Updated 22 October 2014

Constipation and diet

Constipation is caused by lack of dietary fibre in the diet and inactivity. We tell you how to increase your fibre intake and get off the couch!


Step 1: Understanding the link between constipation and diet
Constipation is what can be called a modern disease of lifestyle which is caused by lack of dietary fibre in the diet and the 'couch potato' syndrome. You are constipated if your bowel activity is lower than normal. Normal bowel frequency is between three times a day and three times a week.

Here is a list of causes that may be responsible for your condition:


  • eating too little dietary fibre, especially the non-soluble type found in wheat bran
  • using special diets to treat specific conditions, such as wheat allergy, or obesity
  • suffering from an eating disorder like anorexia

Other possible causes include:

  • Menstrual cycle and pregnancy
  • Prescription and over-the-counter drugs
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Diverticulosis
  • Conditions which affect the nervous system (Multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease)
  • Diseases of the colon
  • An underactive thyroid gland, diabetes and use of female hormones for contraceptive or replacement therapy are also causes of constipation

Step 2: Adopting healthy habits to prevent and cure constipation

  • If you experience pain, have blood in your stools or any other symptoms that worry you, please visit your doctor
  • Increase your intake of dietary fibre
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Drink six to eight glasses of water daily
  • Exercise three to four times weekly

Step 3: The basic principles of a high fibre diet

Increase your intake of the following foods. They are rich sources of dietary fibre: (* = > 3 g dietary fibre per serving)

  • Cereals like Hi-fibre Bran* and All Bran cereals*, fruit and bran cereals*, muesli*
  • Oats porridge
  • Breads and grains like rye bread*, wholewheat and brown bread, wheat biscuits, wholewheat pasta*
  • Dried fruit
  • Fresh fruit like figs*, oranges*, grapefruit*, apples*, bananas*
  • Vegetables like broccoli*, Brussels sprouts*, butternut*, green beans*, brinjal*, cooked beans*, lentils and split peas*, sweet potato*, potato carrots, spinach, beetroot, cabbage, cauliflower
  • nuts*
  • samp and beans*

Increase your dietary fibre intake gradually by eating at least one of these foods at each meal to start off with. When your body has adjusted to this level of fibre, then you increase your intake to two foods or servings of high-fibre per meal until you are eating two to three portions of fibre-rich foods at every meal, e.g. oats/All Bran and dried fruit for breakfast, wholewheat bread and fruit for lunch, cooked legumes and vegetables for supper.

2. Drink more water: Drink at least six glasses of water in addition to your usual liquid intake. The water helps the dietary fibre to swell and expand thus increasing the bulk in the intestines which promotes bowel movements.

How much dietary fibre?
According to international recommendations, adult diets should contain at least 20 g of dietary fibre a day. Sadly most Western populations don’t get anywhere near this amount. For slimming purposes and other dietary uses of fibre, it is a good idea to eat up to 40 g of dietary fibre a day.

Read about Constipation and Laxatives


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