Health and wellness require a multi-pronged approach that addresses your body and mind. As doctors and researchers learn more about health, they’ve discovered the role the gut plays in overall health. Good, clean living—and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fiber—leads to a thriving microbiome, which is linked to everything from better mental health and athletic performance to maintaining a healthy weight.
When the gut is out of whack, or your diet lacks fiber, you may feel sluggish or suffer from GI issues like constipation—an affliction that affects about 16% of the population, and 33% of those over 60 years old, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Adding more fiber to your diet, drinking plenty of fluids, and ensuring you eat enough fresh produce can provide relief.
There are a few easy steps you can take to ensure your body processes food efficiently, says digestive health expert and certified sports dietitian Leslie Bonci, RD, MPH. She recommends women consume 21–25 grams of fiber each day and men aim for 30–38 grams. “Fiber draws water into the stool, so it is easier to move through the digestive tract,” she says, noting that fluids including water and hot beverages, like coffee, can also assist with bowel passage.
5 FOODS TO KEEP YOU REGULAR
Fiber can be found in many foods, from fruits and vegetables to whole grains. It’s important to eat a varied diet, so you should attempt to eat as many different foods as possible. But certain foods are known to relieve constipation, so you might start there if you’re having issues. Bonci says to consider these five foods part of your “gut survival kit.”
These dried plums contain sorbitol and fructans, which have a laxative effect, says Bonci. “In studies, they have been as effective, if not more effective, than some of the over-the-counter fiber supplements.”
Flaxseed contains lignans, a type of fiber that can help with regularity, says Bonci. You can easily add ground flaxseed to your diet by incorporating it into smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt and baked goods.
Pulses are a category of food that includes beans, peas and legumes. They’re high in protein and fiber, and they also contain resistant starch which helps with digestion.
Bran-based cereals are high in insoluble fiber, which helps expedite the movement of digested food through the GI tract. Depending on the brand, 1 cup of bran cereal can have more than 50% of your daily recommended fiber, making it an easy way to increase your intake.
Supplement your diet with yogurt—specifically yogurt that contains “live active cultures.” According to Bonci, the probiotics in yogurt may increase the number of bowel movements as well as improve the consistency of the stool so it is easier to pass.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Constipation is a common disorder that affects millions of people. Depending on the severity of your condition, it may require a visit to the doctor, but the first line of intervention usually includes dietary changes. Try eating more fruits, vegetables and other high-fiber foods to get your digestion back on track.
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