One in four Canadians has symptoms of constipation – a condition that can impact anyone of any age at any time, according to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation.
In fact, Canada is the ninth largest market in the world for over-the-counter laxatives and represented almost three per cent of the world’s market in 2008, a market which has grown by 1.73 times since 2003 in Canada.
Constipation can be caused by several factors including medication, medical conditions, pregnancy and lack of exercise, as well as a poor diet with little to no fibre content, dietitian Andrea D’Ambrosio explains.
“Constipation can make people feel unwell,” D’Ambrosio, spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada and dietitian with Dietetic Directions, says. “Sometimes it can be aggravating, bloating or pain for example, but I find it depends on the individual and any underlying conditions that may be present. And should you have issues with constipation, it’s always best to consult your doctor a dietitian.”
But as D’Ambrosio explains, diet can play a big role in preventing and fixing constipation, especially with those who lack fibre in their diets.
And according to the Government of Canada, the daily recommended serving of fibre for women is 25 grams of fibre per day, and 38g grams of fibre per day for men.
“With constipation, sometimes I find it’s helpful to boost the insoluble fibre in the diet,” D’Ambrosio says. “This specific type of fibre travels through the colon and remains fairly unchanged, and this allows the stool to be heavier and softer so that it can pass more easily.”
So what are some of those foods that are rich in insoluble fibre?
Bran cereal is high in insoluble fibre, D’Ambrosio points out. Just a half cup serving gives you about 12 grams of fibre depending on the type of cereal.
“These sources of bran are really high,” she says. “They definitely help with boosting your daily intake… So basically with these servings, we can get almost 50 per cent of our daily serving of fibre.”
But the bland taste of bran isn’t for everyone, so D’Ambrosio has some tips on how you can make it tastier – and mixing it with other foods is key.
For example, mix the bran cereal with another type of cereal or add in some fruits to sweeten up the taste. You can also bake with bran.
“Chia seeds seem to be very popular right now,” D’Ambrosio says. “They are super high in fibre.”
How high? Well, just three tablespoons will give you about 12 grams of your daily recommended fibre intake.
“I recommend that you add a tablespoon of chia seeds to your oatmeal, smoothie or yogurt or even your salad to add a little crunch,” D’Ambrosio suggests.
This is your dried beans, peas and lentils. For example, just a half cup of lentils gives you eight grams of the good stuff.
“With any type of fibre we also benefit in other ways, like lowering of cholesterol, decreasing the risk of heart disease and stroke, decreasing blood pressure, and it helps in weight management because fibre fills people up,” D’Ambrosio says.
If you haven’t heard of bulgur, you’re not alone, D’Ambrosio says, but bulgur is an ingredient most commonly found in tabbouleh.
It’s actually a type of whole grain wheat product, D’Ambrosio explains, and it provides more than double the amount of fibre that’s found in brown rice. Just a half cup serving of bulgur will get you four grams of fibre.
“If you’re eating white rice you can throw in some bulgur,” she says. “Or if you’re doing stuffed peppers, you can do a mix of bulgur and quinoa and rice and other grains.”
Avocado has sometimes been referred to as some sort of super food, and with good reason.
Just for fibre alone, half of an avocado will give you six to seven grams of fibre.
“Avocado is exceptionally high in fibre,” D’Ambrosio explains. “We also get a lot of healthy fats and vitamins and minerals that are also beneficial for your health as well.”