Being constipated is no laughing matter, yet the unfortunate truth is many of us suffer from degrees of constipation on a regular basis. What is pretty shocking is that constipation is one of the most common digestive complaints in America, with chronic constipation affecting 15-20% of the population (1).
Walk into any pharmacy and there are loads of quick fixes (laxatives) available which offer ‘immediate and lasting relief ‘ etc. What you need to know is that these quick fixes may make you feel better for a moment at least but they are only putting a plaster on the problem instead of actually addressing the underlying reason for it.
In fact some of the less natural laxatives can cause your body to become dependent on them, so they end up doing a lot more harm than good (2).
Why do we end up constipated?
The reasons for being constipated vary greatly from person to person and in some cases there may be a serious underlying condition like an under active thyroid, colon cancer or even depression.
Sometimes one of the biggest contributing reasons for ongoing chronic constipation can be a poor diet low in fiber rich foods. The good news however, is that the foods that we eat in the Paleo diet can greatly help to improve your digestive health and help you along the way to becoming more regular.
1) Increased intake of fibre rich fruit and vegetables
When you initially start following the Paleo diet, the huge space left open on your plate can be a bit disconcerting. This is due to cutting out the unnecessary refined carbohydrates we once thought we needed on our plate. By filling this open space with an extra serving or two of salads and fibrous vegetables you will naturally be upping your soluble and insoluble fibre intake.
To help combat constipation you need both types of fibre. Insoluble fiber helps to bulk the stool and increase stool frequency and soluble fiber helps to soften the stool.
In addition to increased vegetables with meals, the Paleo diet also encourages increased intake of specific fruits, which are naturally higher in fiber and lower in sugar.
Try these incredible cauliflower recipes to up your intake of this delicious high fiber veg.
2) Improved gut health
A common symptom of a very unhappy, unhealthy gut is often constipation; a gut low in healthy bacteria has been found to be associated with increased episodes of constipation (3). By following the Paleo diet you will effortlessly be increasing the amount of foods rich in prebiotics, which naturally feed healthy bacteria (4). This is essential for correcting the balance of gut flora and will help to lessen or even eliminate constipation.
3) Elimination of processed constipation causing foods
Many times a big motivation for starting to follow the Paleo way is weight loss. The incredible part of going Paleo however is the fact that there are so many unintended benefits along the way. Cutting out of processed, refined carbohydrates often alleviates sporadic or chronic constipation as our guts react favourably to the elimination of refined wheat and junk foods. For many people these foods trigger constipation as part of an overall inflammatory response to an unknown wheat or gluten intolerance(5).
4) Increased fat intake
Many people are surprised to hear that increasing the fat content of your diet actually helps with constipation. It’s not all about fiber.
Studies indicate that when given a higher fat diet (compared to those given a lower fat diet), subjects experienced an increase in motility (passing of stools) (6). The reason for this is not fully understood yet-but may be attributed to bile acid release. As the amount of fat you eat increases, the body compensates by increasing it’s production and release of bile in response.
As much as this may be something that a lot of newbies to the Paleo diet struggle with, increasing fat is essential to this way of life, and also essential to avoiding constipation.
Add more fat to your diet through oils such as coconut oil, olive oil or avocado oil. In addition, choose fattier cuts of meat like a ribeye or streaky bacon.
5) Consuming fermented foods
Unfortunately many people tend to forget or avoid the age-old wisdom of consuming fermented foods. For thousands of years people fermented their foods as a way to preserve them. The benefits of consuming fermented foods are numerous but for our purposes lets focus on helping with constipation.
Fermented foods contain various strains of healthy bacteria, which along with fibrous vegetables and fruit, help to improve the gut flora of your intestines. This in turn leads to decreased episodes of constipation and less bloating along the way.
An important point to remember is that when you first transition from your original diet across to your Paleo diet, constipation can occur.
During this time it is important to:
- Drink enough water to help with the increased amount of fiber consumed.
- Move and exercise as much as possible- moving helps with preventing constipation.
- Try to gradually transition from your regular diet across to Paleo.
- Be patient. The change may be frustrating at times, but the benefits of following the Paleo diet are worth it.