PLANT FOODS CONTAIN NATURAL FIBERS THAT HELP PREVENT CONSTIPATION
You know it if you have it, but to get a proper diagnosis of constipation you must experience two or more of these problems for at least three months:
- Two or fewer bowel movements a week
- Hard stools more than 25% of the time
- Straining or excessive pushing during bowel movements more than 25% of the time
- Incomplete emptying of the bowels at least 25% of the time
What Does a Healthy Colon Do?
The colon is the last 5 feet of the intestinal tract. It is also known as the large intestines in contrast to the other 20 feet which are referred to as the small intestines. The functions of the colon are to:
- Serve as a storage area for the waste material from within our bodies and from undigested food
- Extract excess water from the waste material
- Expel the waste material as a soft mass on a regular basis
What Causes Constipation?
Constipation can happen to anyone occasionally and usually does not require any treatment if it lasts just a few days. If constipation is a reoccurring problem or persists for several months, then medical attention is recommended. The most common causes of constipation are:
- Inadequate fluid and fiber intake
- Inactivity or immobility
- Some medications – antacids with calcium or aluminum, strong pain medications, antidepressants, iron supplements
- Lack of or changes in your daily routine
- Over use of laxatives or stool softeners
- Other medical conditions – irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, colon cancer, depression, eating disorders, pregnancy, stress
How Can Dietary Fiber Help?
By definition, dietary fiber is all of the non-digestible parts of the plant foods we eat. Since anything that we cannot digest must be eliminated, the more fiber-rich food we consume, the more likely our bowels will empty on a regular basis.
The Institute of Medicine set the Adequate Intake (AI) for total dietary fiber at 25 grams a day for adult women and 38 grams a day for men.
One of the best sources of dietary fiber to prevent constipation is wheat bran. Every gram of wheat bran eaten generates about a 5 gram increase in fecal weight due to the water it binds. A half-cup serving of All-Bran®cereal contains 10 grams of wheat bran fiber, so it could increase fecal weight by 50 grams or 1 ¾ ounces.
Whole grains are another important source of dietary fiber. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that half the grain foods we eat should be whole grains. For adults that means at least 3 servings of whole grains a day, which supply another 6-12 grams of fiber.
Beans are the best source of dietary fiber in the vegetable kingdom. One half cup of cooked beans has 6-7 grams of fiber. Most other fruits and vegetables have between 2-3 grams of fiber per serving. Making sure you eat 3 cups of beans per week and the recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day will provide all the rest of the fiber you need.
What changes can you make to increase the high fiber plant foods you eat each day?