I've written over the last few weeks several posts about specific foods or food groups that can help relieve constipation, but I thought it would be an idea to look at the top five in particular this week, and ways in which you can easily apply them to your diet to relieve constipation, and reap their extra health benefits.
As I discussed a few weeks ago in my blog post called 'Prunes for constipation', prunes have been officially recognised by the EU Commission for being beneficial to digestive health, and so when it comes to constipation these little purple fruits are a must! They are high in fibre and have a gentle laxative effect making them beneficial for both helping prevent and relieve constipation.
Extra benefit: Prunes are high in folate, which is important in pregnancy and also helps support your nervous system, including the brain.
I have also written about flaxseeds before, (read more here) but they too are worthy of a second mention because of their high fibre content which helps to create bulk in the stool and keep your bowel movements regular, thereby preventing build-up and constipation. Just remember to always eat flaxseeds that have already been ground (or you can grind them in a coffee grinder) to ensure effective digestion and absorption.
Extra benefit: Flaxseeds are high in calcium which is needed to support the health of our bones as well as our heart, and are an excellent addition to the diet particularly if you don't eat dairy foods, such as milk.
Lentils are naturally high in fibre, which help to bulk up your stools and keep your digestive system in tiptop condition. There are lots of different varieties to try, and lentils have the added benefits of keeping you fuller for longer. This helps to prevent you from snacking on sugary foods, which can aggravate constipation. They are also rich in key vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins and zinc, which are all needed to support a healthy digestive system.
Extra benefit: Lentils are high in iron and a great source of this important blood mineral - an especially handy food if you are pregnant, don't eat a lot of red meat, or are vegetarian.
4. Sweet potatoes
Whether you prefer mash, jacket or roast potatoes, swap your white potato for a sweet potato and help keep constipation at bay. Sweet potatoes are high in that all important fibre - just 1 large sweet potato (about 180g) contains 6g which will get you at least a third of the way towards your minimum of 18-30g a day.
Extra benefit: Their orange flesh means that sweet potatoes are high in Vitamin A which is important for the health of your eyes and skin.
5. Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
Sauerkraut contains something called acetylcholine, which encourages peristalsis of the intestines. Peristalsis is the contraction and relaxation of the intestine muscles that allows movement of stools through the body for excretion and hence it is vital that this is working effectively to prevent build-up and constipation.
Extra benefit: Sauerkraut also contains natural probiotics, which help to keep our digestive system in order. You can read more about the benefits of probiotics here, in 'Benefits of probiotics and prebiotics'.
Are these the only foods for constipation?
Not at all! I have just listed some of the key foods that are highest in fibre and which have been shown to help relieve constipation through other nutrients or compounds found within them.
If you're a sufferer you must aim for a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables (five a day as a minimum), as well as other high fibre foods such as whole grains, brown rice, beans and pulses, as fibre is key to prevention. Read more here about Fibre and constipation.
Water is also vital to ensure your digestive system remains hydrated and allows stools to pass easily.
The above foods may be completely new to you so try one at a time, and if you like it, try to include it in your daily diet as much as possible.