A doctor may recommend a balanced diet rich in fiber, water, and other fluids to help relieve symptoms of constipation.

Typically, a person should have three or more bowel movements per week. If a person has fewer, they may be experiencing constipation.

People with constipation may pass stool that is dry, hard, or lumpy, and their stool may be painful or difficult to pass. A person may also experience a feeling of not having passed all the stool in their system.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD) notes that constipation is common among all age groups and populations in the United States, affecting around 16% of all adults and 33% of adults over the age of 60 years.

This article explores diet for constipation, including which foods to include and which to consider limiting. It also discusses when to speak with a doctor.

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The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends that people across different age groups follow a healthy dietary pattern.

Eating a nutritious diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat can have benefits for everyone, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, or current health status — including constipation. A healthy diet may include:

Vegetablesleafy greens, red and orange vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, and starchy vegetables
Fruitswhole fruits such as strawberries, bananas, kiwis, oranges, blueberries, and lemons
Whole grainsoats, quinoa, brown rice, barley, and buckwheat
Dairy productsfat-free or low fat milk, yogurt, cheese, and lactose-free dairy products
Proteinseggs, lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy products
Certain oilsvegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts

A 2022 study that examined the association between dietary factors and constipation in adults found that better adherence to the healthy eating index-2015 (HEI-2015) may improve constipation symptoms and facilitate bowel movement. The HEI-2015 is a measure for evaluating overall dietary quality, and researchers score it based on the DGA.

Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of plant-based foods. Fiber helps soften the stool so it passes through the colon smoothly.

A person needs a healthy portion of soluble and insoluble fibers to help prevent constipation. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps to slow digestion. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and helps support regular bowel movements.

Sources of soluble fiber include:

Examples of insoluble fiber sources include:

  • the skins of many fruits and vegetables
  • whole wheat flour
  • seeds
  • bran
  • nuts

The DGA recommends that adults consume about 22–34 grams of fiber a day, depending on their age and sex.

A 2020 study indicates that consuming food rich in dietary fiber may help with improving gut motility, maintaining gut microbiota health, and preventing the risk of colorectal cancer. Gut motility refers to the movement of food along the digestive system.

Research from 2017 found that low fluid intake is associated with constipation. Additionally, experts suggest that dehydration and low fluid intake may negatively affect bowel movement and lead to constipation.

The NIDDK recommends drinking plenty of water and other fluids, including clear soups and fresh juice. The organization notes that drinking a sufficient amount of fluids may have the following benefits:

  • making stool softer
  • preventing dehydration
  • making stool easier to pass
  • preventing constipation

According to the National Institute on Aging, consuming certain foods may increase a person’s risk of constipation. A person may decide to limit these foods in their diet to help lower their risk of constipation:

  • high fat meats, including pork, beef, and lamb
  • dairy products, including high fat milk, butter, and cream
  • processed foods, including:
    • some frozen meals
    • snacks
    • pastries
    • some microwaveable meals
  • sweets
  • eggs
  • chips
  • fast food

A person should speak with a healthcare professional if constipation does not go away or if they have a family history of rectal or colon cancer.

People should also speak with a doctor if they have any of the following symptoms alongside constipation:

Doctors recommend that people with constipation increase their fluid and fiber intake to improve bowel movement. A diet plan for constipation may include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plenty of water, and other fluids. Eating a balanced diet may also help to manage constipation.

Conversely, a person may consider limiting foods that may trigger constipation, such as high fat and processed foods.

If a person has symptoms of constipation that do not go away, they should speak with their doctor. Similarly, if they experience other symptoms, such as blood in the stool, alongside constipation, they should speak with a healthcare professional.