Time for a little embarrassment: a couple of days ago, I had a tiny bout with constipation. I ate a plate of wheat pasta and I was a little backed up for a couple of hours, if you catch my drift 😉. Eventually, things started flowing again but it definitely made me realize how easily constipation can hit anyone. It reminded me of an incident years ago where a family member in his pre-teens didn’t make a bowel movement for almost a week! Of course, he was eventually taken to his local doctor who prescribed a powerful laxative.
Bear with me, because I’m about to go there with my nastiness. Constipation may be categorized by infrequent bowel movements (typically fewer than three times a week), by the size or firmness of the stools, excessive straining, the sense of incomplete evacuation, excessive time on the toilet or unsuccessful defecation. It is usually seen as a benign and treatable condition. But some people may be afflicted with chronic constipation, which can span at least 12-week period. If you think that you may have chronic constipation, please, please seek a physician.
Causes of constipation include a diet that lacks fiber and liquids, lack of exercise, or a side effect of medications such as antihistamines, antidepressants, iron salts, sedatives, or opiates. It has been reported that constipation accounts for more than 2.5 million visits annually in the United States and it adds tremendously to health care financial burden with a cost of $2757 for diagnostic work up per patient and $3362 per treated child per year. Typical treatment for the condition involves lifestyle modifications (i.e. adding the exercise, fiber, and fluids), possibly switching medications to ones that don’t have an adverse effect, and over-the-counter or prescription laxatives.
When it comes to mild constipation, I like to bulk up on fiber-rich foods like brown rice and apples. Please note that drier foods tend to have higher fiber content such as legumes, dried fruits, and whole-grain cereals. Also, some clinical trials suggest that probiotics may be beneficial in treating this condition. Here are some other foods that may help:
So when I had my wheat pasta episode that I referenced above, I did eat some leftover pears to help my system along—and it absolutely freaking worked. My husband and my son are both diehard pear fans, so we always stock up on them at the supermarket. What I love about pears is that they’re not overly sweet and very digestible. One of the best snacks is pear slices with vegan cheese. DIVINE! Pears are a great source of dietary fiber that promotes regularity and it contains nutrients such as vitamins A, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. The fruit is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant because of phytochemicals like caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid, which works to lower cholesterol levels (keep in mind that most of the antioxidants are in the peel). But don’t eat too much because pears contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol, that may cause side effects such as tooth decay, nausea, or stomach cramps. I like to add pears to my weekend breakfasts or with my lunch for a sweet pick-me-up, but now and again, it’s nice to do decadent dessert like a pear oatmeal crisp. Yum!
As a twentysomething who was just beginning to prepare meals for myself, I used to make simple dishes like green peas and rice with a light butter sauce. It wasn’t fancy but it was scrumptious! Green peas are high in dietary fiber, protein, and folate. In addition, these legumes have beta-carotene, potassium, selenium, magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, and zinc. Peas contain antioxidant flavonoids such as quercetin and apigenin, and carotenoids like lutein that have anticarcinogenic activity. A number of clinical studies show that peas, like other legumes, may be effective in the treatment of cardiovascular and gastrointestinal conditions. For example, a 2008 prospective study found that high legume intake like green peas was associated with a reduced risk of diabetes in Chinese women. And legume consumption may regulate glycemic levels and prevent insulin resistance for diabetic individuals. Though, I enjoy my simple meals with green peas, sometimes I need to do something different like a veggie samosa with green peas as the star ingredient.
Prunes are probably one of the best antidotes to constipation. Unfortunately, I found that out accidentally. When I was about ten years old or so, I found some prunes in the refrigerator. They looked like raisins, so I ate a few. Let’s just say that irregularity wasn’t an issue ☹. Since then, I have enjoyed the chewy taste of prunes mixed in various recipes, sparingly, of course. Prunes contain soluble fiber, vitamin A, vitamin K, B vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid, and minerals such as potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and magnesium. It has been reported that prunes have the highest antioxidant capacity among dried fruits due to the presence of phenolic acids like chlorogenic acid. Prunes have also shown anticarcinogenic, antihyperglycemic, anti-hyperlipidemic, antihypertensive, hepatoprotective activity. Prunes are a powerful weapon against constipation because they contain oxyphenisatin, a contact laxative. What’s more, high sorbitol levels and that chlorogenic acid also contribute to those properties. In fact, a 2007 study found that daily ingestion of prune juice promoted a mild laxative effect. And prune intake has been beneficial in treating other conditions. A 2006 study found that prunes may be protective against colon cancer. Some animal studies suggest that prune supplementation may prevent atherosclerosis by lowering lipid and lipoprotein levels, maintaining blood pressure levels, and preventing age-related cognitive deficits. Some research indicates that prune supplementation may prevent or reverse bone loss. So it turns out that prunes have it all! I like to add prunes to protein balls for an afternoon snack.
I inherited a love of cabbage from my mother. She used to stir-fry jullienned cabbage with different veggies like broccoli and carrots with palmfuls of chopped garlic (I’m a garlic fiend too but that’s another story). I was always surprised at how fresh and delicious it was despite just a few ingredients. As an adult, I load my fridge with sauerkraut—I love my fermented vegetables y’all. But cabbage is also great at combating constipation. Cabbage is loaded with dietary fiber and it has protein, carbohydrates, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc. This plant contains antioxidant flavonoids such as kaempferol and quercetin, as well as glucosinolates, anticarcinogenic nutrients. In addition, some varieties of cabbage like red cabbage contain anthocyanin pigments that are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and have a protective effect against many diseases. Some research indicates that glucosinolates may prevent the risk of prostate cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, and bladder cancer. Some animal studies have shown that red cabbage extract may reduce blood glucose levels, restore renal function, and body weight loss for diabetic patients. Further, some evidence suggests that cabbage juice may heal gastric ulcers. Cole slaw is a great way to kick off the last official weekend of summer.
I honestly don’t have a lot of experience with figs. There was a beautiful fig tree in the backyard of my father’s house but he cut it down because no one ate anything from it. Looking back, what a waste! Figs have a chewy and luscious skin that is chock-full of sweet, crunchy seeds. Figs are also a powerhouse when it comes to controlling constipation because it is one of the highest plant sources for fiber. But the fruit also has thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin K, calcium, manganese, copper, magnesium, and potassium and dried figs are high in iron. Figs have strong antioxidant activity due to carotenoids such as lycopene, beta-carotene, and lutein. Furthermore, the fruit has shown anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, hyperlipidemic, and antimicrobial activities. A 2010 study showed that fig fruit supplementation improved symptoms in patients suffering from functional constipation. Additionally, some animal studies found that fig fruit and leaves may improve diabetic complications including kidney and liver function and improve blood sugar levels. And it has been reported that other parts of the fig plant including the latex may suppress the growth of cancerous cells including stomach cancer cells. A frothy almond milk shake blended with figs is the perfect after dinner treat.
These are my ways to wallop constipation—what does it for you?