I absolutely believe in food as medicine, and fibre in particular can be really effective at helping with constipation.
Dietary fibre is the edible parts of plants that cannot be digested or broken down by the body and therefore pass through our system undigested. There are essentially two different types of fibre: soluble and insoluble – both are equally important when it comes to our health and each play a different role.
Soluble fibre is dissolvable in water and helps to slow down our digestion so it’s great for balancing blood sugars and keeping you fuller for longer. It also helps to absorb nutrients from food and can be found in the following:
Oats, barley, rye
Fruits such as bananas, oranges, apples, strawberries and blueberries
Root veg such as carrots and potatoes
Flaxseeds – which are best eaten ground to get the full benefits
Lentils and pulses
Insoluble fibre on the other hand does not dissolve in water so it adds bulk to the stool, thereby helping it to pass more easily through the intestines. Insoluble fibre is the most important when it comes to treating constipation. It can be found in:
Whole grains such as barley, couscous and brown rice
Nuts and seeds
Skins of fruit and vegetables
Dark leafy green vegetables such as kale, cabbage and spinach
All plant foods contain both types of fibre, but just in varying degrees, so you don't need to worry about cutting any foods out but if you do suffer from constipation then you would be best to focus on those that contain higher levels of insoluble fibre.
So how much fibre do you need to help treat constipation?
You should be aiming for 18g-30g of fibre a day, but don’t rush out tomorrow and start eating 30g! Increasing fibre in the diet can at first cause some stomach cramps and excess gas as the digestive system starts to adjust. This will wear off as your body gets used to it so look to gradually increase fibre by around 5g a day.
Please note: When increasing fibre in your diet it is really important that you also increase the amount of water that you drink to ensure the stools move easily through the intestines and don’t actually make your constipation worse! Read ‘The importance of water’ to find out ways to up your water intake.
What are high-fibre foods?
Here are some everyday high-fibre foods for constipation to give you an idea of how easy it is to add more to your diet.
20g bran = 6g
45g lentils = 8g
1 medium apple = 4g
1 medium carrot = 3g
1 tin baked beans = 14g
2 slices of whole wheat bread = 4g
1 medium avocado = 11g
Start to read the labels of your food to see how much fibre it contains so you can see how much you are getting. The British Nutrition Foundation classifies a high-fibre food as one that contains 6g of fibre or more per 100g.
Easy tips for adding more fibre to your diet
- Ditch anything white – all bread, flour, pasta, noodles and rice, and switch to brown.
- Start eating more fruit and vegetables – eat an apple a day!
- Leave the skin on fruits and vegetables where possible – for example, don’t peel carrots just give them a good scrub under the tap and cut the ends off.
- Carry some nuts and seeds with you to snack on when you’re on the go or at your desk
- Breakfast is a really easy meal to get a good dose of fibre for the day – grab two slices of brown bread, add bran to your cereal or make some porridge.
- Buy a bag of ground flaxseeds and sprinkle a tablespoon onto your cereal, into smoothies, over salads, into soups and stir-frys. Linwoods (www.linwoodshealthfoods.co.uk) do a great range and are found in health food shops and some supermarkets.
- Make yourself a delicious smoothie as this helps add fibre and water to your diet. Try different fruits and make your own favourite.
Tropical high-fibre smoothie
- 1 banana
- 250ml orange juice
- 2 tbsp. ground flaxseeds
- 150g strawberries, blueberries or raspberries
Put all of the ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth. Serve immediately.
Need more reasons to add fibre to your diet?
Fibre found in legumes and citrus fruits in particular have been shown to help stimulate the growth of colonic flora which, as well as increasing the weight of your stools, increases the good bacteria in your gut and can therefore help to promote healthy intestines.
Fibre also helps to keeps you fuller for longer so can help those who looking to lose weight, and also helps to lower cholesterol.
Read ‘Natural Remedies for constipation’ for more ideas on how to treat your constipation.