If you’ve done any research into foods that can help with constipation, you’re probably seeing fermented foods coming up again and again. It’s a diet trend that’s proving to not only have longevity, but also the backing of research. Before we look at the role of fermented food in avoiding constipation, let’s first understand what’s happening in the body to cause it to happen.
What causes constipation?
It’s important to talk about the causes of constipation to understand why your body is acting in this way. The roots of your digestive distress are likely to fall into one of these three broad categories:
- Poor diet. If what you eat is low in fibre and you’re not drinking enough water this can contribute to constipation.
- Lack of exercise, stress, travel and changes in routine can impact on the function of your bowels.
- Medical conditions. A number of underlying conditions (or medications taken to treat them) can bring on constipation. Common examples include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulosis, underactive thyroid gland and diabetes. Pregnancy is also a cause.
Constipation symptomsHow do I know if I have constipation? What you consider normal bowel movements could be very different from another person. However, there are a few signs that suggest you’re likely to be experiencing constipation:1
- You’ve had fewer than three poos in a week
- Your stools are hard and dry
- You strain or feel pain during bowel movements
- You don’t feel you’ve had a complete bowel movement
Therefore, what you‘re actually looking for are things that can soften your stools and encourage regular bowel movements. That’s where fermented foods can come in.
What are fermented foods?The trend for fermented foods is not going anywhere. If anything, the evidence to support their nutritional value is growing their profile in discussions around gut health. So, if you’re looking for foods that could help with constipation, consider putting live yoghurts, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, tempeh, natto, miso, and kombucha on your shopping list.2
But what makes these foods such a powerful elixir for rebalancing digestive discomfort? It’s primarily down to their probiotic content. Fermentation not only extends the shelf life of foods, it also adds nutritional value. Yes, fermented foods are packed with live, good bacteria.
But it’s important to note the probiotic bacteria must be alive when you eat it. Food processes, such as pasteurisation, smoking, baking and filtering kill live bacteria. This removes soy sauces, most beers and wines, sourdough bread, and chocolate from your list of fermented superfoods unfortunately. It’s also important that yoghurts are ‘live’ or contain ‘active’ ingredients. And you should choose unpasteurised sauerkraut and select fermented pickles rather than ones soaked in vinegar.
How can fermented foods help with constipation symptoms?
Constipation happens in your large intestine. This long muscular tube heads up your gut’s mission to absorb water and flush out waste. But if this movement doesn’t happen and faeces sits there for too long, stools become hard and difficult to pass. Fermented foods can help create an environment in your gut that prevents this from happening.
The gut contains a diverse collection of trillions of bacteria. 95% of these microbes are in your colon. It’s called a microbiome, and it helps to break down food and regulate bowel function. When you’re constipated, it may be a sign there could be an imbalance between friendly bacteria and the bad species in your large intestine.
Fermented foods help by topping up the level of good bacteria in the gut, which reduces the impact of the less friendly varieties.
However, there are causes of constipation other than an imbalance in gut bacteria. So, some trial and error may be required.
DIY fermentationAre you ready to add fermented foods to your diet? What better way to make sure all the live, friendly bacteria goodness is preserved than by fermenting your own foods. There are some great recipes for kimchi and sauerkraut, but kefir is an easy place to start your fermenting journey. Kefir contains around 20 different types of bacteria and yeast3. It’s a rich source of probiotics with a wealth of research backing its effectiveness on aiding digestion. Simply buy the kefir grain, add milk and then leave it out to ferment for around 12 hours. Then it’s ready to drink.
Summary: Are you ready to try fermented foods?
As well as being a rich probiotic source, fermented foods are also a great way to add some healthy diversity to your diet. So, while adding live yoghurt to your meals may be the easiest option, there is so much more to experiment with. Try pickled vegetables as a side or as a topping for your salads. And why not add a little sauerkraut to your sandwich to give your lunch some extra excitement.
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Last updated: 15 June 2020