Constipation

Updated 25 March 2014

Is your low-carb diet causing constipation?

Are you on a high fat or high protein diet that's also low in carbs? Constipation is often a nasty side effect. Here's how to ensure your trip to the bathroom is a comfortable one.

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If you are following a low-carb diet such as the Tim Noakes diet, the Atkins diet or any other high protein /high fat diet (good fats of course), you may have to deal with constipation - either chronically or occasionally.

Why do these diets cause constipation?

Well, there are two likely reasons:

You're not getting enough dietary fibre. Most carbohydrate-rich foods such as whole grains, fruits and veggies like sweet potato are avoided in high fat or high protein diets.

Fibre aids digestion, and without it you could be setting yourself up for a hard time.   

Dehydration. Protein is processed and broken down by the liver and kidneys, and both these organs use water to do this. So the more water your body uses, the more dehydrated it becomes.

Why is this bad you ask? Well dehydration causes your stools to harden which inadvertently leads to constipation.   

Read: Low carb diet debate continues

Tips that will help loosen things up

You're probably worried that you might have to change your diet again – but don't worry, that's not necessary. Here are a couple of sure-fire tips that will prevent constipation:

Eat more fibre!
Whole grains aren't the only source of fibre; you can get lots of it from (unsalted) seeds and nuts as well as from (preferably raw) fruit and vegetables.

On the Tim Noakes diet, however, fruit is limited, so if you're following this diet, be sure to up your intake of green leafy veggies. Luckily nuts are included on the menu.

The American Dietetic Association recommends at least 30g of fibre a day if you suffer from constipation (see chart below for how to up your fibre through food).

Drink lots of water! Water cleanses and detoxes your body, so it washes out all the toxins, including your stools. (As we said, water prevents your stools from hardening.)

You need between six and eight glasses of water a day.

Read: Why dehydration is making you fat and sick

Exercise! This helps your gut to work more effectively, digesting everything much more quickly. Exercising also increases your nitric oxide levels, which helps your colon to empty. The best exercise, experts have found, is walking.

Cut down on caffeine and alcohol! Studies have shown that drinking large volumes of both of these have a diuretic effect on the body. Coffee increases urine production as does alcohol. 

Don't over-eat!
Too much protein (and food in general) in the body means your liver and kidneys have to use lots of water, which will dehydrate you. Also, being overfull means that you're less likely to want to drink water.

Tuck in to natural laxative foods! The following foods, spices and herbs are reputed to be natural laxatives: prunes, aloe vera, sour figs, cayenne pepper, turmeric, ginger, garlic, citrus fruits, omega-3 fatty acids, beans, avocados.

Also, tuck in to foods that are rich in natural probiotics, such as kefir (a fermented milk drink similar to yoghurt) and sauerkraut. 

Prebiotics (provided by bananas, berries, asparagus and onion) can also do the trick. These are plant components that promote colon health because they increase the bulk of the food that passes through the colon and also serve as food for 'good microorganisms' or probiotics.

Fibre supplements! If the above tips sound like too much effort, a supplement is the last resort. Psyllium husks are a good bet – get sachets at your pharmacy. However, remember to drink lots of water with it – this is soluble fibre that absorbs water like a sponge. 

Read:
Low-carb diet improves cholesterol

If the above mentioned tips don't work, high protein/high fat diets may not be for you. But just to make sure, consult your doctor first because these types of diets have their fair share of risks, and not all bodies are strong enough to handle it.

REMEMBER: Constipation may lead to irritable bowel syndrome or even worse, bowel cancer. So, don't take this condition lightly if you don't have a bowel movement for 2 - 3 days.

See this handy fibre chart from the BBC's Channel 4 Food Hospital Fibre Challenge 


Image: woman on the toilet from Shutterstock

Sources: Health24,
Built Lean, Live Strong, gutsense

Read more:

How to treat constipation 
Understanding the link between constipation and diet
Is my diet causing constipation?
 

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