Published 5th May 2022

If you can’t poop, these foods may help

The foods you eat can make a big difference to your digestion, including how you poop.

If you experience constipation, there’s a range of foods and drinks that may be able to help. This includes fruits, vegetables, and seeds containing types of fiber that can make pooping easier. Additionally, fermented foods with probiotics could help rebalance the bacteria that live in your gut.

Your current diet and your gut health may contribute to your constipation, so we’ll also look at changes you can make there, along with other possible causes of constipation.

ZOE’s scientists have identified 15 “good” gut bugs and 15 “bad” ones that are linked to your gut health and overall health.

The ZOE at-home test can tell you which of these bugs live in your gut, along with the others that make up your unique gut microbiome. 

With the ZOE program, you get personalized recommendations to help you find the best foods for your body, including your personal “gut booster” and “gut suppressor” foods.

You can take a free quiz to find out more.

Foods and drinks that help with constipation

Constipation can be an uncomfortable and debilitating experience. It may involve

  • pooping fewer than three times a week

  • experiencing dry, hard, or lumpy poop

  • having difficult, painful, or uncomfortable poops

  • pooping, but feeling like you haven’t completely emptied your bowels

If you have constipation, there are foods and drinks you can add to your diet that may be able to help. 

The following foods and drinks provide vital nutrients like fiber, which can soften or hydrate your poop to make it easier to go, or probiotics, which may help you poop more often.

1. Prunes

Prunes are dried plums, and they’ve had a reputation as a constipation remedy for centuries.

A quarter-cup (40 g) of prunes provides nearly 3 g of fiber, just under 11% of your recommended daily value

The types of fiber in prunes add water to your stools and bulk them out. 

A sugar alcohol called sorbitol in prunes also draws water into your colon. In some people, this causes a laxative effect. 

Some of the plant compounds in prunes feed the “good” bugs that live in your gut, too, which may help you to poop more easily. 

You can enjoy prunes as a snack on their own or add them to your oatmeal, salad, cereals, stews, or smoothies. They’re a delicious sweetener in baked goods, too.

2. Apples

Apples are another excellent source of fiber. One medium apple, including the skin, gives you 4.8 g of fiber — or 19% of your daily fiber value. 

A small amount of the fiber in apples is pectin. It’s a soluble fiber, which means it dissolves in water. As with prunes, your colon ferments pectins into substances that add water to your poop and help soften it.

3. Chia seeds

Chia seeds are one of the most plentiful sources of fiber, with 9.8 g of fiber — or a hefty 39% of your daily value — in just 1 ounce (28 g). 

Chia forms a gel when it mixes with water. It can absorb up to 12 times its own weight in water, meaning that when it reaches your gut, it helps make your poop softer and easier to pass.

You can add chia seeds to almost any food. Throw a handful into granola, oats, yogurt, cereal, or salads, or boost the fiber value of smoothies, juices, dips, and dressings.

4. Kiwis

Kiwis are another good source of fiber. There’s roughly 2.3 g of fiber in a 75-g kiwi, or 9% of your recommended daily value. 

Kiwis also provide an enzyme called actinidin, which promotes healthy digestion by helping to break down the proteins you eat. 

In a small 2020 study, researchers found that after eating two kiwis a day for 2 weeks, participants had more bowel movements and looser, easier poops.

As well as eating them on their own, you can make kiwis the zingy star of a fruit salad or smoothie or add pieces to a yogurt.

5. Figs

A medium-sized, fresh fig weighing about 50 g will top up your daily fiber intake by 1.5 g, while an 80-g half-cup of dried figs provides 7.9 g of fiber, almost a third of your daily value. 

On top of the fiber, some research suggests that ficin, an enzyme in figs, may also help food move through your system in a similar way to the actinidin in kiwis.

6. Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits like oranges, mandarins, and grapefruits are tangy, refreshing, and high in fiber. A single 308-g grapefruit provides around 20% of the fiber you need each day — almost 5 g. And one orange (140 g) gives you 2.8 g of fiber.

Citrus fruits also contain pectin, which helps to soften your poop. And rodent studies suggest a plant compound called naringenin could increase the amount of fluid that reaches the colon — but more research is needed before scientists can say for sure whether this applies to humans.

7. Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes are root vegetables a bit like potatoes but with a nutty flavor.

Instead of starch, they contain high levels of a fiber called inulin, which acts as fuel for your “good” gut bugs and can help with constipation.

Researchers reviewed five studies looking at the effects of inulin on chronic constipation. They found that participants who took inulin were likely to poop significantly more often and have a better consistency of poop than those who took a placebo.

However, inulin didn’t improve pain or bloating. And it’s worth being aware that inulin is exceptionally gas-producing.

8. Green vegetables

Green veggies are rich in fiber as well as micronutrients like folate, vitamin C, and vitamin K. 

A single 180-g cup of cooked spinach will give you 19% of the fiber you need in a day — around 4.7 g — as will half a dozen Brussels sprouts or 2 cups of broccoli (around 180 g). 

And they’re versatile enough to add to anything from soups to salads to stir-fries.

9. Legumes

Legumes like beans, peas, and lentils are packed with fiber. One cup of navy beans (used in baked beans) provides 19.1 g of fiber, an amazing 76% of your daily value. A half-cup of lentils gives you 7.8 g of fiber, just under a third of what you need every day. 

Legumes contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, making your poops bulkier, softer, and easier to pass.

Blending legumes into soups, chilies, ground meats, and salads can be a smart and tasty way to get more into your diet.

10. Fermented foods and drinks

Live yogurt and kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, and aged and Swiss cheeses are all examples of fermented foods and drinks. 

They contain bacteria called probiotics, which are similar to the “good” bugs that live in your gut.

Regularly consuming foods with these bacteria can improve the balance and composition of your gut microbiome. 

At ZOE, we run the world’s largest study of nutrition and gut health. Unpublished research by our scientists found that consuming more probiotics is linked to pooping more often.

To maximize the potential benefits to your gut, you should aim to eat a range of different probiotic foods and consume them every day.

Eating foods containing fiber called prebiotics, like those we’ve talked about earlier, will also help to feed these “good” bacteria and allow them to thrive.

11. Water

Dehydration is one possible cause of constipation. By drinking enough fluids, you can make sure that your poops stay moist and soft. Hard, dry poops are less comfortable to pass.

Recommendations vary, and your personal requirements will be unique to you. Aiming for 6-8 cups, or around 2 liters, is a good place to start. 

But another good way to tell if you are drinking enough is to check the color of your pee. If it’s darker than a clear or a pale straw color, it’s a sign that you aren’t drinking enough fluids.  

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Causes of constipation

Constipation can happen for many reasons, including unfavorable nutrition, life changes, and taking specific medications.

Food and drink

Some foods have the opposite effect to those mentioned above — they can make you feel bloated and constipated. 

If you’re prone to constipation, it’s best to limit the following:

  • alcohol

  • refined grains, without the bran and germ of the grain

  • dairy products (if you’re sensitive or lactose intolerant)

  • red meat

  • fast food, which slows down digestion by adding fat and reducing fiber

Lifestyle triggers

Certain life events, and even the simple passage of time, can increase your risk of constipation. These include:

  • sedentary lifestyle

  • getting older

  • pregnancy

  • traveling

  • holding in a poop for too long or ignoring natural urges to poop

Just because constipation becomes more likely as you grow older, it doesn’t mean it has to be regular or uncomfortable. As we’ve seen, eating more high-fiber and probiotic foods and drinking enough water can help.

In many cases, the cause of constipation isn’t clear. Speak to a healthcare professional if changing your diet doesn’t clear your constipation. 

Certain medications

The following types of medications list constipation as a possible side effect:

  • antacids containing aluminum and calcium

  • anticholinergic and antispasmodic drugs

  • anticonvulsants used in preventing seizures

  • calcium channel blockers

  • diuretics

  • Iron and calcium supplements

  • medications for Parkinson’s disease

  • narcotic pain relief medications

  • some antidepressant medications

If a particular drug is causing chronic constipation and makes you feel too uncomfortable, speak to your doctor about the possibility of changing your prescription.

An unbalanced gut microbiome

ZOE’s “blue poo” study showed that the time it takes food to move through your digestive system is associated with the types of bacteria that live in your gut.

Other research has had similar results, suggesting that imbalances in your gut microbiome may contribute to chronic constipation. 

ZOE's at-home test analyzes a sample of your poop using the latest gene sequencing technology to tell you which bugs live in your gut. The test also looks at your blood sugar and blood fat responses to food.

Based on your unique results, the ZOE program gives you personalized recommendations of the best foods for your gut health and overall health. 

You can take a free quiz to find out more.

Summary

If you have constipation, the specific types of fiber in fruits and vegetables like prunes, apples, kiwis, leafy greens, and Jerusalem artichokes could help moisten and bulk out your stools to make pooping easier. 

Regularly eating fermented foods and drinks — like live yogurts, kefir, aged cheeses, sauerkraut, and kombucha — may improve the balance of bugs in your gut microbiome and help you to poop more often.

Limiting your intake of alcohol, fast food, and refined grains, as well as drinking more water, could also reduce your likelihood of becoming constipated.

ZOE’s at-home test can tell you about the range of bugs that make up your unique gut microbiome and help you to discover the best foods for your gut health.

Our free quiz could be your first step toward achieving your personal health goals.

Sources

Blue poo: impact of gut transit time on the gut microbiome using a novel marker. Gut. (2021). https://gut.bmj.com/content/70/9/1665.abstract 

Chronic constipation: is a nutritional approach reasonable? Nutrients. (2021). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8538724/#B51-nutrients-13-03386 

Consumption of fermented foods is associated with systematic differences in the gut microbiome and metabolome. mSystems. (2020). https://journals.asm.org/doi/10.1128/msystems.00901-19

Daily value on the new nutrition and supplement facts labels. (2022). https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/daily-value-new-nutrition-and-supplement-facts-labels

Effectiveness of inulin intake on indicators of chronic constipation; a meta-analysis of controlled randomized clinical trials. Nutricion Hospitalaria. (2014). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25208775/ 

Fluid (water and drinks): Food Fact Sheet (n.d.). https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/fluid-water-drinks.html

FoodData Central. (n.d.). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/index.html

Gelling properties of chia seed and flour. Journal of Food Science. (2014). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24734892/

Gut microbiota and chronic constipation: a review and update. Frontiers in Medicine. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6379309/ 

Naringenin induces laxative effects by upregulating the expression levels of c-Kit and SCF, as well as those of aquaporin 3 in mice with loperamide-induced constipation. International Journal of Molecular Medicine. (2018). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29207043/ 

Quantification of inulin content in selected accessions of Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus L.). Helia. (2014). https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/helia-2014-0009/html 

Symptoms & causes of constipation. (2018). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/symptoms-causes 

Systematic review: the effect of prunes on gastrointestinal function. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. (2014). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/apt.12913

The chemical composition and nutritional value of chia seeds — current state of knowledge. Nutrients. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627181/

The effect of green kiwifruit on gas transit and tolerance in healthy humans. Neurogastroenterology & Motility. (2020). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nmo.13874 

The effects of inulin on gut microbial composition: a systematic review of evidence from human studies. European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases. (2019). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31707507/ 

The influence of in vitro pectin fermentation on the human fecal microbiome. AMB Express. (2018). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6004267/ 

The nutritional and health attributes of kiwifruit: a review. European Journal of Nutrition. (2018). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6267416/

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