Healthy Eating: Fluids, fiber and exercise important to digestive tract

By Carolyn O’Neil, for the AJC

Can we talk? Constipation used to be whispered about privately, but today it seems like everyone is discussing digestive health and ways to keep things “regular.”

Certainly, what you eat and drink plays a key role all along the digestive tract, and the right dietary choices, including consuming enough fiber and fluids, can help keep things moving along naturally.

Beets are high in fiber and can help keep digestive tracts healthy. Photo by Phil Skinner/

Beets are high in fiber and can help keep digestive tracts healthy. Photo by Phil Skinner/

You’ll feel better, and that’s great. But did you know that the digestive tract is the first line of defense for the body’s immune system? The intestinal lining absorbs the nutrients we need for good health and rejects what we don’t need, sending waste products down the line to be eliminated. And a healthy digestive tract is actually better at absorbing vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

Irregularity can be caused by medications and some dietary supplements, such as calcium and iron. But dietitian Jo-Ann Heslin, author of the Nutrition Counter series for Pocket Books, lists the everyday culprits. “They include poor eating habits, low fiber intake, too little exercise and a low fluid intake,” Heslin said. Dietary changes during business trips and vacations or inactivity when you’re sick or injured can slow things down, too.

Before reaching for laxatives, remember to drink enough fluids and make extra efforts to include foods filled with fluid and fiber such as vegetables, fruits and fruit juices. Often, it’s the humble heroes who come to the rescue pretty quickly — such as prunes, prune juice or plum juice.

Spinach is versatile and high in fiber. Photo by Brant Sanderlin/

Spinach is versatile and high in fiber. Photo by Brant Sanderlin/

Dietitian Cheryl Forberg, author of “Positively Ageless” and the nutrition consultant for the TV series “The Biggest Loser,” suggests thinking of natural solutions first. “I list prunes, beets, spinach, oranges, beans, lentils and oatmeal among nature’s best constipation cures,” Forberg said. Probiotic friendly bacteria in cultured dairy products, such as yogurt, can help, too, but they may take up to a week to do their work.

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolynoneil

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15 comments Add your comment

Not So Apparently

March 16th, 2010
8:38 pm

In Sept of 2009, Dannon settled rather than going to court – a lawsuit for 300 million dollars over whether or not yogurt possess the qualities you ascribe here.

So, apparently no so, or not enough real evidence to make this claim.


March 16th, 2010
9:15 pm

Redneck Rick

March 17th, 2010
9:36 am

I sure as heck ain’t eating salad while watching NASCAR! You don’t make friends with salad!


March 17th, 2010
11:22 am

I like what the dietitian states and wish more people would eat fruits and vegetables rather than junk. I enjoy a spinach salad with a little bit of salad dressing for dinner. I like to eat an apple as dessert for lunch every day.

just Me

March 17th, 2010
12:35 pm

I eat the oatmeal recipe that is in the Flat Belly Diet book every weekday morning. Oatmeal, 1/4c. strawberries, 1/2 banana, 2T walnuts, 2T dark chocolate chips. I haven’t noticed my belly getting flatter, but it sure is good! and, yeah, I am regular as Old Faithful!

poo time

March 17th, 2010
1:47 pm

Want to get the bowels moving, I suggest a large paper cup of starbuck’s boldest blend followed by a bowl of cereal (extra milk). That always gets me!

Carolyn O'Neil

March 17th, 2010
3:57 pm

Love the comments…keep em regular! (:

Ken Leebow

March 17th, 2010
4:01 pm

Fiber does another amazing thing . . . it creates the feeling of satiety and thus assists in the effort to lose weight. While it’s not a secret, tons-o-people do not know about the magic of fiber.

Ken Leebow


March 19th, 2010
10:43 am

Black licorice is also good for constipation.

Susan Helms

March 19th, 2010
2:40 pm

I have to eat what is served here at the assisted living facility where I live, but I will do my best to eat as healthy as is allowed here.


March 20th, 2010
2:54 pm

What a worthless article. It mostly tiptoes around the subject of irregularity with no useful information about anything.

Vick=Dog killing thug

March 22nd, 2010
9:56 am

just Me, for your oatmeal recipe I would reduce the dark chocolate chips to every other day. Dark chocolate does have good qualities but every day might be a bit too much?

Chili Man

March 22nd, 2010
10:57 am

People with irregularity aren’t eating enough chili !!!

Regina Clay

March 23rd, 2010
1:05 pm

I was saddened to read “Not So Apparently” comment about yogurt. Dannon yogurt is full of sugar. Read the label. Last time I checked around a quarter of a cup. The amount of sugar in the yogurt pretty much negates the probiotic effectiveness of yogurt. Plain LOW FAT yogurt, not FAT FREE which usually has added sugar, can be very healthy. If eating plain low fat yogurt is not pleasant then it may be dressed up with honey or a teaspoon of all fruit jam or vanilla with nuts — other delicious ways to keep the product health promoting. The probiotic bacteria don’t do well with sugar. Such microorganisms do well with Fructooligosaccharides (FOS).


March 25th, 2010
8:30 pm

If you eat 3 times a day, you should poop 3 times a day. If you are not, you need to do something about it. Probiotics, enzymes, vitamins, and other supplements should be taken every day because those who consume cooked food lack the viable enzymes necessary for proper digestion and the vitamins that are all destroyed in the cooking process. Processed and dead cooked food all contribute to the death of the literally trillions of healthy digestive tract bacteria that we need, not just for good digestion, but for sound immune systems.

Eating the “right” things is only the beginning. Those things need to be raw and only plants. Anything else just robs your body of good health.