Unclog those pipes, baby.
By Alisa Hrustic and Christine Byrne
It might not be something you’re comfortable bringing up at happy hour, but I’m sure you agree: Being constipated is pretty sh*tty.
Constipation (defined as pooping fewer than three times a week), affects 42 million people in the United States, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. And, unfair as it is, constipation is more common in men than women, especially during pregnancy or postpartum.
Thankfully, if you’re feeling backed up, eating the right foods can really help. “One of the best things you can do to get your bowels moving is to eat plenty of fiber,” says Amy Gorin, R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area, specifically from food sources (and not, like, a powder or supplement). The USDA recommends 25 grams of fiber per day for women.
The next time you’re having trouble squeezing one out, here are 12 of the best foods for constipation to add to your diet:
You know what they say: beans, beans the magical fruit…so yeah, it makes sense that they can also help with bowel movements. “Beans provide a winning combination of soluble and insoluble fiber,” says Gorin—the former softens your poo, and the latter bulks it up, making it easier to pass through your digestive tract. “This fiber is very helpful for stimulating digestion, as well as for feeding gut bacteria. Additionally, eating a diet high in fiber will help bulk up the weight and size of your stool—and this makes it easier to pass!”
Per ½-cup (canned, drained) serving black beans: 109 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 20 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 166 mg sodium, 8 g fiber, 7 g protein.
Broccoli comes up in just about every discussion of good-for-you foods. That’s because the green stuff is an amazing source of essential vitamins, protein, and yup, fiber. Eating plenty of vegetables is essential to good digestive health, says Gina Sam, M.D., director of the Mount Sinai Gastrointestinal Motility Center. Add a cup of cooked broccoli to any lunch or dinner for an additional five and a half grams of fiber.
Per 1-cup (raw) serving: 31 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 6 g carbs, 2 g sugar, 30 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 3 g protein.
- Oatmeal (and other whole grains)
Yet another reason to sneak in those whole grains. Oats are full of both soluble and insoluble fiber—a dream combo when you’re plugged up. Palmer recommends including three servings of whole grains in your diet every day, especially “intact grains” like oats and brown rice.
Per ½-cup (dry) serving: 150 calories, 3 g fat (0 g saturated), 27 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 5 g protein.
Want to add some green to your pasta? Throw in a cup of spinach. It’s full of fiber (one cup of cooked spinach has four grams) and contains magnesium, a mineral that can aid in moving stool, says Sam. Magnesium is often found in laxatives, but incorporating it into your diet is a less extreme option for most people.
Per 1-cup (raw) serving: 7 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 1 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 24 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 1 g protein.
Palmer recommends including a handful of nuts like pistachios, peanuts, almonds, or walnuts in your diet every day. Toss them into your yogurt, salad, or just munch on them as a midday snack for a fiber boost. While they’re a great source of protein and healthy fats, just a quarter cup of whole almonds also serves up five grams of fiber.
Per ¼-cup serving almonds: 207 calories, 18 g fat (1 g saturated), 8 g carbs, 2 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 8 g protein.
- Chia seeds or flaxseeds
Chia seeds and flaxseeds are an easy way to add more fiber into your diet, says Sam. Sprinkling a spoonful of each into your smoothie, oatmeal, or yogurt, or using it as a salad topping, can give a low-fiber meal the extra poop-producing power it needs.
Per 1-ounce serving chia seeds: 138 calories, 9 g fat (1 g saturated), 12 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 5 mg sodium, 10 g fiber, 5 g protein.
Per 1-ounce serving flaxseeds: 152 calories, 12 g fat (1 g saturated), 8 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 9 mg sodium, 8 g fiber, 5 g protein.
Berries are always in the superfood spotlight due to their abundance of antioxidants, but they’re also rich in other essential nutrients. “You are eating tiny seeds in each bite, so it increases your fiber,” says Palmer. Half a cup of both blackberries and raspberries pack in about four grams of fiber each. Half a cup of sliced strawberries offers about half the amount.
Per ½ cup serving raspberries: 53 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 7 g carbs, 3 g sugar, 1 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 1 g protein.
Pears don’t get enough credit, especially because they’re bursting with antioxidants and vitamins. They’re also one of the most fibrous fruits, so adding them into your diet is another way to ease any discomfort you may be experiencing in the bathroom.
Per 1 medium pear: 149 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 27 g carbs, 17 g sugar, 2 mg sodium, 6 g fiber, 1 g protein.
In this case, “an apple a day” is still golden advice, especially when it comes to avoiding constipation. The peels of many fruits (including apples) contain insoluble fiber, which acts as a natural laxative.
Per 1 medium apple: 95 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 25 g carbs, 19 g sugar, 2 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 0 g protein.
Love it or hate it, that slimy center inside okra is actually mucilaginous fiber—soluble fiber that’s been mixed with water and thus turns all gooey, which is what happens to all soluble fiber in your digestive tract. “Okra is my go-to to relieve constipation,” says Kendra Tolbert, R.D.N. “All that mucilaginous fiber softens stool, which can relieve constipation.”
Per 1-cup (raw) serving: 33 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated), 7 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 7 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 2 g protein.
- Prunes (or other dried fruit)
Okay, your grandma totally swears by this—for good reason. “Prunes are a natural source of sorbitol, which helps stimulate digestion by helping to move water into your large intestine,” says Gorin. They’re also high in fiber, with about six grams per half-cup. Not into prunes? Try figs or apricots instead.
Per ½-cup serving prunes: 209 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 55 g carbs, 33 g sugar, 2 mg sodium, 6 g fiber, 2 g protein.
While there’s no fiber in coffee, some research shows that it can stimulate bowel movement. “You may not think of coffee as something that helps get things moving,” says Gorin, “but it does for about 30 percent of people. Some people even notice the effect from decaf coffee.”
Per 1-cup serving: 5 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 0 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 2 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 1 g protein.
If you change your diet and you’re still, ahem, stuck…
It’s time to see a doc, says Sam—especially if you’re also having bleeding and abdominal pain. “These are things that should be evaluated by a doctor or a gastroenterologist,” says Sam.