Carbohydrates are one of the three main food groups (the other two being fats and protein) and are essential to good health as well as being the body's main source of energy. However, if you suffer from constipation perhaps you are eating the wrong types of carbohydrates or even avoiding them altogether that could be making matters worse.
What are carbohydrates?
There are three main types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches and fibre, which are then classified as either simple or complex carbohydrates. When eaten, carbohydrates are broken down by the body into sugars that are then turned into glucose for immediate energy, and any excess is then stored in our liver and muscles for later use.
It is the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates that will make a difference to your constipation.
In general, complex carbohydrates are the good guys as they are mainly starch and fibre based. They include:
- Whole grains such as wholemeal bread, brown rice and pasta, oats, barley and buckwheat
- Lentils, beans and peas
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
They are called complex carbohydrates because they take longer to be broken down by the body (they are made up of larger sugar molecules) thereby preventing any sudden spikes in your blood sugars. They also contain that all important constipation-aiding fibre, as well as vitamins and minerals, which is key for constipation sufferers as it helps to bulk up the stools and keep things moving. Complex carbohydrates will also help to ensure that your digestive system is performing at it's best, and by fuelling your body correctly will help address any imbalances.
Simple carbohydrates on the other hand are sugars made up of smaller molecules that get broken down much quicker when consumed, often resulting in a sudden burst of energy, but short-lived! Simple carbohydrates are easier to spot as they tend to be found in processed foods so generally anything that's comes out of a carton, packet or bag. They include:
- Brown or white sugar
- Artificial sweeteners
- High fructose corn syrup
- Fruit juices and fizzy drinks
- White bread, rice and pasta
- Cakes and biscuits
Generally they don't provide any health benefits and particularly with regards to constipation, they don’t contain a great deal of fibre and therefore won't help support the digestive system or help to keep things moving. If anything, they may have the opposite effect if your diet is high in these types of carbohydrates because it may actually keep food in the bowel for longer and cause constipation or make an existing situation worse.
It's relatively easy to make the switch though by swapping all of the white flour, bread, pasta and rice in your house to the brown variety. At first you might miss the 'sweetness' the white versions can provide but look to add more fruit and vegetables to your diet to get you 'sweet-fix', and think about the health benefits and goodness complex carbohydrates provide as well as the relief they can offer for constipation.
For more information on the importance of fibre, read ‘Fibre and constipation’.