Constipation is complex. Many factors — including diet, lifestyle, stress, and underlying health conditions — can contribute to it. In most healthy people, a single serving of a specific food is unlikely to cause constipation.
However, people with digestive or other health conditions may find that eating certain foods can trigger or worsen constipation.
This article will look at which foods can cause or worsen constipation and some other potential causes.
In most healthy people, a single, specific food will not directly cause constipation. However, certain diets can contribute to it. People with chronic constipation may also find that specific foods impact their symptoms.
Occasional constipation is common, and most people will experience it at some point in life. However, 2–27% of the population experience chronic constipation, which is persistent.
According to the National Health Service (NHS), people are more likely to experience constipation if they:
- are pregnant
- frequently use laxatives
- eat a diet low in fiber
- do not drink enough fluids
- experience stress, anxiety, or depression
- are usually inactive
There are also many digestive conditions that can cause constipation, such as:
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Also, some medications and supplements — including iron supplements, antacids, and opioids — can cause constipation as a side effect.
The following sections will discuss some foods that may cause or worsen constipation.
Low fiber foods
Eating a diet that does not contain much fiber may contribute to constipation. A person may not be getting enough fiber if they eat a lot of meat, dairy products, and refined carbohydrates but do not eat many vegetables, fruits, or whole grains.
In this case, specific foods are not the cause of the constipation. Instead, it is an imbalance between different food groups. Eating more fiber and fewer low fiber foods may help.
It is worth noting that some people with digestive conditions or IBD find that eating high fiber foods can make their symptoms worse. If increasing fiber does not help, it may be worth talking with a doctor.
High FODMAP foods
People with IBS and some other digestive conditions may find that foods high in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) worsen their symptoms.
- garlic, onions, and shallots
- legumes, such as beans, chickpeas, and soybeans
- grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye
- sweeteners, such as xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol
- specific fruits, such as apples, blackberries, and watermelon
People whose bodies have difficulty digesting these foods may feel better by eating a low FODMAP diet, which involves avoiding high FODMAP foods for a set period of time.
Bananas are part of the banana, rice, apple sauce, toast (BRAT) diet, which doctors previously recommended to treat diarrhea. This was due to these foods’ ability to slow down bowel movements. As a result, these foods may not be a good option for people who have constipation.
Ripe bananas are also high FODMAP, which may mean that people with IBS have to avoid them. Unripe bananas are low FODMAP and may be easier for those with IBS to tolerate.
In some people, chronic constipation may signal a food allergy.
A 2011 study into constipation in children found that when the participants eliminated food allergens from their diet, their constipation improved. This was true for 28 out of 32 children. However, this was a small study with a low number of participants.
If a person’s body does not respond to taking laxatives or making other dietary changes, the person may wish to ask a doctor for allergy testing.
Some people believe that eggs can cause constipation. However, there is not much scientific evidence that supports this. They are a low fiber food, though, so eating a lot of them may contribute to constipation.
Egg allergies are also among the most common food allergies, which could explain why some people’s bodies have difficulty digesting them.
For many people, eating more high fiber foods can help ease constipation. These foods include:
- most vegetables, including carrots, peas, broccoli, and okra
- fruits, including apples, pears, berries, avocados, and oranges
- whole grains, such as whole oats, buckwheat, and millet
- brown bread, pasta, and rice
The Institute of Medicine recommend consuming 19–38 grams of fiber per day, depending on age, sex, and stage of life. For example, pregnant people and older adults may need more fiber than others to prevent constipation.
When increasing fiber intake, it is also important to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration. Also, it is best to increase fiber intake slowly to prevent a constipating effect.
Some specific foods that may help with constipation include:
- Kiwi fruit: According to a 2014 article that looked at foods that help with constipation, green kiwi fruit increased the frequency and softness of bowel movements.
- Prunes: The 2014 study also notes that prunes can have a laxative effect. However, they are high FODMAP, which may make them unsuitable for people with IBS.
- Fruit juices: Unsweetened fruit juice may be especially helpful for young children, whose digestive systems are not yet matured. Apple, pear, or prune juices can be a source of fiber and help increase fluid intake.
If eating more fiber does not help or makes constipation worse, speak with a doctor.
Other aspects of a person’s lifestyle — such as their exercise routine, bathroom habits, and mental health — can also influence digestion.
To prevent or relieve constipation, they may wish to try:
- exercising regularly
- using the bathroom as soon as the need strikes
- minimizing the use of laxatives and enemas
- seeking help with managing chronic health conditions, such as diabetes
- seeking support for mental health conditions, such as anxiety
- learning stress management techniques, such as breathing exercises
- speaking with a doctor about any medications that could be causing constipation
Constipation is common, and most people experience it occasionally — particularly if their usual routine or diet has recently changed.
However, chronic constipation means that the digestive system is not functioning as it should. People with frequent or reoccurring constipation may have a health condition.
People should speak with a doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms:
- severe constipation that does not respond to over-the-counter laxatives or dietary changes
- constipation that keeps coming back
- abdominal pain
- blood in the stool
- constipation alongside additional symptoms, such as vomiting
What causes constipation can vary from person to person. For some, eating a diet low in fiber can cause or worsen constipation. In this case, eating more fruits and vegetables and staying hydrated may help.
For others, food allergies and intolerances can cause or worsen constipation. Finding the cause of constipation can help these people determine which foods they should avoid.