Fiber may help prevent and relieve constipation, and make stools easier to pass. People with constipation may need to include more fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, in their diet.

Constipation affects around 16% of adults in the United States. Similarly, 33% of individuals who are 60 and older experience symptoms of the condition. However, a 2020 study found that 3 out of 5 Americans have never discussed their constipation symptoms with a healthcare professional.

Symptoms of constipation include:

  • having hard stools that are difficult to pass
  • having fewer than three bowel movements a week
  • feeling like not all stool has passed

People may experience constipation for a number of reasons, including diet patterns and certain health problems.

This article examines the relationship between fiber and constipation. It also lists some high fiber foods to eat and other types of food to limit. Finally, it provides tips for relieving constipation and discusses when someone should see a doctor.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, people should eat about 22–34 grams (g) of fiber each day, depending on their age and sex. Soluble and insoluble fiber are present in plant foods.

The fiber from plant foods ferments in the gut to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These acids may help digestive function, for example by speeding up the movement of food through the digestive tract.

Additionally, SCFAs may help to regulate the gut-brain axis, which research suggests is a factor in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Healthcare professionals use the term “gut-brain axis” to describe the communication between the nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. IBS can cause constipation.

According to a 2021 review adult females should consume 25 g of fiber each day, and adult males should eat 38 g of fiber daily. The review authors noted that most people consume only about half this amount.

They also noted that the European guidelines and the American College of Gastroenterology position paper recommend fiber, mainly the soluble fiber, for managing chronic constipation. The study explains that soluble fiber acts as a prebiotic, increasing SCFAs, and forms gels with water to help regulate the consistency of stools.

However, the review notes that because fiber retains water, a person should make sure to keep hydrated by drinking at least 8 glasses of fluid daily to enable the laxative effects of fiber.

Nutrition resources

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The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK) recommends adding fiber to the diet gradually so the body can get used to it. In addition, they advise that people should make sure they drink enough liquids, such as water, to help the fiber work and make stools easier to pass.

The following foods are good sources of fiber:

Food typeExamples
Whole grainswhole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice, oats, oat bran, popcorn, spelt, bulgur, quinoa, barley, shredded wheat, and unsweetened granolas
Vegetablesartichokes, pumpkins, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, broccoli, leafy greens, carrots, and mushrooms
Beansnavy beans, yellow beans, adzuki beans, black beans, and garbanzo beans
Fruitsguava, raspberries, blueberries, kiwifruit, apricots, pear, apples, oranges, and passion fruit
Nutswalnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pistachio, almond, Brazil nuts, and pine nuts
Seedssunflower, pumpkin, flax, hemp, and chia seeds

In addition, people may wish to purchase fiber supplements over the counter. However, a person should speak with a healthcare professional before taking any supplements.

According to the NIDDK and the National Institute on Aging, the following foods can make constipation worse, and a person should consider limiting them in their diet:

  • high fat foods
  • processed foods, fast food, and some microwaveable dinners
  • processed meats
  • dairy products
  • eggs
  • chips
  • foods and drinks with added sugar

The following are tips that experts recommend for relieving constipation:

  • eating more fiber
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • doing regular physical activity
  • trying to have a bowel movement at the same time each day
  • putting the feet on a footstool to relax the muscles when trying to have a bowel movement
  • changing medications that may be causing constipation with a doctor’s guidance
  • speaking with a healthcare professional about over-the-counter medicines or supplements that may help

People should contact a doctor if their bowel habits change and are accompanied by any one of the following:

A person should also consider speaking with a healthcare professional if their constipation persists with dietary changes and exercise.

Eating a fiber-rich diet may help relieve constipation and make stools easier to pass. A healthcare professional may recommend including more whole grains, vegetables, and beans in the diet and drinking plenty of liquids. They may also recommend regular physical activity, bowel training, or changing medications causing constipation.

If someone has symptoms such as blood in the stool, severe stomach pain, or vomiting in addition to constipation, or experiences no relief through dietary changes and exercise, they should contact their doctor.