I have already tried adding fiber to my diet, because both low calorie and low carb diets can be a bit, or even a lot, low on fiber for those, like me, who need a lot of the stuff! Since I wrote those articles, I have been looking in great depth into how I can get enough fiber into my diet, so I don’t have to take any laxatives or use any suppositories. I prefer to keep my intake natural as far as I possibly can!
While I mentioned prebiotics in one of my previous articles, I have now found out a lot more about these and also found a source for adding extra to my diet, which I am currently trying out. This is inulin, which I had not heard of before I started researching natural ways of correcting constipation when on a diet. Inulin is a natural substance found in fruits and vegetables. It is a soluble fiber. This means it dissolves (soluble) in water, which bulks it up and also softens the stool. And just as important, it forms a food for the good bacteria that live in your intestine. These good bacteria, grow and multiply by fermenting the soluble fiber. They also form part of your stool and the more there are of them, the softer and easier your stool will be to pass. Increasing the numbers of the good guys also decreases the baddies!
Inulin is found in lots of foods, such as onions, leeks and asparagus but one of the biggest sources is chicory root. I know that chicory was used for making faux or ersatz coffee during the second world war, when coffee beans couldn’t be got and has been used in this way for maybe 200 years. The taste of chicory root is similar to that of coffee, though it doesn’t have the caffeine, and some people got used to the taste and continued using it for their coffee drink, for instance in New Orleans, where cafe au lait is traditionally made with chicory. Apart from this, chicory appears mostly to be eaten as a salad leaf or a vegetable, rather than the root being eaten. Rather than try finding recipes for chicory root (although you can buy it on line), I decided to purchase the inulin powder ready prepared and see if it helped and whether it agreed with me. I bought a bag of inulin and added the recommended dose of 5 grams into my daily shakes.
It has the reputation of producing more intestinal gas. I found that to be true! But it did improve as my body got used to it. And it did help with the constipation, which was a big benefit.
It’s a given on a diet isn’t it? You hear it all the time. Add more fiber! Drink more water! But Why and How?
What Is Fiber?
Fiber comes from plants, it’s part of what we consume when we eat our fruit and veggies and other plant based food items, provided the fiber hasn’t been stripped out by processing. It is also known as dietary fiber or roughage. There are two kinds of fiber, soluble and insoluble.
Insoluble fiber is the part of plant foods that your body cannot digest. It provides bulk in your intestines and helps your body in two ways. It keeps you feeling full for longer and along with water, helps move food on down through the digestive system so you are less likely to suffer from constipation.
Soluble fiber actually dissolves in water. Recent research associates it with reduced stroke risk, improved heart health and lower cholesterol levels, among other things. It can stop the stomach from emptying as quickly as normal, keeping you feeling full for longer.
Benefits Of Fiber
Both soluble and insoluble fiber keep you feeling full for longer;
soluble fiber can help with heart health, reducing stroke risk and with lowering cholesterol levels;
insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation (along with water – keep hydrated);
Both soluble and insoluble fiber can act as what is called a prebiotic, that is, they provide a food for the good bacteria in your intestine, again helping prevent constipation, among other things;
Fiber is low in calories (depending on what it came from, of course) as it is not digestible, but if you eat high calorie food you will be getting calories from that, as well as the fiber.
How Much Fiber Do I Need?
The amount of fiber you need varies by person, by your weight and by your gender, among other things. Some people have a very fast digestive system that food moves through very quickly. Others have a slow system. The rate at which your food passes through your system can also depend on medication and the type of food you normally eat. Current recommendations are for about 25 grams of fiber daily for women and about 38 grams of fiber daily for men but most people get a lot less than this. If you are thinking about how to get more fiber in your diet, you need to take it slowly at first because adding a whole load of fiber at once may have unwanted side effects such as gas and bloating.
How To Get More Fiber In Your Diet
The natural way to add fiber is to eat a fiber rich diet! This means increasing your intake of vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans and lentils, etc. One easy way to do that would be to add red lentils to any soups or stews you make instead of thickening them with flour. You could also “eat your way” through the vegetable garden, using green vegetables ranging from artichokes to zucchini, by way of broccoli, brussels sprouts, celery and cabbage. For those on a normal or “healthy diet”, they could also add whole grain bread, cereal, pasta or rice. (No flour, cereal, bread, pasta or rice on a low calorie or ketogenic diet.) Many fruits also contain fiber (NOT bananas) but they may also have high calorie contents too because of the fruit sugar they contain. A medium apple for instance has about 95 calories in it. (Very little fruit is allowed on a ketogenic diet.) Don’t worry about your vitamins though, as your green veggies have plenty of those. So get those salads into you. And if you go to work each day, taking a food container with chopped up salad in it, such as celery and lettuce is a great way to add more fiber, while reducing the desire for a trip to the vending machine for a sugar bar!
You may also enjoy adding fermented vegetables, such as Kimchi and sauerkraut to your meals, to provide taste and a source of probiotics to your diet. Live culture yogurt is also a great dietary addition for probiotics.
Raspberries are one of the highest fiber fruits, surprisingly and a cup of those contains only 65 calories, a real win for weight loss on a low calorie diet. Dried fruits, such as prunes not only contain high amounts of fiber but also a chemical that helps promote good bowel movements. This is also present in apple and pear juice. Again, though, these would be high in calories.
The natural fiber from wheat and oat grains is often stripped away and sold separately as bran. This can be added to soups and stews to thicken them and even to home made bread and cakes or sprinkled over salads and other foods. They each have a nutty taste.
There are plenty of high fiber supplements available at reasonable cost to increase your fiber intake with no added calories. It is extremely important to drink lots of water with any fiber supplement, otherwise the fiber may clog you up worse than before, by absorbing moisture from your gut. And anyone who has had difficulties swallowing or who has narrowing of the food tube should NOT take these. The types of fiber available include psyllium husks (also known as ispaghula) and apple fiber. These are all readily available as powders or even as capules. Some commercial preparations add flavoring to psyllium husks to make them more palatable. You can do this yourself by adding a little lemon juice to the glass before adding the psyllium husks and water.
Probiotics also count as supplements. These capsules contain large numbers (in the billions) of bacteria to increase the numbers of “good” bacteria in your system that help with health and digestion. Taking probiotics is also useful after having a course of antibiotics which can wipe out your friendly gut bacteria. Remember to take these capsules with cold water. They contain live bacteria and taking them with a hot drink, like tea or coffee could wipe them out before they even reach your gut!
Laxatives and Suppositories
The final option, if you really “can’t go” is to use a laxative, which brings about a bowel action or softens the stool to make it easier to pass or to use a suppository, which is inserted into the back passage to soften the stool so it can be passed. These should NOT be used where nothing is passing, not even gas or where there is abdominal pain or any suspicion of a blockage or the person potentially has appendicitis. In these cases consult your medical adviser urgently.
Diet High In Fiber
If you need a diet high in fiber, check out the nutritional information available on food packaging these days. You may find that the best foods for your preferred diet are not that high in fiber but by adding a little of these different high fiber foods to your diet throughout the day, you can put more fiber in your diet with only a little additional effort.
One of the problems with many diets is that constipation can raise its ugly head – you know, that time when your bowel is full, you can feel that you need to visit the loo but nothing is moving. That can get very uncomfortable and if it continues for more than a couple of days, it can get very serious. This article will cover how to relieve constipation arising from low fiber in the diet. It does not provide health advice. If you have any concerns over your health whether diet or constipation related, please consult your medical adviser. If you find yourself suddenly constipated, unable to pass a motion or even gas or passing blood, please get urgent medical advice immediately.
What Is Constipation?
Constipation is when your bowel movements happen less often than usual or when they are hard to pass. The normal number of bowel movements can be very different between different people. Some “go” only once or twice a week, others may need to visit the loo two or three times a day. But the longer the time between having bowel movements, the harder it becomes to have one, as the colon (the last part of the gut) removes water from the “poo” making it harder and more compacted and more difficult to pass.
Some of the symptoms you may get if you have constipation can include having to strain to go, having hard or small stools, having fewer bowel movements than usual, a feeling that everything didn’t come out, a swollen belly or having belly pain and possibly even throwing up. Some people may get diarrhea, because liquid stools further up the gut slide past the harder material further on down.
Why Does Dieting Cause Constipation?
Dieting can cause constipation (or diarrhea) because of changes in your usual food intake, or you may be less active than usual, or you may not be drinking enough water or taking in enough fiber or possibly, because you avoid visiting the loo when you know you need to “go” and resist the urge to have a bowel movement. This may be because you are busy, or for some people, because they have hemorrhoids and these cause pain. If your stools are less bulky than usual or you are taking in less food because of dieting, you may find that there is a change in your bowel habits that can lead to constipation. It is important to recognize this early and take steps to deal with it as quickly as possible.
There are several areas you can tackle to stop or relieve constipation. With dieting, you may be eating less overall, so your stools have less bulk and you may also be eating less fiber. The lack of bulk means the intestine has less material to work with, so it doesn’t push the contents through as quickly as usual. The act of pushing the contents through the digestive system is called peristalsis. Find out more about peristalsis, with a video, here.
The two most basic areas are to stay well hydrated, that is, to drink plenty of water and to take in plenty of fiber. Both of these work together to provide more bulk in your stools.
How Much Fiber Do I Need?
WebMD suggests that women need 25 grams of fiber a day and men need 38 grams per day.
One kind of fiber with no calories is psyllium husks also known as ispaghula. This is easily available on line and probably in your nearest pharmacy or health food shop or even grocery supermarket. It is a dry, powdery, even feathery type of substance, which is mixed with a glass of cold water and drunk straight down. It should be followed by more water, to make sure there is sufficient water to allow it to work, otherwise if is too dry, it can cause a blockage in the intestines. It can also be obtained in capsule form. Psyllium husks are also used in commercially available products advertised for bulking out the stool. These may make the product more appealing to take, being flavored with orange or lemon. You can mimic this at home by adding a teaspoonful of lemon juice to your glass before adding water and psyllium husks. Because psyllium husks, with water bulk out the contents of the intestines, they provide more for the peristaltic action to work on and so are a gentler form of constipation relief.
Fiber in Real Food
If you are on a low calorie diet, you need to get as much fiber for the calories taken in as possible. Apart from using psyllium husks, this may seem almost impossible. “Increase your fiber intake” you get told, yet when you look at the fiber content of various healthy vegetables, such as celery or green beans or broccoli, you find that you would probably need to eat 2 or 3 pounds in weight of any of these to get your daily requirements. And the foods with plenty of fiber also seem to have plenty of calories too, which makes it hard to keep within your calorie allowance.
It is possible to create soups that are low calorie and high fiber, using lentils and flavored with garlic and celery. Extra fiber from wheat bran or oat bran can be added to these to increase the fiber content and make a healthy lunch or tea that fits within your calorie allowance. These can be made with a stock cube (watch the salt) for ease or by making your own bone broth, which is cheap and highly nutritious but will take a bit longer. Bone broth can be frozen, so you can always have the basis of a soup available.
Other ways of tackling constipation are to eat or drink items that also contain natural stool softeners, in addition to the fiber they contain. These types of food include prunes and prune juice and apple juice. When on a diet, you want to find fiber with the least number of calories, so you are not breaking your diet by taking in too many calories. Prunes and apple and pear juice are quite high in calories so you will only be able to eat or drink a little, however, they also contain sorbitol a natural laxative. If you are on a calorie restricted diet then you get better benefit from eating prunes, for instance than by drinking prune juice, as you get more fiber for your calorie intake, as well as getting the laxative effect from the natural sorbitol. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol produced from fruits and corn and has been used as a sugar substitute. The body only metabolizes it very slowly, so it doesn’t produce an insulin spike and it has a laxative effect, so may not be suitable for those with IBS.
Exercise and Physical Methods As Constipation Remedies
Exercise is a useful way of getting “things moving”, including walking and, if you can, running. Yoga can also be used to help with constipation and gas problems and there are particular poses that are especially helpful. You can find a number of videos available demonstrating these poses. If you are not used to yoga, you should consider whether these are suitable for you, as some yoga poses should not be used by people suffering from Osteoporosis for instance. There is also the possibility of abdominal massage, which can move the contents on around the digestive system. The yoga moves shown above also work this way.
Laxatives And Suppositories
If you really are in desperation from constipation, then laxatives such as preparations containing senna are available over the counter. Ask for advice from your pharmacist to ensure these are suitable for you. It is also possible to obtain glycerin suppositories for insertion into the rectum, to soften the stool to allow it to be passed. Again, seek advice from your pharmacist or medical adviser to make sure this is suitable for you. If you suddenly find yourself suffering from constipation, with no known reason, get medical advice immediately.
ProBiotics and PreBiotics
What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?
Probiotics – the “good” bacteria
Our gut contains a lot of bacteria, that help with our general health and digestion. Probiotics are the “good” bacteria, or flora, that we can take, either in something like “live” yogurt or fresh sauerkraut or kefir or as a supplement, to add to the ones already there, to boost the numbers of “good” bacteria. They are alive and help us digest our food, as well as creating (synthesizing) Vitamins B and K. The biggest numbers live in the large intestine and can form as much as 60% of the dry matter in our poo. Recent research suggests that the gut is a 2nd brain and can affect our bodies in many ways we are only just beginning to find out about.
By changing our diet, perhaps by dieting and reducing the level of certain kinds of food or eating more of others, we may change the numbers and kinds of good bacteria in our gut and this can affect our health and may contribute to constipation or diarrhea. Our gut flora also changes as we get older. Taking a probiotic can help keep our gut bacteria working for us, instead of against our health. These can be taken in capsule form or in food. Take any probiotics onnly with COLD drinks, so you don’t kill the bacteria.
Prebiotics are the kinds of food that the probiotic bacteria live on. The prebiotics are plant fibers that come from fruit and vegetables. With lots of prebiotic fibers, the good bacteria have plenty of food to help them grow and do their job of keeping our gut healthy. These fibers are not digested in the first part of the digestive system (the stomach and small intestine) so they reach the large intestine mostly untouched. They ferment there and provide good food for the good bacteria. This fermentation also helps keep the numbers of “bad” bacteria low.
This is a type of yogurt that contains a “live” culture of some of the types of “good” bacteria that are useful in the digestive system. In order to get the benefit of the live culture, you need to make sure you don’t take a hot drink at the same time, as that will kill the live culture before it can get to work!
Probiotics For Weightloss
While probiotics are not specifically used for weightloss, there is some evidence that they can have a protective effect against the symptoms arising from emotional problems like stress, anxiety and depression. This may help those who overeat because of emotional problems to control their overeating, as their symptoms become less and so they may eat less.
Constipation on a Low Calorie Diet Can be Managed
It is possible to keep the bowels moving smoothly by taking in a regular level of fiber each day and using some of the other techniques in this article to keep within your low calorie diet limits.
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