Foods and Drinks You Should AVOID to Prevent Constipation

A healthy diet and a happy digestive system are key elements of long-term health. At the same time, nutrition can seem quite complicated, especially since it's so individual. Even foods or drinks we think of as healthy, like fruit or grains, can cause digestive problems in many people. Oftentimes, what you think of as a chronic issue can end up being a food sensitivity that can be easily prevented by avoiding specific foods. Here we will look at 12 foods and drinks that can cause constipation - one of the most common digestive issues out there.
For those of you that don't know, constipation is when a person is experiencing infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stools. The condition is characterized by symptoms like passing less than 3 stools a week, straining and pain during bowel movements, incomplete bowel movements, and hard, dry, or lumpy stools. To learn more about the causes and remedies of the condition, also consider reading the article: Can Stress Cause Constipation? But before you do, read through this list of dietary causes of constipation.

1. Onions and Garlic

foods that cause constipation Onions and Garlic
High FODMAP foods, especially garlic and onions, are known to cause a whole host of digestive issues, such as constipation, diarrhea, gas, and bloating. FODMAPs are carbohydrates that are difficult to digest for some people. As a result, these foods aren't absorbed well in the small intestine, so people sensitive to them, especially IBS sufferers, will develop digestive symptoms after eating these foods. To learn about other FODMAP foods, why they're causing an upset stomach, read the article: The Low-FODMAP Diet

2. Bananas

foods that cause constipation banana
Bananas are kind of tricky. On one hand, ripe bananas are among the most tolerable foods for people suffering from GI problems. On the other hand, unripe bananas can be quite constipating since they contain a lot of starches, which can be difficult for some people to digest. So, in the end, it's all about timing - simply wait for your bananas to ripen if you find that they make you constipated.

3. Red Meat

foods that cause constipation steak
Red meat can contribute to constipation in a number of ways. Firstly, it can be quite high in fat, which typically takes more time to digest than other nutrients and so it slows down your digestive system. Second, a diet high in red meat prevents you from hitting your daily fiber intake goal, as red meat itself doesn't contain much fiber and since it's so filling, it makes you eat fewer grains, legumes, and vegetables throughout the day. This combination of high fat and low fiber make red meat a high-risk food for constipation sufferers.

4. Products High in Gluten

foods that cause constipation white bread
Image Source: Mitchenall/ Flickr
Gluten is a protein that is present in many grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, and others. When combined with water, gluten becomes sticky and stretchy, creating a soft and elastic dough. This is why gluten is very widespread - every pastry, bread, pasta or cereal that isn't labeled gluten-free essentially contains it. Certain people are sensitive to gluten and find that it is responsible for their digestive issues, even those not diagnosed with Celiac disease or IBS, with the most common complaints being bloating, gas, and constipation.

5. Milk and Other Dairy Products

foods that cause constipation milk being poured into a glass
Milk and dairy products are likewise a common cause of constipation, especially in children, for whom it's one of the primary causes of it. Unlike those who are lactose intolerant, who are more likely to suffer from diarrhea after consuming milk and dairy products, those who are sensitive to milk products can also become constipated after eating cheese or drinking milk.

6. Chewing Gum

foods that cause constipation chewing gum
It's definitely not true that gum can stay in your stomach for years, but it can be harmful to your GI health nevertheless. While chewing gum by itself isn't causing constipation, it can bind with other foods, especially nuts and seeds that you might have not chewed on enough, and form clumps that are more difficult to digest. So, it's best not to swallow gum if you're prone to digestive issues.

7. Fast Food and Ready-Made Meals

foods that cause constipation burger and fries
Like meat, fast foods, such as chips, french fries, and hamburgers, just to name a few, are particularly high in fat. This fat slows down your digestion. Apart from that, these foods are typically quite high in salt, which can further dehydrate you and absorb water from your intestine, and dehydration is one of the leading causes of constipation. Finally, these highly processed and fried foods are more often than not very low in fiber - which creates the bulk of stool and is extremely important for those prone to constipation.

8. Processed Grains

foods that cause constipation white rice
Image Source: Macro Verch/ Flickr
Processing leaves many foods practically devoid or very low in fiber, which, as we've already mentioned, plays a very important role in healthy nutrition. As a result, these processed grains, such as white rice, white pasta, and even white bread are rendered less healthy than they initially were. If you eat a lot of these foods we mentioned, try gradually replacing them with whole-grain foods, such as whole-wheat bread or brown rice and observe the effect.
Note, however, that fiber can cause sensitivity as well, so if you already have a fiber-rich diet, but it doesn't seem to improve your symptoms, look for another cause or try reducing your fiber intake.

9. Alcohol

foods that cause constipation people drinking red wine
Alcohol is among the most dehydrating substances one can consume, and as we've already learned, dehydration can make your stool harder and more difficult to pass, so it's one of the main causes of constipation. Apart from that, alcohol, especially tannin-rich varieties like wine, can decrease gastrointestinal motility, meaning that it can slow down the movement of food through the digestive system.

10. Persimmon

foods that cause constipation persimmon
Persimmons are a popular fruit that comes from Asia - they are sweet, juicy and best of all, you can eat them whole, just like an apple. Unfortunately, people who are prone to constipation can be affected by the tannins these fruits contain. Tannins are compounds that slow down the movements and contractions of the intestines and decrease digestive secretions, making it difficult for your gut to digest food. So, if you are at a high risk of constipation, it's best to avoid this fruit.

11. Coffee and Tea

foods that cause constipation woman drinking coffee
Speaking of drinks that are both dehydrating and contain tannins, coffee and tea are also on the list. Importantly, we're not talking about herbal teas, some of which can be beneficial for relieving constipation and other digestive issues, but of actual tea that comes from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant, such as black or green tea. So, if your digestion feels a bit off, it's best to switch coffee and tea for herbal tea or coffee alternatives

12. Chocolate

foods that cause constipation dark chocolate
Interestingly, most people tend to blame their constipation on chocolate, and for many, chocolate, chocolate chip cookies, and other desserts containing cocoa or chocolate will cause constipation. However, the main reason why these foods contribute to constipation will surprise you - it's because we often use chocolate snacks to replace fruit, nuts, or veggies.
Since chocolate and chocolate desserts are typically low in fiber and high in fat, these are synonymous with fast food in terms of their risk of contributing to constipation.

Bonus! Dietary Supplements

foods that cause constipation a handful of pills
Dietary supplements are quite popular these days, and many people take these to get all the nutrients they need or get enough of some specific nutrients their body is lacking. However, some supplements, particularly iron and calcium supplements do come with the side effect of constipation.
If the problem is severe and you need the supplement to address a nutrient deficiency (e.g. taking iron for anemia), talk to your doctor about alternatives and try adding more fiber to your diet to help constipation.
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