Dietary fibre - how to prevent constipation


Certain dietary precautions can promote normal, regular bowel movements and prevent constipation. Here's what to do:

Constipation is one of the most common complaints known to mankind. However, women are much more prone to the condition than men. This could be due to a variety of factors, such as hormone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, sedentary lifestyle, anxiety, medications, and a low dietary fibre intake. Women are also more inclined to worry about not being "regular" and to take a variety of harsh laxatives which often make matters worse, instead of better.

Constipation is what can be called a modern disease of lifestyle, which is caused by a lack of dietary fibre and the "couch potato" syndrome.

Unfortunately, constipation is linked to a variety of other diseases, some of which can be fatal, e.g. bowel or colon cancer, diverticular disease, appendicitis, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Keeping a balance
While regular bowel movements are necessary to prevent the above-mentioned illnesses, many people are under the impression that if they do not have at least two bowel movements every single day, they are constipated. This is not true. Some people are perfectly normal and do not develop bowel pathology despite the fact that they only have a bowel movement every second day or three times a week. If this applies to you, please don’t force your body into an unnatural pattern because you are obsessed with regularity.

If you are, however, constipated and experience difficulty or pain when passing stools, then the first thing you need to do is to have a medical checkup. If your doctor gives you a clean bill of health and can find no pathology, then it is up to you to retrain your body to become regular.

Curing constipation
The best way of curing or preventing constipation is to increase your dietary fibre intake, to drink more water and to do regular exercise.

The following foods are rich sources of dietary fibre:

Hi-fibre Bran and All Bran cereals, fruit and bran cereals, muesli, rye bread, sweet potato, wholewheat pasta, dried fruit, figs, oranges, grapefruit, apples, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut, green beans, brinjal, bananas, cooked beans, lentils and split peas, nuts, samp and beans, oats porridge, wholewheat and brown bread, potato, wheat biscuits, carrots, spinach, beetroot, cabbage, cauliflower.

Gradual increase
The idea is to increase your dietary fibre intake gradually by eating at least one of these foods at each meal to start off with. When your body has adjusted to this level of fibre, then you increase your intake to two foods or servings of high-fibre per meal until you are eating two to three portions of fibre-rich foods at every meal, e.g. oats/All Bran and dried fruit for breakfast, wholewheat bread and fruit for lunch, cooked legumes and vegetables for supper.

You need to increase your intake of fibre gradually to give your body a chance to adjust to the higher roughage content of the diet. Don’t start off by eating spoonfuls of wheat bran four times a day - you will get stomach ache and winds. By introducing fibre gently and slowly the microorganisms in your intestines learn to cope with the added bulk.

Drink at least six glasses of water in addition to your usual liquid intake. The water helps the dietary fibre to swell and expand thus increasing the bulk in the intestines which promotes bowel movements.

Doing regular exercise is always good for your health. If you are constipated, exercise can help to relax and increase the blood supply to the intestines, thus stimulating peristalsis. Go for brisk walks, cycle, swim or do aerobics to get the system going.

If you use these three easy solutions, you will become regular once more and no longer suffer from constipation. - (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

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