If you can’t poop, these foods may help
The foods you eat can make a big difference to your digestion, including how you poop.
If you experience constipation, there’s a range of foods and drinks that may be able to help. This includes fruits, vegetables, and seeds containing types of fiber that can make pooping easier. Additionally, fermented foods with probiotics could help rebalance the bacteria that live in your gut.
Your current diet and your gut health may contribute to your constipation, so we’ll also look at changes you can make there, along with other possible causes of constipation.
ZOE’s scientists have identified 15 “good” gut bugs and 15 “bad” ones that are linked to your gut health and overall health.
The ZOE at-home test can tell you which of these bugs live in your gut, along with the others that make up your unique gut microbiome.
With the ZOE program, you get personalized recommendations to help you find the best foods for your body, including your personal “gut booster” and “gut suppressor” foods.
You can take a free quiz to find out more.
Foods and drinks that help with constipation
Constipation can be an uncomfortable and debilitating experience. It may involve:
pooping fewer than three times a week
experiencing dry, hard, or lumpy poop
having difficult, painful, or uncomfortable poops
pooping, but feeling like you haven’t completely emptied your bowels
If you have constipation, there are foods and drinks you can add to your diet that may be able to help.
The following foods and drinks provide vital nutrients like fiber, which can soften or hydrate your poop to make it easier to go, or probiotics, which may help you poop more often.
Prunes are dried plums, and they’ve had a reputation as a constipation remedy for centuries.
The types of fiber in prunes add water to your stools and bulk them out.
A sugar alcohol called sorbitol in prunes also draws water into your colon. In some people, this causes a laxative effect.
Some of the plant compounds in prunes feed the “good” bugs that live in your gut, too, which may help you to poop more easily.
You can enjoy prunes as a snack on their own or add them to your oatmeal, salad, cereals, stews, or smoothies. They’re a delicious sweetener in baked goods, too.
A small amount of the fiber in apples is pectin. It’s a soluble fiber, which means it dissolves in water. As with prunes, your colon ferments pectins into substances that add water to your poop and help soften it.
3. Chia seeds
You can add chia seeds to almost any food. Throw a handful into granola, oats, yogurt, cereal, or salads, or boost the fiber value of smoothies, juices, dips, and dressings.
Kiwis also provide an enzyme called actinidin, which promotes healthy digestion by helping to break down the proteins you eat.
In a small 2020 study, researchers found that after eating two kiwis a day for 2 weeks, participants had more bowel movements and looser, easier poops.
As well as eating them on their own, you can make kiwis the zingy star of a fruit salad or smoothie or add pieces to a yogurt.
On top of the fiber, some research suggests that ficin, an enzyme in figs, may also help food move through your system in a similar way to the actinidin in kiwis.
6. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits like oranges, mandarins, and grapefruits are tangy, refreshing, and high in fiber. A single 308-g grapefruit provides around 20% of the fiber you need each day — almost 5 g. And one orange (140 g) gives you 2.8 g of fiber.
Citrus fruits also contain pectin, which helps to soften your poop. And rodent studies suggest a plant compound called naringenin could increase the amount of fluid that reaches the colon — but more research is needed before scientists can say for sure whether this applies to humans.
7. Jerusalem artichokes
Jerusalem artichokes are root vegetables a bit like potatoes but with a nutty flavor.
Researchers reviewed five studies looking at the effects of inulin on chronic constipation. They found that participants who took inulin were likely to poop significantly more often and have a better consistency of poop than those who took a placebo.
However, inulin didn’t improve pain or bloating. And it’s worth being aware that inulin is exceptionally gas-producing.
8. Green vegetables
Green veggies are rich in fiber as well as micronutrients like folate, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
And they’re versatile enough to add to anything from soups to salads to stir-fries.
Legumes like beans, peas, and lentils are packed with fiber. One cup of navy beans (used in baked beans) provides 19.1 g of fiber, an amazing 76% of your daily value. A half-cup of lentils gives you 7.8 g of fiber, just under a third of what you need every day.
Legumes contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, making your poops bulkier, softer, and easier to pass.
Blending legumes into soups, chilies, ground meats, and salads can be a smart and tasty way to get more into your diet.
10. Fermented foods and drinks
Live yogurt and kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, and aged and Swiss cheeses are all examples of fermented foods and drinks.
They contain bacteria called probiotics, which are similar to the “good” bugs that live in your gut.
Regularly consuming foods with these bacteria can improve the balance and composition of your gut microbiome.
At ZOE, we run the world’s largest study of nutrition and gut health. Unpublished research by our scientists found that consuming more probiotics is linked to pooping more often.
To maximize the potential benefits to your gut, you should aim to eat a range of different probiotic foods and consume them every day.
Eating foods containing fiber called prebiotics, like those we’ve talked about earlier, will also help to feed these “good” bacteria and allow them to thrive.
Dehydration is one possible cause of constipation. By drinking enough fluids, you can make sure that your poops stay moist and soft. Hard, dry poops are less comfortable to pass.
Recommendations vary, and your personal requirements will be unique to you. Aiming for 6–8 cups, or around 2 liters, is a good place to start.
But another good way to tell if you are drinking enough is to check the color of your pee. If it’s darker than a clear or a pale straw color, it’s a sign that you aren’t drinking enough fluids.
Causes of constipation
Constipation can happen for many reasons, including unfavorable nutrition, life changes, and taking specific medications.
Food and drink
Some foods have the opposite effect to those mentioned above — they can make you feel bloated and constipated.
If you’re prone to constipation, it’s best to limit the following:
refined grains, without the bran and germ of the grain
dairy products (if you’re sensitive or lactose intolerant)
fast food, which slows down digestion by adding fat and reducing fiber
Certain life events, and even the simple passage of time, can increase your risk of constipation. These include:
holding in a poop for too long or ignoring natural urges to poop
Just because constipation becomes more likely as you grow older, it doesn’t mean it has to be regular or uncomfortable. As we’ve seen, eating more high-fiber and probiotic foods and drinking enough water can help.
In many cases, the cause of constipation isn’t clear. Speak to a healthcare professional if changing your diet doesn’t clear your constipation.
The following types of medications list constipation as a possible side effect:
antacids containing aluminum and calcium
anticholinergic and antispasmodic drugs
anticonvulsants used in preventing seizures
calcium channel blockers
Iron and calcium supplements
medications for Parkinson’s disease
narcotic pain relief medications
some antidepressant medications
If a particular drug is causing chronic constipation and makes you feel too uncomfortable, speak to your doctor about the possibility of changing your prescription.
An unbalanced gut microbiome
ZOE’s “blue poo” study showed that the time it takes food to move through your digestive system is associated with the types of bacteria that live in your gut.
Other research has had similar results, suggesting that imbalances in your gut microbiome may contribute to chronic constipation.
ZOE's at-home test analyzes a sample of your poop using the latest gene sequencing technology to tell you which bugs live in your gut. The test also looks at your blood sugar and blood fat responses to food.
Based on your unique results, the ZOE program gives you personalized recommendations of the best foods for your gut health and overall health.
You can take a free quiz to find out more.
If you have constipation, the specific types of fiber in fruits and vegetables like prunes, apples, kiwis, leafy greens, and Jerusalem artichokes could help moisten and bulk out your stools to make pooping easier.
Regularly eating fermented foods and drinks — like live yogurts, kefir, aged cheeses, sauerkraut, and kombucha — may improve the balance of bugs in your gut microbiome and help you to poop more often.
Limiting your intake of alcohol, fast food, and refined grains, as well as drinking more water, could also reduce your likelihood of becoming constipated.
ZOE’s at-home test can tell you about the range of bugs that make up your unique gut microbiome and help you to discover the best foods for your gut health.
Our free quiz could be your first step toward achieving your personal health goals.
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