Nutrition for constipation: useful and harmful foods

Constipation is a common defecation disorder that occurs in men and women of all ages, predominantly among the elderly. In the vast majority of cases, it is associated with errors in human nutrition, primarily with a lack of fiber in the diet. Accordingly, this symptom can be eliminated by changing eating habits, adding or excluding a number of products from your menu.

Nutrition for constipation: useful and harmful foods

General information about constipation

Constipation or constipation is a very common defecation disorder that makes it difficult to empty the bowels. Individual episodes are often associated with nutritional errors or functional disorders, while chronic constipation often indicates diseases of the gastrointestinal tract or other organs and systems. 

What to do for constipation: 7 causes and solutions

Constipation in adults: causes, treatment in Irkutsk at the Expert Clinic

The key symptoms of constipation are: 

  • Defecation less than 3 times a week.
  • Emptying with dry, hard stools, which are often in the form of separate lumps. 
  • The need for additional straining for defecation.
  • The sensation of "blockage" of the rectum.
  • Feeling of incomplete emptying of the bowels.
  • The need for assistance with defecation (hand pressure on the abdomen and manual manipulation to remove stool from the rectum).

Diet for constipation

One of the key roles in the fight against constipation is nutrition correction. Often, changes in eating habits and lifestyle are enough to eliminate constipation that is not associated with other diseases, as well as to prevent their occurrence in the future. 

List of healthy foods for constipation

The basis of the diet of people with a tendency to constipation should be dominated by foods that have in their composition dietary fiber - fiber. 

Fiber is a group of carbohydrates that are part of the food, which are not digested by the enzymes of the digestive tract but are broken down by the intestinal microflora. According to one of the classifications, they are divided into:

  • Soluble. They dissolve in the stomach to a gel-like state, helping to slow down the absorption of food. The composition of soluble fiber includes pectin, gums, and mucus.
  • Insoluble. They do not lend themselves to dissolution in the gastrointestinal tract but actively absorb water. These include cellulose and lignin. 

The most useful foods for constipation are:

  • Prunes. The insoluble fiber in prunes increases the amount of water in the stool, preventing constipation. It also contains sugar alcohol (sorbitol), which has a laxative effect.
  • Apples. They contain a large amount of pectin, which can improve intestinal motility, promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and eliminate the symptoms of constipation. 
  • Pears. In addition to being high in fiber, pears also contain fructose and the previously mentioned sorbitol. Due to these substances that are not absorbed in the large intestine, removing water into its lumen, and pears can cause a laxative effect. 
  • Citrus. Oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines are rich in pectin and naringenin, which increase the secretion of fluid into the colon, causing a laxative effect. It is recommended to use them raw. 
  • Spinach and other greens. Greens such as spinach, brussels sprouts and broccoli are rich not only in fiber but also in vitamins C and K, as well as folic acid, which has a positive effect on bowel function.
  • Legumes: beans, peas, and lentils. Legumes contain a mixture of insoluble and soluble fiber. This means they can relieve constipation by bulking up stools, as well as softening them to make bowel movements easier6.
  • Kefir. Contains bacteria and yeast that improve the functioning of the digestive system. It also thins the stool, improving bowel movements. 

List of undesirable foods for constipation

Dairy products, red meats, and alcohol are not desirable for constipation. Photo: MediaPortal

Correction of nutrition for constipation includes not only the addition of more fluid and dietary fiber but also the restriction or complete rejection of other foods that can provoke this defecation disorder [8]. These products include:

  • Alcohol. Alcoholic beverages, especially in large quantities, lead to the loss of large amounts of fluid in the urine, which contributes to constipation [9]. 
  • Milk and dairy products. It is believed that milk, due to the increased sensitivity of the human body to its proteins, can provoke constipation. Children under 12 years of age are most susceptible to this effect [10].
  • Red meats, which are high in fat, increase the risk of constipation [11]. 
  • Fried food and fast food. Like red meat, these foods are high in fat and low in dietary fiber. In addition, a large amount of salt is used in its preparation, which worsens the course of constipation.
  • White rice, unlike brown, lacks bran and other major sources of fiber, which can also cause constipation. 
  • Gluten-containing products. Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. It has been found to be associated with constipation, and also impairs bowel function and damages it in celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome [12].

Nutrition for children with constipation

The fight against constipation in preschool and primary school children is similar to that in adults: in such situations, the same advice on nutrition and lifestyle changes is relevant. 

“You should try to adjust the stool with a diet: give the child more water (a liter per day or more). Introduce more vegetable fiber (salads, vegetable stews), juices (plums, prunes), fermented milk products (yogurts), laxative foods (beets, pickles), etc. You should also try to involve the child himself in the treatment, make it an entertaining game, and motivate for the result. For example, buy a calendar with large cells and draw a smiley in the cell every day when he himself went to the toilet. Five days of the independent chair in a row - deserved a guaranteed toy, two weeks in a row - a super prize. Positive reinforcement works wonders, trust me.

Well, exercise, of course. Preschoolers do not need to be additionally stimulated, except perhaps to limit the time for gadgets and TV, but schoolchildren already need to be actively encouraged to enroll in a collective sports section, for example.” 

An excerpt from the book of pediatrician Sergei Butriy “Health of the child. How to learn to cope with diseases and your own panic

Babies can also suffer from constipation. It should be noted that normally in infants, the frequency of bowel movements can vary from 1-2 times a day to 1 time in 7-10 days. 

If a child has other symptoms of constipation in addition to rare stools, such as increased restlessness during bowel movements and feces in the form of hard lumps, the following changes in his diet are recommended [13]:

  • Sweet potato puree to which you can add a mixture of prunes, pears, or peaches.
  • Recommended vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and legumes.
  • Children older than 8 months are allowed to use whole grains such as oatmeal, high-fiber cereal, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice.
  • Controlling the amount of fluid you drink. Until 6 months of age, an exclusively breastfed or formula-fed baby does not need to drink water. Babies over this age can be given a small amount of water.

The following can also help a small child with constipation [14]:

  • Warm baths. They relax the abdominal muscles and improve peristalsis.
  • Exercises. Having put the child on his back, you can alternately bend his legs, as if he were riding a bicycle. 
  • Massage. You can improve intestinal motility by drawing circles on the child's stomach in a clockwise direction.
  • If a few days after the dietary changes, constipation has not gone away, children's glycerin suppositories (candles) can be used. However, they are intended for occasional use only. Mineral oils, stimulant laxatives, or enemas should not be used to treat constipation in infants. But for older children with constipation, enemas and the use of laxatives under the supervision of a pediatrician are indicated. 

Consequences of not following the diet

Without nutrition correction, individual cases of constipation develop into chronic constipation. At the same time, the symptoms of this disorder worsen, and the risk of developing complications increases, the most common of which are [15]: 

  • Hemorrhoids (Fig. 1).
  • Anal fissures. 
  • Rectal bleeding.

Inflammation of the mucous membrane of the rectum and sigmoid colon - proctosigmoiditis.

Figure 1. Stages of development of hemorrhoids. Source: CC0 Public Domain


Proper nutrition and control of the amount of fluid intake are the keys to eliminating constipation in most cases. But it is important to understand that this phenomenon can be not only an isolated problem but also a symptom of other pathologies. Therefore, if defecation disorders persist after changing the diet, you should seek the advice of a specialist. 

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