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Constipation Relief: Bananas, Beans, and More

Why eat bananas?

Highlights

  1. Changing your diet is generally the first line of treatment for constipation.
  2. How bananas affect your bowel movements depends on the fruit’s ripeness.
  3. Gradually add beans and other high-fiber foods to your diet to avoid unpleasant side effects.

Bananas are a sweet accompaniment to ice cream and the perfect cereal topper. What you may not know is that this fruit also has a ton of nutrients, such potassium and vitamin C. It’s also an abundant source of fiber, which helps food move through your digestive system.

Even though bananas are high in sugar, they’re low on the glycemic index. This index measures how foods impact on your blood sugar. Low-glycemic-index foods take longer for your body to digest, so they raise your blood sugar more slowly.

Bananas also contain a unique type of sugar called fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Normally, enzymes break down sugars and other carbohydrates once they reach the digestive tract. FOS don’t get digested right away. Instead, they pass through to the lower intestine, where bacteria break them down.

This process encourages the growth of “good” bacteria. Good bacteria help maintain a healthy balance in the digestive tract. A 2011 study found that women who ate bananas daily may develop higher levels of healthy bacteria in their intestines. They also had fewer unpleasant digestive symptoms, such as bloating.

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Bananas

Can eating bananas relieve constipation?

Banana

The effect of bananas on bowel movements depends on their ripeness. Unripe bananas, which have green skin, are high in starch. Your body has a harder time digesting starch. Because of this, unripe bananas move more slowly through your digestive tract.

As bananas ripen, they produce a fruit sugar called pectin. This is why ripe bananas are so sweet. Ripened bananas are also good sources of regular and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber absorbs water as it moves through your digestive system. The water adds bulk to your stool and helps stool move more quickly. This can help prevent constipation.

Despite their high fiber content, bananas may not be the best choice to relieve your constipation. Other foods, such as beans, flaxseeds, and rye bread, may work better.

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Other foods

Other foods that can relieve constipation

Beans

Beans

Black beans, lima beans, lentils, and other types of beans are packed with fiber. Some have as many as 15 grams per serving. This high fiber content helps digested foods move more quickly through your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

One downside to beans is they can make you gassy and bloated. To avoid these unpleasant side effects, add beans and other high-fiber foods to your diet gradually. Soaking beans before cooking them can also cut down on the sugars that cause gas.

Flaxseeds

Flaxseed

Flaxseeds are one of the most versatile foods you can find. Consider sprinkling them on cereal or baking them into muffins to add fiber to your diet. Flaxseeds also have a laxative effect, which will help get things moving in your intestines if you’ve been backed up. Be sure to choose ground over whole flaxseeds, because they’re easier to digest.

Rye bread

Bread

Fixing your sandwiches on rye bread instead of white or wheat could be just the thing to get you going again. Rye is high in fiber, and it increases the amount of healthy bacteria in the gut. One study found rye bread was more effective than wheat bread, and even better than laxatives, at relieving constipation. 

Prunes

Prunes

Prunes have gotten a bad reputation, mainly because they’ve become synonymous with bowel movements. But if you want to ease constipation without laxatives, dried plums are one of your best options. That’s because they’re loaded with fiber. A 2014 review of studies found that prunes can soften stool and relieve constipation even better than the laxative ingredient psyllium. 

Yogurt

Yogurt

Not only is yogurt is a good source of calcium, it’s also packed with probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus and L. bifidobacterium. When you introduce these gut-friendly bacteria into your digestive system, they crowd out the unhealthy germs that can lead to digestive troubles. Research has found that yogurt with live active cultures helps move stool through the intestines. This may make it an effective treatment for constipation.

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Traditional treatments

Traditional treatments for constipation

Doctors usually recommend changing your diet as a first line of treatment for constipation. Start by adding more fiber to your diet. Aim for about 25 to 30 grams daily. If you’ve lived on a low-fiber diet up to now, introduce fiber slowly to avoid uncomfortable symptoms, such as gas and bloating.

Staying hydrated and exercising regularly can also help improve constipation if these things are currently lacking from your routine.

If lifestyle changes don’t ease your constipation, you can try one of these over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives:

  • Fiber supplements like methylcellulose (Citrucel), polycarbophil (FiberCon), and Metamucil contain psyllium and other ingredients that add bulk to your stool.
  • Osmotic laxatives such as polyethylene-glycol-3350 (MiraLax) and magnesium-hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia) add more fluids into your intestines to soften and bulk up the stool.
  • Stool softeners such as docusate (Colace) also add water to the stool to help it pass more easily.
  • Stimulant laxatives like bisacodyl (Dulcolax), Ex-Lax, and Senokot make the muscles in the intestines contract to push stool through. These products are effective for treating constipation, but they can cause uncomfortable side effects, such as cramps and diarrhea.

Another way to ease constipation is to stay on a regular bathroom schedule. Try to go at the same time each day. And don’t rush. Sit and give yourself time to have a bowel movement.

Read more: Managing constipation after surgery »

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Takeaway

What you can do now

If constipation is a problem for you, start by making some easy changes to your diet. Add foods that are high in fiber, such as:

  • beans
  • flaxseeds
  • prunes
  • apricots and other dried fruits
  • fresh fruits, such as kiwis, oranges, and apples
  • leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli
  • oatmeal
  • whole-grain breads, cereals, pastas
  • brown rice

Substitute these high-fiber foods in place of low-fiber foods like white bread, white rice, and cookies. Drinking more water can add bulk to your stool and help it move through your intestines more easily. If these tips don’t help ease your constipation, consider trying an OTC laxative. If your symptoms persist, consult your doctor.

Keep reading: 5 safe remedies for constipation in pregnancy »

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