The 24 Best Foods to Help With Constipation So You Can Finally Poop Again
Constipation isn't the most glamorous of topics—but having it sure isn't fun. For one, it's extremely common, with about 16 out of 100 US adults having symptoms of constipation, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Each of us has different bathroom habits, but most experts say that fewer than three bowel movements per week could indicate a problem. And although constipation can be caused by medical conditions (hypothyroidism, inflammatory bowel disease), medications (painkillers, antidepressants), and other factors that may be out of your control, for most of us, it's caused by what we're eating—or, rather, not eating, Elizabeth Blaney, MD, gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, tells Health.
Fiber is crucial to healthy digestion. But while experts recommend adults get as least 25 grams of fiber a day, the average American gets just 15 grams of it a day. Most of us don't drink enough water, either, which also contributes to constipation. Get things moving again with the following 24 foods.
Prunes—or if you prefer a tastier sounding name, dried plums—might have been the first food you thought of. There's a reason they're famous when it comes to digestion. For one, they're rich in fiber. The nutrient is what increases the bulk of your stool so it can move along on its merry way. One prune has about 1 gram of fiber. "That's a pretty concentrated amount," says Dr. Blaney. They also have fructans and sorbitol, fermentable sugars that can have a laxative effect, she adds.
One downside to some fruits is that they contain a lot of fructose—aka, fruit sugar—that can cause gas. That's why Dr. Blaney suggests high-fiber, lower-sugar fruits that don't bring on the bloated tummy, like kiwi. One cup of kiwi offers 5 grams of fiber; plus, you'll get other good-for-you nutrients, like more than double your daily vitamin C quota.
For a savory afternoon snack, consider having plain popcorn, Gina Sam, MD, a gastroenterologist in New York City, tells Health. It's an easy way to add more fiber into your day—3 cups of air-popped contains 3 grams for just 93 calories. Pop it yourself or buy an ready-to-eat bag from the store.
Along with fiber and getting regular exercise, drinking enough water is the most important factor in relieving constipation. H2O is critical to help stool move easily through the colon. "The colon's main job is to reabsorb water. If you're a bit dehydrated, your stool will be harder and more difficult to pass," says Dr. Blaney. Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water a day, recommends Dr. Sam, and fill up on foods with a high water content.
Just a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds packs in 2 grams of fiber. That may sound like a little, but the beauty of flaxseeds is that they're so easy to throw into everyday eats for a fiber punch. Add a scoop to smoothies, oatmeal, or atop a salad. Note: don't eat flaxseeds whole. Your body can't digest them, which means they'll pass through you without giving you any nutrients. Buy them pre-ground, or throw them in a coffee or spice grinder to get the benefit.
Dr. Sam favors the fruit because one large orange offers 4 grams of fiber for just 86 calories. Bonus, citrus fruits contain a flavonol called naringenin, which researchers found could work like a laxative to help treat constipation. While they conducted their study on animals, the researchers’ findings do suggest that naringenin could be an effective treatment for humans with constipation.
RELATED: 30 Best Foods With Fiber
Oatmeal offers up the best of both fiber worlds: a half-cup of dry oats contains 2 grams of insoluble and 2 grams of soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and helps food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines, while soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like material. Together, the two types of fiber work together to bulk up stool, soften it, and make it easier to pass.
Eating a bowl of rice may make your gut happy. In one older study, people who ate the highest intake of rice had 41% lower odds of suffering from constipation. The researchers didn't examine exactly why, but rice's fiber may play a role, or it may be that people who ate rice naturally had healthier diets. Since it may be the fiber, go for brown rice—it offers 4 grams per cup compared to 1 in white. A 2020 study seems to support this. Among young women with constipation, those who followed a brown rice-based or wheat-based diet for four weeks “improved bowel function by significantly decreasing colonic transit time and increasing the number of bowel movements” compared with those who followed a white rice-based diet in that same timeframe.
Aloe vera juice
This bottled beverage is popping up in more stores, fueled by the healthy-drink trend (think coconut water). Made from the aloe vera plant, aloe can act as a laxative for some people. In fact, aloe was traditionally included in laxative products. Dr. Blaney suggests that if you want to try aloe juice, start with 2 ounces and work your way up to 8.
Not only does 1 cup of cooked spinach pack 4 grams of fiber, but it's also an excellent source of magnesium. The mineral helps the colon contract and also "helps draw water in to flush things through," says Dr. Blaney. In fact, in some cases, she'll give patients a laxative with magnesium in it. Before you go that route though, it couldn't hurt to add more magnesium-rich foods into your diet first.
Beans contain resistant starch, a fiber-like starch that helps improve transit time in the colon, acts as a mild laxative, and helps balance the bacteria in your GI tract. Yes, upping your intake of beans may provoke gas and bloating. "Increase your intake of fiber-rich foods gradually. You may feel worse before you get better," says Dr. Blaney. Eating cooled beans, like in a salad, may increase the resistant starch.
If traditional beans are too tough on your stomach, you can try green beans, says Dr. Blaney. Though they're very different from traditional beans (they're much lower in protein and carbs), they still contain 4 grams of fiber per 1-cup serving, making them a good constipation fighter. Better yet, they contain fewer fermentable sugars, so they likely won't come with the gassy side effect of regular beans.
Many yogurts contain live active bacterial cultures, or probiotics, that replenish the good bacteria in your gut. That can help with the entire health of your GI system. In fact, in one 2014 meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, probiotics helped increase the number of bowel movements by 1.3 per week, and—sorry for the image—improved consistency, too, making things more comfortable when you go.
If you've ever had constipation, you've probably tried to get things moving again by having a cup of java. Experts believe that coffee stimulates muscle contractions in the colon, which then helps you go to the bathroom. (Coffee has many other health benefits, too: it improves circulation, your memory, makes your workouts more effective, and is full of antioxidants.) To stimulate movement in your colon, coffee may help, so when you get up in the morning, have a cup, recommends Dr. Sam.
If you’ve ever been told to drink pear juice to help you go, there’s a good reason why—pears are one of the best foods to help with constipation. “Pears have fiber but also sorbitol or fructose, a non-absorbable sugar that acts as a laxative,” Matthew Bechtold, MD, a University of Missouri Health Care gastroenterologist, tells Health. Since pears also make a great low-cal snack when paired with almond butter, you could kill two birds with one nutritious stone here.
Dr. Bechtold also recommends apples as a constipation-fighting fruit because they boast all the same gut benefits as their pear cousins. Fiber and fructose? It’s a one-two punch for relief. (FYI, if you leave the skin on your apple, a one-cup serving will net you 3 grams of fiber vs 1.4 grams with the skin off.)
Or, really, any cruciferous vegetable, which Dr. Bechtold says contain high levels of fiber (more than enough to make you poop). Be warned: just like beans, eating a bowl of broccoli—or cauliflower—may also make you gassy, so go slow at first if you’re not used to the roughage.
Whole wheat bread
The fiber found in wheat bread might be just what the doctor ordered for your constipation (same goes for bran, which can be added to oatmeal, smoothies, or granola). Just don’t overdo it: “You have to be careful because [the fiber in wheat and bran] can be bloating, since some kinds of bacteria in the colon eat fiber and that causes gas,” says Dr. Bechtold.
Cucumbers get a bad rap for being little more than a boring salad topping, but in addition to a bunch of health benefits, they contain one very important constipation-fighting ingredient: water. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), cucumbers are 95% water, making them the food with the highest water content—and one of the best foods to help with constipation.
RELATED: 7 Health Benefits of Cucumbers
Sure, breakfast technically isn't a food, but Dr. Sam suggests eating a morning meal to speed things up down there. "Your body's contractions of the colon work at its highest level in the morning. That's when your body is designed to poop!" she says. Eating a breakfast filled with higher fiber foods will prompt your natural urge to go.
Kimchi is a Korean favorite usually made with cabbage, radish, or onion, along with lots of spices. Typically, the main ingredient is cabbage, which promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon.
And cabbage is a type of fiber that's not digested, so it helps eliminate waste, keeping bowel movements regular, Jessica Anderson, RD, previously told Health. Sauerkraut is good for the same reasons.
Something to keep in mind: This dish can be spicy, so it might not be the best option if you've found that spicy foods trigger digestive problems for you.
Lean meat and fish
If you're feeling constipated and are going to eat meat, consider going for chicken, fish, or another lean meat—they'll go down a lot easier than red meats.
"Red meats tend to be fattier," Anderson previously told Health. "Your body can handle lean meats and fish and chicken a whole lot better than prime rib."
Artichokes are a top source of fiber, according to Cynthia Sass, RD, Health’s contributing nutrition editor. In fact, one whole, cooked artichoke packs nearly 7 grams of fiber, about a third of the daily minimum target, according to the USDA. That means it can play a role in supporting healthy digestion.
“The green artichokes you see at the market are called globe artichokes; they are completely
unrelated to Jerusalem artichokes,” as Sass previously reported. “Jerusalem artichokes—which aren't green—are related to sunflowers and are sometimes referred to as sunchokes. These tubers, which look like a cross between white potatoes and ginger root, can be eaten raw or cooked. They're a top source of inulin, a prebiotic with multiple benefits.”
As Sass pointed out, “prebiotics feed beneficial bacteria in the gut linked to digestive health.”