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.
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.
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 .com.