If you’re new to eating a healthy diet, you may be surprised you’re experiencing constipation. After all, you’re eating nutritious foods and getting plenty of fiber, so why are you suddenly backed up?
The answer could be that your diet is too high in fiber or you need to drink more water. Let’s explore why your healthy diet could make you constipated and what you can do to get your digestion back on track.
Why Healthy Diets Can Cause Constipation
You committed to improving your eating habits and began to follow a healthier diet. Maybe you said goodbye to sugar and stopped eating red meat. You may have started consuming more salads or adopted a full-on keto or a strict, low-carb diet.
You may have abandoned grains, legumes, dairy, and sugar as part of a Whole30 diet. Or, you even adopted a whole food, plant-based – or minimally-processed vegan – way of eating. But as they say, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Regardless of your significant, seemingly healthy eating change, another unexpected change came with it: You’re now constipated, and you really can’t understand why.
You may be surprised that a higher-quality diet doesn’t always mean improved digestion. In fact, some people find that their regularity suffers when they eat healthier. So let’s look at three of the most common causes of constipation and the foods that can help you get back on track.
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3 Reasons You’re Constipated
Here are three of the most common reasons your healthy diet might make you constipated. Before reading them, you should also know that if you are not consuming at least 8 glasses of water daily, this is likely the cause of your constipation.
Your New Healthy Diet Lacks Soluble Fiber
Popular diets such as gluten-free, paleo, keto, Whole30, and low-carb plans often involve cutting grains, root vegetables, and fruits. All of these are rich in a type of fiber known as soluble fiber.
However, these diets rely on foods like leafy greens, berries, and nuts, which are high in insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber foods can benefit your health, but if you’re struggling with constipation, you may want to avoid them.
This may seem like a fair exchange; however, the two fibers behave very differently in your digestive tract. Soluble fiber can absorb water, making your stools larger and softer.
If your digestion tends to be slow, your diet may have an abundance of insoluble fiber found in vegetables and seeds. Unfortunately, this fiber doesn’t hold onto water, leading to drier, harder stools that can cause constipation. We’ll explain how you can modify your diet to avoid these issues.
Eating these can help alleviate constipation caused by low intake of insoluble fiber:
- Winter squash
- Chia seeds
If none of these methods are available, magnesium supplements with doses of 400 to 500 milligrams taken at night could help. The magnesium draws extra water into your bowel. As a result, it hastens the passage of your stool, making it softer and faster to pass. This is especially beneficial for individuals dealing with small, hard clumps of stool.
If you’re having trouble with larger hard stools, then an over-the-counter stool softener or a bulking fiber supplement might be just what you need. Colace (docusate sodium) and Fibercon (calcium polycarbophil) are great options that help make your stools softer and easier to pass.
However, not everyone gets relief from an increase in dietary fiber. In fact, some people may experience worse symptoms by increasing fiber intake. If this doesn’t work for you don’t worry. There may be a few other culprits!
Your Diet is Too Low in Fat
Cutting out fat-rich foods like dairy and eggs might seem like a great way to reduce your fat intake, but did you know it could also affect your digestive regularity? That’s right – fat helps stimulate motility in the colon, which helps promote regular bowel movements. So, if you’re eating less fatty foods due to a dietary change, it might mean you’re eating less of the foods that help you poop.
Have you ever felt the urgent need to go to the bathroom soon after a large or high-fat meal? It could be because of a nerve signal called the gastrocolic reflex!
This reflex communicates between the upstream digestive organs (the stomach and small intestine) and the downstream digestive organs (namely, the colon). It lets them know what is headed their way so they can prepare. The colon will then ramp up its motility to make room for the incoming food, which could be why you need to poop – and sometimes even experience diarrhea – shortly after a high-fat meal.
When your diet is lower in fat, it may take a toll on your digestion. Want your digestion to be back in full swing? Try introducing healthy fats to your meals: think avocados, nut butter, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, tahini, hummus, an extra drizzle of olive oil, or fatty fish like salmon. If you need a boost, try fish oil or flaxseed supplements- they might do the trick!
Your Diet Omits Natural Sugars
If you’re following a strict diet, you may avoid certain fruits and vegetables that contain more than trace amounts of natural sugar. We’re talking about sweet fruits like bananas, grapes, and watermelon; dried fruits like raisins, dates, and apricots; and some root veggies like carrots and beets.
Nevertheless, several natural sugars in such foods can have a gentle laxative effect on our colons by drawing water into the intestine. For example, lactose in dairy products, fructose in fruit, and sorbitol in dried fruits help speed up the colon. Consequently, if you no longer consume these foods, you may have constipation issues.
We don’t recommend restricting any whole food. The best way to get healthy, lose weight, or gain healthy weight is to consume whole foods in amounts that support your specific goals.
Not sure how much you should eat to stay healthy and reach your goals? Use this calorie calculator!
Is Your Healthy Diet the Cause of Your Constipation?
Soluble fiber, healthy fats, and natural sugars help keep your bowels moving at a healthy pace. Additionally, getting in enough water makes a huge difference!
If you are currently experiencing constipation, we recommend looking at your current consumption of these nutrients and adjusting your diet if you find they are lacking.
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