Being constipated or feeling like your digestion is sluggish can be very uncomfortable. HFG founding editor Niki Bezzant takes a look at eight foods that can help keep your digestive system in top condition and your bowel movements regular.
Our gut health is something that can affect almost every aspect of our health. Everyone is different when it comes to ‘transit time’ – some of us have a bowel movement every day, like clockwork, while for others it’s every few days.
Whatever is normal for us, when we’re constipated it can make us feel sluggish, bloated and generally unwell.
There are some foods that are well worth including in our diets to keep things moving along, or to get things moving again, if it feels like the pipes are backed up. These foods are, or can be, FODMAP friendly, for those with irritable bowel syndrome.
Kiwifruit has a double benefit for gut health. It contains a good amount of fibre (about 2g per fruit). We know fibre is important for keeping our digestion going, and we need a range of soluble and insoluble fibre.
Experts say the magic number for disease prevention is around 28g-30g of fibre a day, and many of us fall well short of that.
As well as fibre, kiwifruit also has an enzyme called actinidin that helps break down protein and improve digestion, which might be why it’s the basis for some gut health supplements and products.
Enjoy the whole fruit daily – have a couple to ease constipation.
2 Chia seeds
These little wonders are about 40 per cent fibre, most of which is soluble fibre, which is the type that absorbs liquid and changes with the addition of water.
Chia seeds, as you’ll know if you’ve ever had a chia pudding, absorb water and change texture when added to liquid.
In our gut, they absorb water and help normalise gut function. A couple of tablespoons contain over 10 grams of fibre. Sprinkle the dry seeds over your muesli or add to your smoothie for a great fibre boost to keep things moving.
A humble but versatile grain, wholegrain oats are a brilliant and inexpensive way to get your bowels moving again.
Oats are around 10 per cent fibre, some of which is a special kind of soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which has been shown to lower cholesterol.
They also provide insoluble fibre, which doesn’t absorb water but helps sweep waste through our digestive system.
For constipation, it’s ideal to have both types of fibre. Oats also contain resistant starch which feeds our gut bacteria and boosts gut health.
Make a tasty Bircher muesli based on oats for a quick and easy gut-friendly breakfast.
4 Blueberries and raspberries
These colourful health powerhouses are full of nutritional benefits including antioxidants and vitamins.
They’re also a good source of fibre, with around 5g of fibre in a cup of blueberries, and a hefty 8g of fibre in a cup of raspberries.
A topping of berries on your morning cereal will make a great addition to your daily fibre total.
5 Lentils and chickpeas
Legumes are excellent sources of fibre and provide a mix of soluble and insoluble types – so it adds bulk to stools as well as helping them absorb water and soften, so it’s easier to move through the gut.
Canned lentils and chickpeas are not only super versatile, they’re also suitable for those with IBS, in small quantities.
6 Sweet potato/kumara
The good old sweet potato is delicious and useful. All colours – red, gold and orange – have good amounts of fibre. If you keep the skins on, you’ll get the most benefit.
As well as insoluble fibre they’ve got the soluble fibre, pectin (also found in apples and pears).
Enjoy them hot or cold – try a sweet potato salad – for a gut boost.
7 Psyllium husk
Not exactly a food, but a very useful addition to our ‘keep it moving’ diet. Psyllium is a plant fibre commonly available in powdered form.
It’s also the base of some popular laxatives. Using psyllium husk powder regularly adds bulk to stools making them easier to move, and acts as a prebiotic, feeding our good gut bacteria.
It’s also been shown to have benefits for heart health, weight control and diabetes.
A couple of teaspoons of psyllium have over 4g of fibre, so try adding it to your cereal (it can go in the Bircher, above, but add it at the last minute) or smoothie.
8 And don’t forget… water!
When you’re adding extra fibre (or any time) it’s really important to boost your fluid intake, too, or you might end up causing more of a problem than you had before.
Make sure you have lots of water and other drinks. Keep an eye on your pee and if it’s a pale straw colour, you’re in good shape.