Yes, constipation is a little awkward to talk about, but it’s way worse to suffer in silence. And you’re far from alone if you commonly experience the telltale signs: bloating, pain when you try to poop, and trouble relieving yourself regularly. In fact, 42 million Americans deal with constipation every year.
Pinpointing what’s causing you to be plugged up can be tricky. Traveling a lot, changing your work schedule, and skipping workouts all can cause a change in your bathroom habits, says Jordan Karlitz, M.D., a gastroenterologist and assistant clinical professor at Tulane University School of Medicine.
But the biggest constipation culprit is what you eat—and that’s where the “F” word comes in. “The key is having enough fiber in your diet,” Karlitz says. “You want a good balance of soluble and insoluble fiber as well as enough water intake.”
Insoluble fiber bulks up stool, which makes it easier to pass through your system, while soluble fiber attracts water, which helps your body process the fiber without discomfort, says Gina Hassick, R.D. Just be sure to add fiber to your diet slowly to let your body adjust without gas and stomach pain, Hassick says. The next time you need help keeping things moving, turn to the 11 foods below.
3. High-Fiber Cereal
Start your day right with a bowl of high-fiber cereal. Just make sure the brand you pick contains 5 or more grams of fiber per serving, like All Bran and Fiber 1, Karlitz says.
4. Whole-Wheat Bread
Here’s a not-so-fun fact: Research suggests that if you don’t like veggies (and fruit for that matter), you’re much more likely to develop constipation.1
So it should come as no surprise that vegetables made the cut here. Broccoli packs 5.1 grams of insoluble fiber per cup, so you should probably listen to mom about that whole eat-your-greens thing.
- Investigating factors associated with functional constipation of primary school children in Hong Kong. Chan MF, Chan YL. Journal of clinical nursing, 2010, Oct.;19(23-24):1365-2702.
8. Ground Flaxseed
These little guys may be the single easiest way to sneak more fiber into your diet. Just one tablespoon contains 2.8 grams of soluble fiber, and because they’re super versatile, they can basically be added to anything from smoothies to salads to baked goods. Bonus: Flaxseeds are also high in omega-3s, so you’ll be helping out your heart too!
10. Black Beans
Sure, we all joke that beans make you toot, but they do a little more than that. They’re solid sources of soluble fiber—1 cup of boiled black beans contains a whopping 15 grams of fiber—making trips to the bathroom much more pleasant.
While experts recommend staying away from most dairy products (yes, that includes ice cream), if you’re battling constipation, yogurt may be the exception to the rule. The lactobacillus bacteria in yogurt can help keep you regular, Hassick says. Plus, research suggests that probiotics keep things running smoothly.1
- The effect of probiotics on functional constipation in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Dimidi E, Christodoulides S, Fragkos KC. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 2014, Aug.;100(4):1938-3207.
There’s a reason doctors tell you to drink prune juice when you’re plugged up. The dried fruit contains sorbitol and dihydrophenylisatin, which can help alleviate constipation, says Justin Robinson, R.D., founder of Venn Performance Coaching and a Greatist expert.
What to Watch Out For
Be careful with the pills you pop. Some meds, including antacids and iron supplements, are known constipation culprits. Foods won’t cause constipation directly, Karlitz says, but you still want to make sure you’re getting enough fiber and water in your diet.
And plenty of diets tend to be lacking in both departments. “Low-carbohydrate diets tend to be naturally low in beneficial fiber,” Hassick says. “High-fat diets can be hard on our digestive system, since fat takes the longest for our body to digest, therefore slowing the passage of food into the small intestine and into the colon.”