Indian Foods For Constipation Management
Table Of Content
My perspective on the issue of constipation always emphasizes the importance of delving into its root cause rather than resorting to mere short-term relief methods.
That one bad meal you ate is not why you are constipated. That one day you skipped on eating your veggies is also not why you are constipated. If you are facing constipation, chances are that the issue run's deep.
While ayurvedic churan's, laxative medications and ghar-ke-nushke might offer reprieve, I ask that you do a deep dive into understanding of the underlying factors contributing to this common yet often overlooked health concern.
Let's start by acknowledging constipation as a multifaceted issue, look at its rise in our country, and understand chronic constipation and the serious health impacts it can have.
Through this blog, I will address:
- the long- term risk of taking laxatives,
- move on to identifying some of the main culprits and foods that cause constipation,
- what foods can help with constipation,
- if you should consider changing the poop position for smoother movements,
- what are some potential root- causes for constipation,
- long term implications of constipation,
- medications and supplements that lead to constipation, and much more!
Finally, discover how transitioning to a healthier lifestyle is the best effort you can do for yourself today to keep constipation away.
Rise of constipation in India.
There has been an alarming rise in the prevalence of constipation in our country, highlighting the significance of evolving lifestyle and dietary patterns. We see comedic advertisements that promote the use of laxatives and antacids to cure that feeling after binge eating samosa's but the truth is far less humorous.
The Indian Society of Gastroenterology (ISG) conducted a nationwide survey revealing that close to a quarter of the Adult Indian population suffers from chronic constipation, with a substantial increase in urban areas. This indicates a significant proportion of individuals grappling with the challenges of irregular bowel movements and related discomfort.
Furthermore, data from various healthcare institutions indicate a surge in constipation-related cases, particularly in metropolitan cities and urban centers.
- The increased consumption of processed foods,
- reduced intake of dietary fiber, and,
- sedentary lifestyles
contribute to the growing prevalence of constipation in the country.
Our change in eating habits have caused a decrease in the consumption of traditional, fiber-rich Indian meals.
More people are now eating processed and low-fiber foods, which has led to digestive health problems like constipation. Western diets that include more refined grains, dairy products, and processed foods have become more popular in India.
The impact of lifestyle changes, such as reduced physical activity levels and an increase in sedentary occupations, further exacerbates the prevalence of constipation. As more individuals adapt to urban lifestyles characterised by minimal physical movement and prolonged sitting, the risk of digestive issues, including constipation, continues to escalate.
How Do You Know that You’re Constipated?
A lot of us do not even know that we are constipated. To make matters more complicated, guess what, you could have a daily bowel movement and still be constipated.
- if you haven’t had a bowel movement in a few days,
- if you are having to strain yourself to push one out, and,
- if your stools are dry and hard, you are constipated.
But I meet more clients that tend to have incomplete bowel movements before they start working with my team, see a drastic improvement once they start working with us and had never even realised what a healthy bowel feels like.
It is also surprising to me that many people do not even know that going to the bathroom everyday is necessary. Here is clarifying to anyone that belives otherwise, you MUST clear your stools once every 12- 24 hours.
There is another way to check if you’re constipated.
The Bristol Stool Form Scale (BSFS), is a diagnostic scale that classifies stools into seven categories. Ranging from 1, that’s hard, small, separate stools to 7, that’s a stool of liquid consistency.
If your stool falls under types 1 & 2 on the BSFS, you’re constipated. Type 3 and 4 indicates the most typically healthy stools. 6 & 7 indicate diarrhea.
You must aim to reach a type 4 bowel movement, once or twice a day.
While working with clients, my team maintains a strict poop- tracker. It is amazing to see clients improve their stool type with every passing week.
Now you might think maintaining a poop- tracker is bit too much. But trust me, chronic constipation leads to a leaky gut, which is also linked to auto- immune diseases.
How often should you poop?
This is a far more complicated, personalised question. The frequency of bowel movements varies greatly from person to person. While 1-2 bowel movements per day is considered healthy, I do have clients who thrive with three bowel movements per day.
The important thing to consider is the type of bowel movement you are having and if they run by the clock or are random.
The more plant fiber you get into your system, along with sufficient hydration and exercise, the more regular and comfortable your movements will be. Creating a defined daily routine, with regular physical activity, eating well, and sleeping on time can help manage regular movements.
Your bowel movements are influenced by your circadian cycle. If you do not follow a healthy circadian cycle, the same also reflects on your gut health. Thus, while working with clients, my team is extra careful in helping them develop healthy sleep habits.
What is Overflow Diarrhea?
Visualise the sink drain in your kitchen. Without regular maintenance and cleaning, the sink would get clogged with food particles. However, despite the clogging, water manages to seep through the blockage and get through the drain eventually.
That’s what happens to your colon after prolonged bouts of constipation. The dry hardened stools block the rectal passageway. Liquid stools however bypass this blockage and lead to movements resembling diarrhea.
That’s what is known as Overflow Diarrhea. It’s a symptom of severe constipation and requires medical attention.
This is often confused for Diaeehea, when in reality, the patient might be suffering from constipation.
Chronic Constipation: A Ticking Time Bomb.
Having prolonged, persistent periods of constipation is a clear sign of a compromised digestive system. The extended presence of stool matter in the colon can result in unwanted exposure to toxins and waste products in the bloodstream. Further, this can lead to some really serious health problems. That’s why I refer to having chronic constipation as a ticking time bomb for other deadly conditions.
It can explode into conditions like:
Haemorrhoids (also known as Pills):
Trying too hard to push out stools every time you are in the loo can lead to swelling, inflamed, bleeding sections in the rectum. Inflammation in the rectal blood vessels is essentially termed as Piles. They are extremely painful and can cause discomfort in everyday life.
This is the next level as the dry, hard stools now cause the anal passageways to be badly damaged and torn. When this happens, bleeding occurs and may be visible in the bowel movements.
Having stool matter present in the colon for too long can wreak all sorts of havoc, like the formation of boil-like pouches or diverticula in the colon wall. Further infection of these pouches only complicates matters further leading to a condition known as diverticulosis.
When, despite your best efforts, the hardened stool remains stationary in the rectum, that’s known as Fecal Impaction. And it feels much worse than it sounds, believe me. Imagine a clogged water pipe, with the continuous pressure of water within, bursting to come through but unable to do so.
Finally, the colon just can’t take it any longer. The prolonged exposure to waste toxins led to damage on a cellular level and the growth of mutant cancer cells.
Should I take Laxatives?
While laxatives do provide a temporary relief in getting your bowels moving, they are not a long- term solution. Laxatives disrupt the natural peristaltic movement of your gut lining.
Long- term use of laxatives will make the gut sluggish and no longer be able to perform the natural peristaltic movement that helps the bowel flush out.
Instead, work on sustainable lifestyle and nutritional changes that will help you improve gut motility and function. Experience with working with over 10,000 clients globally, I can confidently say that just a few consistent weeks of working on your gut health is enough to see a difference in your bowel movement type.
But if you do choose to take a laxative, it's prudent for you to know just how different types of laxatives work and the side effects to expect. Most over-the-counter prescribed laxatives do not address the underlying issue of constipation.
Here are the different types of laxatives to consider:
These are mostly fiber based laxatives like isabgol. This soluble fiber relieves constipation by absorbing hydration from your body and diverting it to your stool. This makes the stools easier to pass through the digestive tract. However, not drinking enough water while using these laxatives can lead to further constipation and blockages.
It is important to note that isabgol is considered a pre- biotic fiber and very healthy to your healthy gut microbial diversity. Read this to understand more:
As the name suggests this type of laxative stimulates the muscles to encourage bowel movements. However, extended use of stimulant laxatives, like senna and bisacodyl, can lead to dependency and ultimately worsen constipation.
These primarily are made up of chemical compounds such as magnesium citrate. Once taken, it draws water into the bowels, thereby triggering movements. A serious side effect of taking it is that it may affect the performance of the kidneys and heart.
Ultimately, it is crucial to realize that laxatives can ONLY provide short-term relief from constipation. I advise you to adapting lifestyle changes to ease constipation discomfort.
Five Potential Root- Causes of Constipation.
Various auto- immune diseases, allopathy medication and even past trauma can be the root- cause to constipation. Our team works with a gastroenterologist who is also a functional medicine doctor to help clients get to the root- cause of their disease.
Here is what functional medicine is:
Let's explore five potential reasons for constipation.
Not eating enough dietary fibre.
An often underestimated aspect of nutrition, getting adequate dietary fibre intake plays a pivotal role in regular bowel movements and preventing constipation.
Alarmingly, only one in 20 of us is eating enough dietary fibre.
So, how much fibre do you need to eat?
My clients consume an upwards of 50 grams of fiber per day. Now we might think that vegetables and fruits have a lot of fiber, but a cup of broccoli will only have 2-4 grams of fiber. Compare that to a cup of cooked lentils, which will have 8- 10 grams of fiber. The real fiber rich food sources are whole- grains and pulses.
There are various different types of fiber strains. So many so, that we have not even named them all. But the two most commonly known are soluble and insoluble fiber.
- Soluble fibre absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance in the intestines. It acts as an all-natural stool softener and keeps constipation away. It is present in fruits, nuts, beans, oats and barley, as well as in psyllium husk.
- Insoluble fibre helps in better bowel movements by increasing the ‘bulk’ in stools, stimulating and regulating bowel movement-related contractions. Its found in whole grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
As I’ve explained, constipation largely stems from the core issue of the stools being dry and hard. How do you think stools got that way? Because the body is far from getting enough quality hydration to keep things moving smoothly, so to speak!
And it’s not just about the quantity of water you are drinking, but also ask yourself, how much of that water is being utilized by the body?
It’s been understood that ‘eating your water’ might be the best way to get our body to utilize hydration more effectively. This means, focus on consuming enough water- rich fruits and vegetables like watermelon, cucumbers, peaches, mango, squash etc.
Alongside remember to stay hydrated. Just making sure you have 2-3 cups of water between meals will keep you hydrated.
Not Moving Enough:
Think of your digestive system as long, winding highway along which food travels through. Now, the rate at which food travels through your system and gets digested & absorbed effectively is known as gut motility.
When we are living sedentarily, the food’s journey through the system slows down like cars stuck in traffic. The longer its stuck, the drier and harder it gets, making it that much tougher to push out of the system.
Remaining active regularly through whatever form of exercise you connect with helps to maintain gut motility, greatly reducing the chances of constipation.
Excess Use of Medications and Supplements.
Whether you’re taking antibiotics, pain medications, or supplements, they all have detrimental effects on the digestive system.
- While antibiotics disrupt the delicate gut bacterial ecosystem,
- pain relief medication slows down the digestive process.
- Supplements contribute to dry, hard stools and can interfere with the balance of minerals in the body.
Besides this, certain medication like that for depression, calcium channel blockers, iron supplements, antihistamines (for allergies) etc can further lead to chronic constipation.
Because our main focus when working with a client is disease reversal, when we start realising that a clients chronic health condition and medication is further causing constipation, we work to resolve the same first an the constipation automatically improves.
Gut Microbiome Health.
Did you know that almost 40 trillion microorganisms are living in your gut right now?
It’s a bustling, active ecosystem working hard to digest all that food we eat and keep the gut healthy.
The health and well-being of these microbes are directly proportional to our physical and even, emotional well-being.
Back to the issue of fibre, not getting enough fibre, is detrimental to the health of the gut microbiome. When they aren’t healthy, the entire digestive system takes a hit. Being constipated is just one of the many symptoms of an imbalance in the gut microbiome ecosystem.
If you are struggling with food sensitivities, that is another sign of gut- microbiome dysbiosis. The solution then is not to avoid foods or food groups, but, rather, to strategically introduce them till you build tolerance.
There are also various health conditions such as H. Pylori, Achalasia Cardia, GERD, Hiatus Hernia, SIBO, Colitis etc that may lead to constipation. These are serious medical conditions and requires individual coaching approach. Please fill in the free consultation form below if you are struggling with any of them and we will discuss further.
These blogs will give you some insights:
- Indian Diet Plan for Ulcerative Colitis.
- Indian Diet Plan for GERD Management
- Can Achalasia Cardia Be Reversed? A Client's Testimony.
- Indian Diet Chart For Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Three Foods That Can Contribute To Constipation.
While some foods like fiber- rich whole grains and pulses protect you from constipation, there are various food groups that lead to constipation.
When working with clients, I have noticed that mearly eliminating them from the diet can have protective effects. Here is a list.
Back in 1995, a dietary intervention study done on 27 infants suffering from chronic constipation found surprising results!
21 infants saw a complete regression of constipation symptoms just by eliminating cow's milk from their diet!
Furthermore, when the researchers re-introduced dairy, they observed that the constipation returned in most of the infants within no time.
Another study done a few years later, with a bigger sample size of 65 children saw similar results.
Dairy has an inflammatory reaction on the body, owing to the high fat and no fibre content. Commercial dairy is also heavily adulterated with sex hormones, growth hormones, urea, ammonia and even bleach! Additionally, most of us have great difficulty in efficiently digesting lactose, a form of sugar found in dairy.
But what about ghee? Is is not healthy for constipation? Watch this:
When you consume eggs, your body breaks it down a compound called choline into the production of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) in the gut. Watch this:
Elevated levels of TMAO have been proven to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and also impact gut health. As I’ve explained, any disruption to gut health has a snowball effect, with high chances of resulting in constipation.
- Protein Powders:
Certain types of protein powders, particularly those containing whey protein can cause constipation. Isolated protein supplements are hard to breakdown by the gut. Not only this, but protein supplements often contain various additives such as emulsifiers, artificial sweetener's, binding agents etc that further disrupt the gut microbiome.
Foods That Help With Constipation.
Fiber is the key. Various different types of fiber's are important.
Fiber is only found in plants, just like cholesterol is only found in animals. Thus, the key to managing constipation is really eating more fiber. There are a few food groups that work better than other though. Here are the following.
This one is an absolute lifesaver to get relief from constipation.
Both Prunes & black raisins are a great source of fibre, which as you know now, regulates bowel movements and prevents constipation.
They also contain sorbitol, a natural sugar alcohol that can soften stool and make it easier to pass movements.
Prunes are often recommended over raisins since they have greater fibre content but both work similarly.
To use black raisins to prevent constipation, you can follow these steps:
- Place a handful of raisins in a bowl and completely cover with water.
- Cover the bowl and allow it to soak overnight.
- The next morning, eat these raisins on an empty stomach.
- You can also drink the water they soaked in.
Fresh prunes might be hard to find in India, thus, it is important to look for a good source and avoid the once coated with sugar syrup.
A Study done in 2019, found kiwi to be an effective, natural, and mild laxative. The consumption of this fruit leads to increased water retention in the bowel, which leads to smoother stools and regular movements.
I personally recommend my clients have one kiwi per day, when in season. All varieties of Kiwi work just as well. Fun Kiwi fact, you can eat the skin!
Contains a high amount of soluble fibre, called pectin. It is also water-rich. No wonder then, apples are very beneficial for constipation. Also, in the same family of fruit, pears, are just as effective.
They rightly say, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. i strongly suggest including apples a few times per week to your diet. My personal favourite style of eating apples is adding them to any leafy green salad. This adds natural sweetness to the salad.
Another nutrient and fibre-dense fruit, papaya also contains enzymes such as papain, that help break down undigested food and aid in smooth digestion.
A papaya and kale smoothie is an exceptional way to start your day. What else, you can count on glowing skin within just a few weeks of adding this to your diet. Make sure to always add raw nuts/ seeds to your smoothie. This helps boost the absorption of fat soluble vitamins in the smoothie.
Just soak one anjeer every night and eat it with breakfast. They are a great source of fibre plus they contain an enzyme called ficin, which is a mild laxative.
Figs also contain prebiotics, which are substances that promote the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut. A healthy balance of gut bacteria is associated with improved digestion and regular bowel movements.
Widely known for its Vitamin C benefits, Oranges are a refreshing fibre source. Plus, the presence of a flavonoid compound, naringenin, has been found to help with constipation.
I love munching on orange slices while awaiting for my dinner on days I have late evening meetings. As a matter of fact, I am munching on one now!
- Psyllium Husk
A fantastic soluble fibre supplement, it is derived from the seeds of a herb called Plantago ovata. It can be taken in the form of granules, capsules or powder.
I suggest having 1/2 tbsp of psyllium husk before lunch and 1/2 scoop before dinner. If you are not used to a high- fiber diet, you might want to only introduce 1/2 scoop once a day till you build tolerance towards it.
- Whole Grains, Pulses & Lentils
Both legumes and whole grains are excellent sources of soluble dietary fibres. Whole grains provide us with dietary fibre, roughage, which is essential to maintaining healthy digestion.
The "whole" word is important here. Avoid white rice and processed breads. Instead, aim to have millets, brown rice and other whole grains.
- Overnight Soaked Okra Water
Continuing with excellent soluble dietary fibre sources, okra water is a diamond in the rough. Okra or Bhindi as well call it, is rich in antioxidants, Vitamin C and ……soluble fibre!
The best way to absorb the full healing powers of okra is to clean, trim, chop, and soak in water overnight. The next morning, strain and drink.
The soluble fibre helps with regular bowel movements. Drinking okra water regularly can also regulate your blood sugar & cholesterol levels and provide a boost to the immune system.
- Biome Broth
This is our organisation secret! Hand selected ingredients that aid in boosting digestive health are put together in this recipe that all our clients benefit from. Here is the recipe:
Rich in plant-based amino acids, nutrients, minerals and electrolytes, drinking biome broth can be an absolute game changer for your gut health. It will also alleviate constipation.
Aim to make one batch over the weekend and drink one cup daily through the week. The recipe is absolutely delicious and comforting for cold winter nights.
Does Your Potty Posture Help With Constipation?
For hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors used the squatting position to do their business. Even today, many people who aren’t in a position to afford a Western-style commode are use an Indian style squatting toilet to poop.
While the installation of Western-style commodes is now widespread across many cities, towns, and even villages, there is a realisation that squatting is the best method for bowel movements.
You can try this in your home by using a footstool to simulate a squatting position while using Western toilets. Squaty Potty, the company that first came up with these stool is a million- dollar buisness now!
Here are the physiological benefits to gain from squatting:
- Bowel Alignment:
Sitting in a squat position has an immediate straightening impact on the rectum. This in turn, aligns the rectum with the anal cavity. The result is a straight pathway for the bowel movement to occur. In a seated position, it's not quite so straightforward.
- Gravity Helps:
When you are squatting, the natural posture that you hold there enables gravity to assist in the movement. Squatting relaxes the puborectalis muscle, which usually keeps a tight hold on the rectum to prevent flow.
- No Need to Strain:
When you squat, you may experience that there is little need to apply much strain to empty your bowels. The pelvic floor muscles are relaxed and prevent the formation of hemorrhoids and other constipation-related issues.
How does a Whole Food Plant-Based (WFPB) Diet Help with Constipation.
Cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn once said, “You know you’re eating a plant-based diet when you take longer to pee than to poop!”
Eating WFPB ensures that we are nourishing ourselves with minimally processed foods, derived from plants
Indian specifically, are in a great position to take full advantage of plant-based living. Most of our traditional Indian dishes are rich in legumes, lentils, beans vegetables, and whole grains like whole wheat, buckwheat, barley, amaranth, and of course, the entire millet family of grains!
The wide range of spices used in our cooking, such as ginger, turmeric, and cumin, not only add flavour but also possess digestive benefits. Using these spices smartly in the right proportions stimulates healthy digestion and boosts our gastrointestinal wellbeing.
Additionally, most of us have easy access to fresh common fruits, that are abundant in dietary fibre and other amazing health properties.
As we have discussed, regularly getting an adequate, quality supply of dietary fibre can keep our digestive systems strong and bowel movements painless and regular.
In my opinion, adopting a WFPB lifestyle is the best thing you can do for yourself, irrespective of being constipated or not.
Rather than blindly relying on easy over-the-counter medication every time you have an upset stomach, try to recognize what the root cause of your constipation might be.
- Am I getting dietary fibre through the foods I eat?
- Am I hydrating well and eating my water?
- Am I moving and exercising enough?
Your solutions to constipation will most often be found in the answers to the above.
But if you have specific questions with regard to your health and need further support, fill in the free consultation form below and lets get in touch!
Let's Just Talk. No Obligations.
I do free consultations every Tuesday's and Thursday's. Either way you will get some actionable tips to reach your fitness goals faster.