Common Constipation Culprits

Constipation / IBS-C are real problems which can cause significant inconvenience, discomfort, and even disability for some individuals.  For most people, these are likely to be food sensitivity problems, as opposed to irreversible pathological diseases. Chronic constipation is not an inevitable consequence of aging; it can usually be alleviated by knowing which foods are gumming up the works.

 

 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is commonly divided into two main types:  “IBS-C” (IBS with constipation) and “IBS-D” (IBS with diarrhea). This article focuses on IBS-C.

GOLDEN RULE OF IBS-C:  IBS-C is primarily about indigestion.  If a food is hard to digest, it will slow things down.  It’s that simple.

When exploring the connection between your symptoms and these foods for yourself, keep in mind that poorly-digested foods can cause delayed or prolonged symptoms because they are processed so slowly.  Most of these foods can affect digestion for several days after you swallow them.  It is also important to recognize that sluggish digestion can cause all kinds of other problems north of the intestines, including heartburn and reflux (“GERD”).

THE FIVE MOST COMMON CULPRITS:

  1. GLUTENGluten is a sticky protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale.  This protein has a special globular structure that is very hard for our enzymes to digest.
  2. CASEINCasein is a sticky protein found in most dairy products. Baby cows come with a special enzyme in their stomachs called rennet, which is designed especially to break down casein.  Humans do not have rennet, so casein is very hard for us to digest.  Hard cheeses and high-protein yogurts (such as “Greek style” yogurts) are especially good at triggering IBS-C.
  3. CRUCIFEROUS VEGGIES.   Lots of veggies happen to be crucifers, including broccoli, kale, and cabbage.  This veggie family contains high amounts of an indigestible short-chain carbohydrate (or oligosaccharide) called raffinose.  Human enzymes cannot break down raffinose into sugar, but bacteria in the colon love to munch on raffinose and turn it into a lovely gas called methane.  This will not only make you unpopular at parties, but can slow digestion and cause significant bloating and discomfort, as well.
  4. LEGUMESLegumes are beans and pod vegetables, including soy, lentils, green beans, peas, and garbanzo beans.  There are two main reasons why these foods are hard to digest.  One is that they contain lots of raffinose (see #3), and the other is that they contain high amounts of soluble fiber.  Soluble fiber acts like a sponge in the digestive tract—it absorbs water and swells into a big sticky gel that can form a large, lovely CLOG.  Soluble fiber cannot be digested except by bacteria in the colon, so it also eventually forms delightful gases.
  5. NUTSNuts are very closely related to legumes.  Nuts and legumes are both types of seeds, and therefore contain similar compounds, namely indigestible short-chain carbohydrates and soluble fiber.  All seeds also contain enzyme inhibitors which interfere with our ability to digest the proteins within these foods.  These inhibitors are damaged or destroyed by cooking, but we often do not cook nuts before eating them. This may be why some people find nuts even more difficult to digest than legumes, which are always thoroughly cooked before eating.
The above are just the most likely suspects in constipation, but keep in mind that everyone is different, and these are not the only foods that can cause problems for people.  In my clinical experience I have had patients tell me that lots of other foods can be problematic, including raw vegetables of all kinds, gelatin (especially if very concentrated, such as in gummi candies), grains (even those that do not include gluten, such as rice), and fruits high in pectin and insoluble fiber, such as apples and bananas.
How about you?
If you have noticed any connection between the foods you eat and your symptoms, and you’d like to share your experience, please leave a comment below so that we can all learn from one another.
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  • TruthCkr

    Very helpful article! Thank you!

  • Des

    Hi Dr. Ede, what do you think about butter? Should I be concerned with the lactose and casein in it?

  • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

    Butter contains no lactose and almost no casein. Ghee, which is clarified butter, is virtually casein-free.

    • Des

      Great, thank you

  • John

    Just read this page and realize I need to do some rethinking about what I am eating. Til now #2, #3 and #5 have formed a large part of my diet.

  • seashell

    This is very helpful and I’ve gone through a LOT (10 years) of trying to figure out what is going on. Trying gluten/dairy free for 30 days yet still having terrible conditions when eating beans & nuts. What I really, REALLY, need knowing this information is a guide on what I CAN eat. Any links to a good diet plan to follow?

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hi Seashell

      I’m so glad you’ve found this helpful. There is no one diet that works for everyone, because we each differ in how we respond to various foods. However, I can say that the easiest foods to digest are meats (all types–meat, poultry, fish), fats, and fruits, including fruits that we think of as vegetables (vegetables with seeds–cucumbers, tomatoes, squash). If you base your diet on these foods, you would probably feel much better.

    • Joy

      I’d recommend Paleo or Specific Carb Diet!

  • Terri D

    In addition to above foods, eggs (particularly the whites) cause problems with constipation in myself. Took awhile to narrow this one down. Of interest, they also seem to make me feel dysthymic…but not immediately! Both effects seem to follow about 48-72 hours after ingestion. Who would have ever guessed!? Cruciferous veggies seem fine here. I’d like to try a nearly all meat diet to see if I could eliminate severe chronic constipation, but having to prepare food for my family puts the temptations firmly in my hand. So I settle for mostly meat, low fruit, and veggies I tolerate well. But at least my current diet allows magnesium to actually work, whereas it didn’t a year ago! I still am stunned that diet plays this much of a role, and I’m still eliminating/reintroducing over and over again to keep proving to myself that I can produce a specified symptom just by eating a certain food/food group.

  • anjie

    I take daily magnesium tablets before I go to bed. They relax me and I never have constipation. I take these in addition to my regular vitamins and minerals.

  • Casey

    Hi Dr. Ede,
    I have had major gut issues for the past 18 months and need help from someone. They have changed my world – not in a good way – and I have become obsessed with finding an answer/solution to feel whole again. I have been diagnosed with IBS and was doing well for a few months, but new symptoms are presenting themselves. I do not know who to turn to. I find that I have become depressed and lethargic in the midst of this. In fact, I cry as I write this. My husband and I want to have children and even my hormones are affected. I don’t know if this is all due to an underlying cause, but I need help. Most recently, I have found I wake during the night feeling nauseous and my arms and legs will get a flushed sensation. Then I have to use the restroom. I am not sure what type of diet to eat at this point. I am scared and tired. Thank you very much, in advance, for your
    time.

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hello, Casey
      I am sorry to hear that you are feeling so unwell. Unfortunately I cannot provide personal medical advice on this site, however, in addition to the information in this IBS article, you might also find my blog article about histamine intolerance useful, as fermented foods can cause a variety of very frustrating symptoms including flushing. If you have not already done so, you may want to start keeping a food&symptom diary in hopes of noticing connections between what you eat and when you get symptoms. Sounds like you were doing well there for a while and then something changed, so you might be able to figure it out if you keep a journal. You may also want to consider meeting with an allergy specialist or at least consider trying a low-allergen diet for a couple of weeks (no nuts, dairy, gluten, seafood, soy, corn, or eggs). Best of luck~

  • Thankful

    Bingo! After years – make that decades – of bloating, burping, and constipation, I think I found my answer on this board. Casein is the problem. After consulting friends, doctors, and anyone who would listen….they all had similar responses. MORE FIBER. But that never made sense to me, as I was eating enough fiber for an army. And I got plenty of exercise. I’m 5′ 2″ and 105 pounds.

    I tried playing with my diet, i tried gluten-free, prunes, miralax, and all the usual suspects. Nothing worked. The only constant in my died was yogurt and fruit. There should be nothing wrong with that, right? After all, I tested negative for an allergy to lactose and I never have the runs. There was no immediate reaction after I ate yogurt. I was just in a constant state of bloat and constipation. Keep in mind, I was eat yogurt almost every day.

    Fast forward – I have not eaten yogurt for 2 months and I feel great, no bloating, burping, or constipation. I’ve finally found the cause – casein. Wow!

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hello, Thankful
      I am so happy that you have found your culprit!

  • PatriotEngineerAnalystUSA

    A year ago, I discovered Greek yogurt, and I love it! High in protein and calcium, low in fat and calories. I eat a lot of it, daily.

    But, it appears I have to give it up. Recently, I’ve had terrible “C,” like never before. Since I exercise frequently, and drink lots of water, it’s likely the culprit.

    Thanks for the info!

  • Jolly

    I have felt cursed for years (I’m now 85) because of my extreme sensitivity to all the culprits you describe so visually in your explanation of trouble-causing foods. Gluten, dairy, cruciferous vegetables, beans, and more (including hard cheese which my holistic doctor says is OK). I can’t even look at eggs in the morning! I’m attracted to grains like bread, cereal, rice, pasta, and try to eat gluten-free grains but it’s not fun and I feel deprived of the things I like best! I have also lost some taste and smell, which is fairly uncommon, but enjoy salty, sweet, and sour foods. I think your diagnosis of foods is right on, though after years of work and research on diet and nutrition, I also believe there’s no “quick fix,” no “one size fits all.”

  • A

    After years and years on a gluten free, casein free diet that was mostly vegetables with lean meats and limited grains/starches….and having chronic constipation the entire time… I accidentally discovered that if I ate virtually no vegetables, I had no digestive problems at all. In fact, on a diet of hot cereal, egg whites, and chicken, I am completely regular, every day, free of all issues. No gas, no stomach pain, constipation, no nothing. If I have 1 salad, or a couple pieces of raw fruit, I have stomach pain and can’t poop for days. I do ok with cooked and pureed veggies in a soup, like baby food, but it is getting old. I don’t know what to do, exactly – clearly this is not a long term plan, but it is so wonderful being free from these problems I’ve had for so many years I can’t help but sticking to my chicken tender diet.

  • Finally it makes sense!

    I am sad that I must now give up my beloved Greek yogurt but it seems as though this is probably the likely culprit of my problems. Thanks for this post and to all the commentors which have helped me realize that the thing things I have been eating and thinking were good for me are probably not so good for my digestion.

  • Jenny

    If a person has problem with the veggies on the list…would Juicing it actually help as in less raffinose be there ? Also does cooking it a very long time as in a soup help destroy the raffinose?

  • Claire

    THANK YOU DR. EDE. I have had multiple horrible digestive issues for 30 years. I’ve read about FODMAPS and SCD diet and experimented and tested and listened to gastro doctors who say things like “Prunes are good for you!” (8 prunes made me so bloated I felt my stomach would literally burst open), and “white flour won’t hurt you,” (white flour gives me a hellish headache and makes my whole body feel ill), and “You’re not lactose intolerant so drink all the milk you want,” (dairy plugs me up even worse). After reading your very short article, I feel like I’ve been told the secret to the universe. IT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE.

  • Makes sense to me

    At last, what I feel may be the answer to the gooey clog that has caused me fecal impaction twice now. I am encouraged and grateful to you. Who would have guessed Greek Yogurt and Nuts.

  • terre

    Hi, after years of constipation, bloating, abdominal discomfort and IBS, witch induced neurologic problems (depression, irritability, anxiety) and allergies. I have tried many depression drugs without effect. I have tried gluten and caseine free diet for three years with many vegetables (letuce, cumcumber,…) and fruits without any result, also specific carbohydrate diet without any effect. but when I tried keto diet (very limited carbohydrates and sugar) I fell great (especialy with neurologic symptoms) and constipation was not gone but reduced. and when I eat foods witch contain sugar (fructose, glucose,,…), the abdominal discomfort, allergies, constipation and neurological symptoms rises.
    any advice please?

  • Tracy

    I never thought yougurt would be the culprit for constipation until today. I Googled it and found this article. Thanks — no more Greek style yogurt for me!

  • http://beyondbw.wordpress.com garysmeade

    Hi Dr Ede, your information here is very in-depth but I see that you haven’t updated the site in a while, will there be any further updates? I haven’t seen anything else like it.

  • Zak

    I find that beautiful tasting FC yogurt and FCMilk are constipating, but due to my “unhealthy” digestive system and inability to eat most solid foods without vomiting, I’ve been told by the head dietitian of a large city hospital to try and eat as much protein as I can, regardless of the fat content. High nutrient drinks (Jevity, 2Cal, Forisip etc) are part of my diet and I LOVE everything I’ve mentioned but they’re IBS-C inducing. I find most fruits very tasty but not filling, except of course for even ripe bananas which constipate me terribly as well.
    It seems everything I adore or is good for me (that I won’t bring up) is an IBS-C trigger.
    The odd thing is that a few years ago I was constipated and I was eating 500g (1 lb) of full fat yogurt a day and it made no difference to my constipation at all in that when I stopped eating it, my bowel habits did not change.

  • daffodil

    Totally shocked that after years of constipation, pain and discomfort I have discovered that my so called healthy eating was causing the problem. I have stopped eating yoghurts, cheese, and other dairy products and my bowels have regained a natural rhythm. I thought by eating lots of yoghurt and dairy I was looking after myself how wrong I was! My only concern now is that as a 58 year old woman I am worried that by cutting out dairy I will lose out on vital calcium. What should I eat to compensate for eliminating dairy or should I take a supplement? Thanks for your help.

  • Rebecca Henderson

    So after a year of battling major constipation. Multiple tests and doctors, this may be the answer to all my questions! I intake bread daily which contains gluten. My doctor said to eat greek yogurt so I do even though I am lactose intolerance. I also drink almond milk even though it isn’t soy it is still a nut. This could be the solution to all my problems! I take linzess and align daily and have myself on a super strict diet only drinking water and a glass of almond milk in the mornings and 100% all natural fruit smoothie with frozen fruit and I eat lots of fruit and veggies. Not knowing green beans shouldn’t be eaten I was only told broccoli. Thank you for this post! I see an allergen next week thinking I might be allergic to a food i’m eating thank you for all the good advice!!!!! :-)

  • Russ 88

    I have struggled with C for about ten years; I’m 69 now. All that time refined grains and milk were, to a great degree, avoided. I eat a lot of the other things on the list. The one thing that has worked to relieve C, and still does, is 3 Tbsp of psylium husk in 10 oz of water, daily. Your mileage may vary. I’m going to post a link to a really enlightening video by IHMC on the microbiome, right now. I would include it here, but I suspect doing that would cause THIS post to be blocked. We’ll see. If it doesn’t show up, you’ll know what happened.

  • Russ 88

    Well, there is a message on the post which says: “Hold on, this is waiting to be approved by Diagnosis Diet.” I guess the policy is, at least for me, “No Links Allowed”. Thought all you readers might like to know. As of now, if you want to see the vid, search for the title on google.

    • Russ 88

      Just to see what would happen here, I looked up: “Larry Smarr – The Human Microbiome and the Revolution in Digital Health” on Ixquick, clicked the youtube link, and then copied the address. Here it is except for the (dot): https://www.youtube(dot)com/watch?v=NdkVDKWrmOQ .

      • Russ 88

        It worked! Yeehah!

  • Josie

    Hi I have recently become more aware that things were not quite right with my stomach as I had terrible rumblings and lots of wind and on some occasions when I felt I needed to go well I needed to go in a hurry and had explosive watery bowel movements ( sorry about the explicit details ) then I started to notice what looked like floating oversize corn niblets , as I hadn’t eaten corn or had capsules of any kind this was quite disturbing, so concern got the better of me and I pulled one out and after washing it well took a good look at it, it was about a 1/4 inch square with rounded edges and looked like it was a kind of soft gel capsule, I opened it up to find to my amazement what seemed like perfectly dry white compressed powder, very puzzling and concerning, what could it possibly be? I Googled it to find that quite a few other adults had found the very same thing varying sometimes in shape and size but with the same content. Many said that they had lots of tests that didn’t show any problems but still they had those terrible symptoms and more pods, it seems these pods could be found in infants but was not heard of in adults, so here we are and I believe what we are experiencing is Casein pods, an immune system problem to casein protein found in milk or dairy products and the body is attacking and encasing it and its being passed enveloped and undigested. Anyway I have kept these to show my doctor but I think I need to see an immunologist to be tested for Casein intolerance in dairy products. Hopefully I will be able to let you know how I go soon.I have had pain in my shoulders and neck for a long time and pains in my chest up to my throat and I’m thinking this could all be connected somehow, runny nose and watery eyes also with headache at times, sound familiar to anyone out there?. all the best with your journey to health, God bless.

    • Russ 88

      Hi Josie,
      That is quite a list! The first question that comes to mind is: are you eating any gluten (wheat, barley or rye)? That could be causing a lot of your symptoms, except for the white powder capsules.