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Digestive health centre

Dietary fibre for constipation

Not having enough fibre in the diet can lead to constipation.

The NHS recommends eating at least 30g fibre a day, but most adults don't eat this much.

Making sure you eat enough fibre in your diet can reduce the risk of constipation.

Dietary fibre is the edible parts of plants or other carbohydrates that cannot be digested. Fibre is in all plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.

Is all fibre the same?

No, some fibres are soluble in water and others are insoluble. Soluble fibre slows digestion and helps you absorb nutrients from food. Insoluble fibre adds bulk to your stools, helping them pass more quickly through the intestines.

Most plant foods contain some of each kind of fibre. Foods containing high levels of soluble fibre include dried beans, oats, oat bran, rice bran, barley, citrus fruits, apples, strawberries, peas, and potatoes. Foods high in insoluble fibre include wheat bran, whole grains, cereals, seeds, and the skins of many fruits and vegetables.

Which type of fibre is best to ease constipation?

Go for whole-grain breads, cereals, and pastas. Cereal fibres generally have cell walls that resist digestion and retain water within the cellular structures. Wheat bran can be highly effective as a natural laxative.

What other foods are high in fibre?

Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and legumes such as beans and lentils. The fibre found in citrus fruits and legumes stimulates the growth of colonic flora, which increases the stool weight and the amount of bacteria in the stool. Encouraging the growth of certain bacteria in the colon may help promote a healthy intestine.

How much fibre do we need daily?

The NHS says most people in the UK don’t eat enough fibre. The average intake is 14g a day, when the recommended daily amount is at least 30g a day. The official advice is to eat at least 5-a-day portions of fruit and veg.

Some people get stomach cramps and wind when they increase their intake of fibre. Change your diet gradually and increase fluids to reduce these discomforts.

If you are going to eat more fibre, make sure that you also drink plenty of fluids. The NHS recommends around 1.2 litres a day or six to eight glasses.

Aren't prunes a natural laxative?

Often called "Nature's Remedy," prunes (dried plums) contain sorbitol, which has a natural, laxative effect in the body. Prunes are also high in disease-fighting antioxidants and have both insoluble and soluble fibre.

What if whole-grain fibre and fruits don't help constipation?

Then consider trying foods that contain psyllium seed husk, bran and methylcellulose. These natural products increase stool weight and have a laxative effect. Make sure you drink a lot of water when taking any of these products, as they can clog up the intestines and cause constipation. Fibre must have water in order to sweep the colon and move the stool out of your body.

WebMD Medical Reference

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