Once you have eaten food your body automatically knows what it has to do with it. Your stomach will break down the food consumed, your small intestine will absorb as many of the nutrients as it can into your bloodstream and the rest will pass — undigested — into your large intestine and then hopefully out of your body as waste. What happens then if you are blocked and bloated? If you have found yourself sitting on the toilet, waiting and/or straining with no result (or with one that is painful) you could be constipated.
It’s a common condition, especially as you get older, with as many as one in five people over the age of 30 experiencing constipation at some point. It can be brought on by stress, poor diet or lifestyle choices, or medication or a medical condition.
How do you know if you are constipated?
According to the Continence Foundation of Australia, constipation is when you have fewer bowel movements than your usual routine; your stools are hard and often difficult or maybe even painful to pass; and you might get pain or bloating in your abdomen.
How diet can lead to constipation?
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The more common cause of constipation is having a poor diet. If you have a diet full of processed foods and don’t eat enough roughage from a wide range of sources then you are at risk of being constipated. Normally you’d think fibre would be something to look at when addressing your blockage, but if increasing your intake of fibre makes you more bloated and blocked than before, don’t add more, seek help.
If waste matter sits in your bowel for too long, you can put extra strain on your system if toxins develop and are reabsorbed into your bloodstream.
But you don’t have to reach for the laxatives just yet.
Try these foods first
Fruits and vegetables will help maximise your fibre intake. At least half a cup serving of most fruits and vegetables contains around 3g of fibre. If you like your apples and your pears, leave the skin on. Berries contain the highest fibre-per-calorie ratio in the food world, offering up to 10g per cup. Use them in your cereal, mix them into yoghurt or blend them in a smoothie. When it comes to your vege, green is the way to go. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, one cup of cooked broccoli will contain around 5g of fibre. Other great sources of green vegetables include spinach, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, asparagus and green beans. Consider adding grated carrot, zucchini or capsicum to your pasta sauce.
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Beans is another excellent way of adding fibre to your diet. Kidney beans have around 8g of fibre per serving. You can add beans to soups and salads.
Wholegrains like quinoa, amaranth, whole grain pasta, brown rice and even popcorn can be eaten daily to help reach your fibre intake, which in turn will keep you regular.
See help if…
While you can unblock your bowels with an improved diet, when you are aged over 40 years and you suddenly develop a severe case of constipation (or you have rectal bleeding) then you need to speak with your doctor or a medical practitioner because these symptoms are associated with diverticular disease or bowel cancer.
Have you ever had a problem with your bowels? Do you have any advice to share?