You’re likely already aware of good foods to eat to prevent constipation.
Prunes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other high-fiber foods help promote regular bowel movements and feed the beneficial bacteria in your digestive system.
On the other hand, low-fiber foods can worsen constipation and might leave you reaching for laxatives in your medicine cabinet.
If you’re prone to getting constipated or are looking to relieve this uncomfortable but common ailment, read on for some foods to avoid.
9 foods to avoid when constipated
1. Dairy products
Dairy products are a common staple in many people’s kitchens, but eating too much dairy may lead to constipation. Children are especially prone to constipation from eating dairy products, which might be caused by an intolerance to the proteins found in cow’s milk.
Dairy products like yogurt, cheese, and milk contain many beneficial nutrients, but they are naturally fiber-free because they aren’t plant-based food.
Some dairy products are especially problematic for constipation because of the combination of being high in fat and low in fiber. Cheese is known to be a constipation-causing food because of this.
Some dairy products like yogurt contain beneficial bacteria that promote your gut health. Including those types of foods in moderation can be a part of a gut-healthy diet that helps prevent constipation.
2. Red meat
Like all non-plant-based foods, meat doesn’t contain fiber. Dietary fiber is essential for promoting regular, healthy bowel movements.
Eating a high-meat diet without enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can cause constipation and isn’t good for your health in general.
3. High-fat, low-fiber foods
Foods like chips, french fries, and other high-fat, low-fiber foods can worsen constipation.
Fat takes a long time to empty from your stomach into your intestines. This slowed digestion time coupled with a lack of fiber can delay bowel movements, which can worsen the discomfort associated with constipation.
On the other hand, eating high-fat foods along with high-fiber foods can be beneficial for constipation. High-fiber foods help add bulk to stools and shorten digestion time, while fat can be lubricating and help soften stools.
Your hydration status plays a big role in your digestive health and bowel patterns. While eating fiber is great for your digestive system, it won’t provide constipation relief if you don’t have enough fluid.
Alcohol is dehydrating because it causes your body to release more water, which is why you might have noticed that you have to urinate more often when drinking alcohol.
If you’re losing more fluids in the form of urine, that can cause dehydration. When you’re dehydrated, your stools can become more difficult to pass.
Drinks with a high alcohol content can slow peristalsis, which is the involuntary contraction and relaxation of the muscles in your digestive tract. Peristalsis helps propel food from your mouth through your digestive tract to be eliminated in the form of a bowel movement.
To prevent constipation while drinking alcohol, try to avoid drinking more than one drink a day if you’re a woman and no more than two drinks per day if you’re a man. Be sure to drink plenty of water if you’re drinking alcohol, which can help offset its dehydrating abilities.
Drinking caffeine can help prevent constipation in some instances, but it can also be constipating in others.
Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it promotes the contraction of the muscles of your digestive tract. These muscle contractions keep food and stool moving through your digestive system, preventing constipation and promoting regular bowel movements.
However, drinking caffeine can be dehydrating, which can worsen constipation. If you aren’t eating much fiber or drinking much water, you may find that caffeine worsens your constipation.
6. Refined grains (white bread, etc.)
Refined carbohydrates, or refined carbs, are those which have been stripped of some of their nutrients during processing and aren’t in their natural form. One of the most common sources of refined carbohydrates is refined grains.
Grains naturally have three parts: the hard outer layer called the bran, which includes fiber and some minerals; the core called the germ, which includes healthy fats as well as vitamins and minerals; and the endosperm, which is the middle layer containing mostly carbs and a small amount of protein.
When grains are refined, they are stripped of the bran and germ, leaving a low-fiber, lower-nutrient grain. These grains are often enriched with the vitamins and minerals lost during the refining process, so many refined grains have the ingredient “enriched flour” as the main ingredient.
Refined grains are also very low in fiber since the part of the grain highest in fiber is removed during processing. As a result, refined grains are higher in simple, low-fiber carbohydrates.
Examples of refined grains include white bread, white rice, and pasta made from enriched flour. Instead of refined grains, choose whole-grain bread, crackers, pasta, and any other types of products made from grains.
7. Frozen “TV” dinners
Frozen meals are convenient, but they are typically low in nutrients like fiber. They tend to be high in fat and high in sodium as well.
Eating high-sodium foods causes your body to hold on to water to try to rebalance your fluids and electrolytes. Your body can pull water from your digestive tract in response to a high-sodium diet, which means the stool going through your digestive system will become drier.
The longer your stool sits in your digestive tract (especially your colon), the harder and drier it can become. Once stool becomes very hard, it can be painful to pass and lead to other issues like anal fissures and hemorrhoids.
Try to keep your sodium intake below 2,400 milligrams daily. To help identify high-sodium foods, look at how much of the daily value of sodium a food provides.
20% of the daily value for sodium is high and can quickly make you exceed the daily recommended sodium, especially if you eat more than one serving of the food. Instead, try to choose foods with 10% or less of the daily value for sodium.
If you’re suffering from constipation, you probably think that all forms of fruits and vegetables are beneficial.
Applesauce might not cause constipation, but it likely won’t help treat it. Unlike apples, applesauce is very low in fiber, which is the beneficial part of fruits that can help prevent constipation.
Applesauce is part of a low-fiber diet designed for patients recovering from bowel surgery who need bowel rest, which serves as good proof that it isn’t a great food to treat or prevent constipation.
Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. If you have gluten sensitivity, you might be prone to constipation after eating gluten.
If you have gluten intolerance, you might also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can cause diarrhea or constipation, depending on the person and the type of IBS.
Other signs of gluten intolerance include:
- Abdominal pain
- Bloating or gas
- Brain fog, or trouble concentrating
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Joint pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Skin rash
Some gluten-free products are very low in fiber, such as those made with potato flour or other low-fiber ingredients. If you suspect a gluten sensitivity, be sure to choose higher-fiber gluten-free alternatives to help prevent constipation, such as those made with almond flour or coconut flour.
Plant-based foods rich in fiber are the best for preventing and treating constipation. On the other hand, low-fiber foods can cause constipation, as well as processed foods that lack fiber.
Foods high in sodium, caffeine, or alcohol may worsen constipation because they can be dehydrating, which robs your digestive tract of water needed to help keep you regular.