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Constipated? Avoid These Foods

By Danielle Svetcov

I'm already preparing for the day my daughter is old enough to ask me why (in God's name) I wrote a cookbook entitled The Un-Constipated Gourmet: Secrets to a Moveable Feast - 125 Recipes for the Regularity Challenged. I've got a three-part reply all set to go.

Answer #1. "Because when Mommy had her first emergency colonoscopy (at age 21) her perspective on food shifted dramatically; she never trusted a bowl of pasta or a bagel again."
Answer #2. "Because when I looked into my crystal ball/bowl of garlic lentil walnut soup, I saw the future, and it was gourmet, real-food substitutes for fiber pills and laxatives."
Answer #3. "Because I wanted to remind folks that being human is hard...but it's also very funny. Constipation is nothing if not daily domestic tragicomedy."

There's one more reason I wrote this book -- one that probably won't interest my kid -- that might interest readers of The Checkup:

Answer #4. "If we set aside all the irritatingly regular folk, many of whom are gloating relatives of mine, who pretend to be totally mystified by the utility of my book, we are left with a vast majority who are secretly thrilled (or not so secretly, in the case of those who've emailed me with exclamation marks in abundance) by the idea of finding and sharing gourmet cures for stuck guts."

Iowa farmers swear by rhubarb. French moms swear by chard. Turks swear by baba ganoush. And Hungarians swear by cigarettes (which I can't, of course, endorse -- and neither should you). Certainly my findings aren't scientific, so swallow them with whatever pill you like -- just not Ex-Lax.

In short, I've written a book about a daily preoccupation. I can't say it any better than I did in the book: "We're a population divided into have and have-nots. Have used the facilities today and have not. The haves know who they are. They can eat nothing but potatoes and biscuits for a week and still whistle en route to the potty. The have-nots are a more downbeat crowd. They tap their feet at meetings. They spend time lurking near bathrooms, mouthing silent prayers, but never actually entering. We are the butt of jokes, literally."

Now, some will say that all these reasons of mine don't amount to a hill of beans (very good for a corked gut, btw) because gourmet food and its culminating form should not, under any circumstances, share the printed page. Obviously, I disagree. I disagree on behalf of the approximately 2.5 million of us who visit a doctor each year for issues surrounding regularity. I also disagree on behalf of all those not accounted for who simply choose to tough it out.

Guest-blogging today gives me a chance to make my case AND hear what you are thinking. So, what are you thinking about all this? Any secret recipe to share?

Before you jump in, let me share a page from the book that might further stir the pot. These are foods to avoid eating in massive quantities (a.k.a. "The Ten Plagues of the Gut"). If you happen to be a person who finds herself/himself pacing in front of the loo, but rarely entering, take heed.

White potatoes
White rice
Semolina pasta
Rice noodles
White flour biscuits

Danielle Svetcov, a writer and literary agent living in San Francisco, is the author of The Un-Constipated Gourmet: Secrets to a Moveable Feast - 125 Recipes for the Regularity Challenged, which is featured in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 15, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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Really you don't need to write or read a special cookbook to be regular. All you need to do is eat a reasonably low-fat plant-based diet. Period.

Posted by: exafrica | September 15, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

I can (and do) eat a diet that nearly anyone would call healthy, high fiber, low fat, little meat, etc. I still usually go two to three days between bowel movements. That, apparently, is normal for me. What does work--sometimes too well--is running. Now when I run a long (10 mile or more) race I take Imodium (as recommended by my gastroenterologist). For non-race long runs, I just plan my route well.

Posted by: Alice_Drew | September 15, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I always thought cheese would make the list of top-10 constipating foods. Maybe that's just an old wive's tale.

As a physician, I see lots of patients who have a major chronic problem with constipation. Too often the standard medical advice doesn't help enough. Good luck with the book. There's a market out there.

I'm on a very low-carb weight-loss diet now (Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet) and it reminded me - the "hard" way - of the importance of fiber.


Posted by: SteveParkerMD | September 15, 2009 11:20 PM | Report abuse

Quite a number of people I know swear by either devilled eggs or devilled egg salad for pretty fast constipation relief, and I'm one of them.

Posted by: gsnave | September 16, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

As someone who used to go every three to four days, I can vouch for Natural Calm - get in in health food stores or online. It's a magnesium supplement, but the side affect is loose stools. I take 3 1/2 teaspoons at bedtime, and it helped train my body to go first thing in the am. Even when I miss a dose, I still go. I miss a day here or there, I think because I eat something that irritates my gut, but mostly, it has helped me to stay regular. And, another thing to add to the list - pasteurized milk, especially ice cream. I stay away from the stuff and eat alternatives like the coconut milk ice cream, or raw milk ice cream. Cheers!

Posted by: dvotion | September 16, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Ironically, for persons with celiac disease, eating eight of the top ten foods will cause the exact opposite of constipation!

Posted by: kentuckienne | September 16, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

If fiber is your need, check out Better Bowls are just coming into stores in the D.C. market and are puddings and gelatins (regular and sugar-free) that are high in fiber, all natural and packed with protein. They come in their own bowls and are great for packing -- I get them off and just drop them in my purse or tote and take them to the office. Awesome product!

Posted by: litepost | September 16, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

I also ended up going in for a semi-emergency colonoscopy, at the ripe old age of 29. The docs found and removed a benign polyp, and recommended returning in three years for a follow-up colonoscopy.

That gets you thinking about stuff like this.

I found that I was able to make some small changes in my diet that helped painlessly up my daily fiber intake.

One easy switch was to a double fiber wheat bread instead of white bread for my sandwiches. Not to throw brands around, but I really like the "Nature's Own" variety. It's actually so tasty I would choose it over white bread anyway, and each slice gives you ~20% of your fiber for the day. Slap a sandwich together with it and you're already at 40%.

After that, I began eating a fiber bar as a snack after dinner. Since I'm throwing brands around anyway, the ones made by Fiber One are awesome. When I considered a fiber supplement, I had pictured some bland, tasteless dust that had been extruded into bar form. These are nothing like that - they've got caramel and chocolate chips, and easily taste as good as any snack bars I've ever had. If you're watching calories or fat, they might not be the ideal way to inject fiber into your diet. But if you're like me and those two issues aren't a problem, they're actually a pleasant treat in addition to adding another 35% of your daily fiber intake.

That gets you up to 75%. Throw in a couple of servings of high-fiber veggies like broccoli, and you're set for the day.

Posted by: neveryoumind | September 16, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Try a teaspoon to a tablespoon (which is a lot!) of ground flax seed on your cereal in the morning. It must be ground or you cannot digest it. It tastes nutty, or has no flavor depending upon your cereal. You can titrate how much you need by how things go (so to speak). It changed my family's life!

Posted by: leskruth | September 18, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

It was ironic this article came out on the day I started a seven day colon first one - but as people know who suffer from chronic constipation, you will try anything. My normal routine was in a gut wrenching fashion to "go" only once a week. The funny thing was that I have been that way my whole life...and my mother and aunt the same way.. We eat a high fiber, low fat diet and work out at least five times a week - but to no avail. My mother is addicted to laxatives, but I refused to do something "unnatural" when a friend suggested an arbonne cleanse...which requires drinking lots of water and some not so good tasting concoction every day for a week, I gave it a try. This sounds ridiculous - but I am forever changed. I feel lighter (and am) and more energized. I realize that I had basically been posioning myself.....I am going to move on to the other arbonne products and cannot wait to get your book so that I can continue this existence. I hope it works..because I am not going back!

Posted by: poplar2 | September 21, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

As a DC bean-counter I stick with the numbers.

It doesn't matter what I eat, as long as I hit 25g of fiber a day. My digestion seems to take care of itself that way.

It's right there on the nutrition label.

Posted by: RedBird27 | September 22, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

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