"Eat more fiber." "Stay hydrated."
That's the advice everyone gets about hemorrhoids -- and it's good. But what does it mean in real life, when you're at the grocery store or deciding what to put on your plate?
Let's take a look at specific foods that can help this painful problem and ways to work them into your meals. And on the flip side, what you may want to stay away from.
2 Kinds of Fiber
Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like goo. (Picture what happens to oats when you mix them with water.) You want this stuff. It makes your stool soft, well-formed, and easy to pass. No constipation, little irritation. Sounds like the Holy Grail of poop, right?
Insoluble fiber is what your grandmother would call "roughage." It doesn't dissolve. (If you drop a chunk of celery in water, it just sits there.) It helps to keep things moving through -- and out of -- your system and to balance the chemistry in your intestines.
Many "high-fiber" foods have both kinds.
You should aim for 25-30 grams or more of fiber every day from what you eat, about twice what most Americans get. In general, you'll want about a third of that to be soluble (more when you have diarrhea).
Too much fiber too fast can cause gas and bloating, so add a little bit to your diet at a time if you're not used to it. You'll also need to drink more fluids to help your body use that fiber: 8-10 large glasses (at least a half-gallon) of water every day.
Beans, Lentils, and Nuts
You'll get a lot of bang for your bite with the legume family. Just 1/2 cup of beans -- such as kidney, navy, lima, or black beans -- will cover about a third of your daily goal. It will have between 7 and 10 grams of fiber (both soluble and insoluble), depending on which variety you choose.
About 20 almonds or pecans have around 3 grams of fiber. A 1/2 cup of edamame does, too, and it only has about half the calories.
Instead of using just meat in chili and soups, add or substitute beans. You can also use beans and nuts in salads. Try Indian and Middle Eastern recipes, which often call for beans, lentils, and peas.
Swap white breads, pastas, and crackers for versions made with whole-grain flours, buckwheat, stone-ground cornmeal, or rye to boost the amount of insoluble fiber you'll get. Cooked oats and barley will give you soluble fiber, too.
Instead of a plain white bagel for breakfast, have a packet of instant oatmeal -- with twice the fiber for less than half the calories. Reach for no-butter popcorn when you get the munchies. Sprinkle oat bran or wheat germ on salads and soups.
Fruits and Vegetables
You can't go wrong with plant foods. Keep the skins on when they're thin, like on apples, pears, plums, and potatoes. That's where the insoluble fiber is, as well as compounds called flavonoids that can help control hemorrhoid bleeding.
Brightly colored produce -- berries, grapes, tomatoes, and kale and other dark, leafy greens -- are generally rich in flavonoids. And the fresher, the better. Try to keep them whole and not damage the skins or leaves until you're ready to eat them. Avoid cooking to the point that their color fades.
A serving of fruit is often good for at least 10% of your daily fiber, usually 3 to 4 grams. A cup of leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, winter squash, or green peas will get you 4 to 5 grams of fiber.
Some veggies and fruits have fiber plus a lot of water. Cucumbers, celery, mild bell peppers, and watermelon are mostly water -- more than 90%.
Make a habit of adding another fruit or vegetable to any meal, like berries or bananas in your cereal, apple chunks on your salad, spinach in your omelet, or grated zucchini in your spaghetti sauce.
Snack on dried fruits like figs, apricots, and dates. Swap sugary baked desserts for fresh fruit -- raw strawberries rather than strawberry pie.
What Not to Eat
Foods with little fiber can cause or make constipation (and therefore hemorrhoids) worse, so it's best to limit how much you eat of them.
- White bread and bagels
- Milk, cheese, and other dairy
- Processed foods such as frozen meals and fast food
Some of these (red meat, processed meat like hot dogs, and refined carbs) as well as fried foods can also cause inflammation in your body, which may make hemorrhoids worse.
If your hemorrhoids itch or hurt, cut down on things that can irritate your gut, including:
- Spicy foods
- Citrus fruits
Watch the amount of salt you eat. It can lead to your body hanging on to water, which puts more pressure on your blood vessels. That includes the veins in your bottom that cause hemorrhoids.
Iron supplements can cause constipation and other digestive problems, so talk to your doctor before you take them.