When your digestive system isn't getting rid of waste properly, it can be a pain--literally and figuratively. Thankfully, sticking to a high fiber diet can help ease constipation issues, and adding food with lots of fiber to your diet long-term can help stop constipation from happening in the first place.
Here, we'll take a look at some of the most common causes of constipation, how eating plenty of fiber can support a healthy digestive system, how you can boost the amount of fiber in your diet, and tips to keep in mind to help you adapt to your new constipation-fighting nutrition plan.
Understanding constipation: causes and impact on well-being
Constipation is a condition characterized by infrequent or difficult-to-pass bowel movements. Some people experience chronic constipation. Most people experience the condition at some point in their lives.
There are many factors that can cause or exacerbate constipation, including:
- Taking certain medications
- A sedentary lifestyle
- A low-fiber diet
- Certain health conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome
- Changes in sleep patterns
While constipation can be uncomfortable, the occasional bout of the condition is usually nothing to worry about. When constipation becomes chronic, however, many people find that it affects their overall well-being. Research shows that chronic constipation is correlated with anxiety and depression, and may be related to chronic inflammation.
In addition to the mental health issues that often occur alongside constipation, many people develop physical health issues, including hemorrhoids, skin tags, infections, and blood clots. Other complications, including anal fissures, impaction, and rectal prolapse are also possible.
The good news: if you're experiencing chronic constipation, there are some simple steps you can take to help you get in the bathroom and get moving. Here, we'll take a look at what you need to know to support your digestive health by adding fiber to your diet.
The role of fiber in digestive health
Fiber is not a nutrient, rather, it's an indigestible--yet edible--component of plant foods. Fiber helps to improve digestive function by increasing the volume of stool, affecting the rate of digestion of different foods, and providing the environment necessary for the continued growth of healthy bacteria that resides in the intestine.
Many people who experience constipation find that adding high-fiber foods to their diets makes it easier to pass stool. While fiber supplements can be helpful, whole-food fiber sources are the best way to help your digestive system.
High-fiber foods chart & meal plan
Let's take a look at some high-fiber foods you can add to your diet to help relieve constipation and support your digestive health.
A simple high-fiber meal plan might look like this:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal topped with strawberries and a drizzle of local honey, with a half cup of low-fat yogurt on top
- Lunch: A bowl of turkey chili with kidney and navy beans, topped with half an avocado
- Dinner: Grilled BBQ chicken with cauliflower, broccoli, and a sweet potato with butter
Of course, it's important to take your time when it comes to figuring out what works for you. Talking with your doctor about your fiber goals can be a helpful way to learn what number you should be shooting for each day.
Balancing fiber intake: dos and don'ts for digestive comfort
When you're constipated, it can be tempting to load up on fiber to get fast relief, but doing so may leave you in worse shape. Too much fiber at once can lead to gas, stomach pains, and bloating, and may not solve your constipation issue. Slowly adding fiber-rich foods to your diet can both ease constipation and help prevent you from experiencing constipation in the future.
In addition to adding fiber to your diet, you'll want to drink plenty of water throughout the day. This can help to ease constipation and can help your fiber-rich diet move smoothly through your digestive system.
As we mentioned above, fiber supplements can be a good fit at times, but the best way to get your fiber is by adding whole, natural plant foods to your diet. If you think a fiber supplement might be necessary to support your digestive health, talk with your doctor about how often you should supplement.
Beyond constipation: additional benefits of a high-fiber diet
While you'll likely notice a fast change in your digestive health after adding more fiber to your diet, the health benefits don't end there. Research shows that adding fiber to your diet can help you achieve a healthy weight, live longer, and control your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Adding fiber to your diet is a manageable way to boost your overall health. Whether you're dealing with digestive issues or things are moving along smoothly, giving your body a fiber boost offers benefits that go beyond the bathroom.
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