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Dietary Fiber for Constipation

Can food be medicine? Sometimes, yes. It's becoming clear in recent years that what you eat can be highly effective in preventing or reversing some health problems, especially chronic constipation.

Constipation is a symptom, not a disease. If you want safe and effective long-term relief for chronic constipation, you don't need to look any further than your grocer's shelves. Hundreds of foods and plant-based fiber products are available to relieve constipation -- naturally.

What is fiber?

Dietary fiber refers to the edible parts of plants or carbohydrates that cannot be digested. Fiber is in all plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. You can also find a form of fiber called chitin in the shells of crustaceans such as crab, lobster, and shrimp.

Is all fiber the same?

No, some fibers are soluble in water and others are insoluble. Soluble fiber slows digestion and helps you absorb nutrients from food. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool, helping the stool pass more quickly through the intestines.

Most plant foods contain some of each kind of fiber. Foods containing high levels of soluble fiber include dried beans, oats, oat bran, rice bran, barley, citrus fruits, apples, strawberries, peas, and potatoes. Foods high in insoluble fiber include wheat bran, whole grains, cereals, seeds, and the skins of many fruits and vegetables.

Which type of fiber is best to ease constipation?

Go for whole-grain breads, cereals, and pastas. Cereal fibers generally have cell walls that resist digestion and retain water within the cellular structures. Wheat bran can be highly effective as a natural laxative.

What other foods are high in fiber?

Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and legumes such as beans and lentils. The fiber found in citrus fruits and legumes stimulate the growth of colonic flora, which increases the stool weight and the amount of bacteria in the stool. Encouraging the growth of certain bacteria in the colon may help promote a healthy intestine.

How much fiber do we need daily?

The average American gets about 15 grams of fiber daily, much less than we need, according to the American Dietetic Association. Women should aim for 21 to 25 grams of fiber daily. Men should aim for 30 to 38 grams of fiber daily. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends eating at least nine servings (2 cups) of fiber-filled fruits and vegetables each day, including apples, oranges, broccoli, berries, pears, peas, figs, carrots, and beans. Some people get stomach cramps and gas when they increase their intake of fiber. Change your diet gradually and increase fluids to reduce discomfort.

Aren't prunes a natural laxative?

Often called "Nature's Remedy," prunes contain sorbitol, which has a natural, laxative effect in the body. Dried plums (yes, prunes!) are also high in disease-fighting antioxidants and have both insoluble and soluble fiber. One cup of pitted, uncooked prunes contains 12 grams of fiber. Three dried plums have 3.9 grams of fiber.

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