Dietary Management of Constipation
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This information sheet is designed to help you to increase the amount of fibre in your diet to manage constipation. Constipation may be caused by a variety of factors including dehydration, eating a diet low in fibre, having an irregular meal pattern, being less active, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and certain medications. Constipation can cause discomfort and reduce your appetite.
What is fibre?
Fibre or ‘roughage’ refers to the part of foods that we eat that cannot be fully digested. Having enough fibre is important as part of a balanced diet and has been shown to have many health benefits, including improving the functioning of our gut. In the UK the recommendation for adults is to have 30g dietary fibre each day. The role of fibre in the body:
• Helps the muscles in your bowel to work properly
• Adds ‘bulk’ to your stools and helps to soften them, making them easier to pass
• Can promote the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in your bowel to improve gut health
High fibre foods to include in your diet
• Wholegrain breakfast cereals such as Weetabix ®, Branflakes ®, Shredded Wheat ®, Fruit and Fibre ®, muesli, porridge oats
• Wholemeal or seeded rolls, wraps, pitta bread and chapati
• Brown rice and brown pasta
• Potatoes with skin
• Oat cakes
• Wholegrain or seeded crackers and biscuits
Fruits and vegetables
• Aim to have at least 5 portions of different fruit and vegetables every day
• Fresh, tinned, frozen and dried fruit and vegetables all count
• A portion of fruit or vegetables is roughly the size of your palm e.g a handful of grapes
• Have extra vegetables or a side salad with your meals
• Add extra vegetables to soups, casseroles, chilli, pasta dishes and curries
Beans and pulses
• All beans such as haricot, butter beans, kidney beans
• Baked beans
• Peas, chickpeas and lentils
Nuts and seeds
• All nuts and seeds such as peanuts, cashews, almonds, brazil nuts, pine nuts, linseeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
• Have a handful of nuts and seeds as a snack or add to cereal, porridge, yoghurt or salads
The table below lists examples of foods to help you meet your recommended 30g of fibre a day.
General tips for managing constipation
• If your diet is currently low in fibre, then it is important to increase your fibre intake gradually to give your gut time to adjust and to avoid gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating
• Drink plenty of fluid, aiming to have at least 2 litres (about 8-10 cups) of fluid every day, as fibre and fluid work together to form healthy stool
• Eat regular meals and avoid skipping meals
• Be as active as you can – even gentle exercise such as walking can help to keep your bowels working more regularly
• If you have bowel cancer or have had surgery to your bowel, seek advice from your Doctor, Dietitian or Specialist Nurse before increasing the fibre content of your diet
• If altering your diet does not help you may need to talk to your Doctor about trying laxative medication to help manage your constipation
• Keep a record of your bowel movements; this record can be useful when speaking with your Doctor, Dietitian or Nurse as to whether you have constipation.