeding the good bacteria found in your colon, helping to optimize your digestive health (26).
Consuming prebiotics may also help relieve constipation.
A 2017 review looked at five studies including 199 participants and concluded that prebiotics increased stool frequency and improved consistency (27).
Artichokes, in particular, are a good source of prebiotics that can boost beneficial bacteria in the gut.
One study had 32 participants supplement with fiber extracted from globe artichokes. After three weeks, they found that concentrations of beneficial bacteria had increased, while amounts of harmful gut bacteria had decreased (28).
Another study looked at the effects of artichoke leaf extract on 208 participants with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Not only did artichokes reduce the incidence of IBS, but they also helped normalize bowel patterns (29).
Artichokes are available in both fresh and jarred form and can be used in everything from creamy dips to flavorful tarts.
Kefir is a fermented milk beverage that contains probiotics, a form of healthy gut bacteria that may help alleviate constipation.
Probiotics have been shown to increase stool frequency, improve stool consistency and help reduce intestinal transit time to speed up bowel movements (30).
Several studies have demonstrated that kefir, in particular, may promote regularity.
In one study, 20 participants with constipation were given kefir for four weeks.
Kefir was found to decrease laxative use, speed up intestinal transit, increase stool frequency and improve consistency (31).
An animal study found similar results, demonstrating that kefir increased moisture and bulk in the stool to reduce constipation (32).
Kefir makes the perfect base for smoothies or salad dressings. Alternatively, try making a probiotic-rich parfait using kefir and topping it with fruit, flaxseeds or oats for an extra boost of fiber.
Figs are an excellent way to get more fiber into your diet to encourage regular bowel movements.
Dried figs, especially, can provide a concentrated dose of fiber.
A half cup (75 grams) of dried figs contains 7.5 grams of fiber, which can fulfill up to 30% of your daily fiber needs (33).
A 2011 animal study looked at the effects of fig paste on constipation over a three-week period. It found that fig paste increased stool weight and reduced intestinal transit time, making it a natural remedy for constipation (34).
Another study in humans found that giving fig paste to 40 participants with constipation helped speed up colonic transit, improve stool consistency and alleviate abdominal discomfort (35).
While figs can be consumed on their own, they can also be boiled into a tasty jam that goes great with bruschetta, pizzas and sandwiches.
In addition to providing a host of vitamins and minerals, sweet potatoes also contain a good amount of fiber that can help increase regularity.
One medium sweet potato (4 ounces or 114 grams) contains 4 grams of fiber (36).
The fiber found in sweet potatoes is mostly insoluble and includes a few specific types, such as cellulose, lignin and pectin (37).
Thanks to their fiber content, some studies have shown that sweet potatoes may help promote bowel movements.
A 2016 study measured the effects of sweet potato intake on constipation in 57 leukemia patients who were undergoing chemotherapy.
After just four days, most markers of constipation had improved, and the participants consuming sweet potatoes had significantly less straining and discomfort than the control group (38).
Sweet potatoes can be mashed, baked, sautéed or roasted and used in place of white potatoes in any of your favorite recipes.
This edible pulse is packed with fiber, making it an excellent addition to your diet to relieve constipation.
In fact, a half cup (99 grams) of boiled lentils contains an impressive 8 grams (39).
Additionally, eating lentils can increase the production of butyric acid, a type of short-chain fatty acid found in the colon. It increases the movement of the digestive tract to promote bowel movements (40).
One animal study looked at the effects of butyrate on the digestive tract and found that it helped speed up intestinal transit, making it a potential treatment for constipation (41).
Lentils add a rich, hearty flavor to soups and salads alike, while also providing plenty of added fiber and health benefits.
Just one ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds contains a whopping 11 grams of fiber (42).
In fact, chia seeds are made up of about 40% fiber by weight, making them one of the most fiber-dense foods available (42).
Specifically, chia seeds are a good source of soluble fiber, which absorbs water to form a gel that softens and moistens stool for easier passage (20).
One study found that chia seeds could absorb up to 12 times their weight in water, allowing for even easier elimination (43).
Try mixing chia seeds into smoothies, puddings and yogurts to pack in a few extra grams of soluble fiber.
14. Oat Bran
Oat bran is a type of whole grain produced from the outer casing of the oat bran.
Though it’s not as widely consumed as rolled or old-fashioned oats, oat bran contains significantly more fiber.
Just one-third cup (31 grams) of oat bran contains about 5 grams of fiber, which is about 43% more than traditional oat varieties (44, 45).
One study gave 15 elderly participants oat bran over a 12-week period and compared the results with a control group.
Not only was oat bran well tolerated, but it also helped participants maintain their body weight and decreased laxative use by 59%, making it a safe and effective natural remedy for constipation (46).Though oatmeal and oat bran come from the same oat groat, they vary in terms of texture and taste. Oat bran works especially well when used in recipes for granola mixes and breads.
The Bottom Line
Constipation is a common problem that affects most people at some point.
Though medications and supplements can help, achieving regularity is possible for most people with a high-fiber, healthy diet and a few regularity-boosting foods.
Including a few servings of these foods each day, along with plenty of water and regular physical activity, can help increase stool frequency, improve consistency and eliminate constipation once and for all.
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