Soluble fiber-- this type attracts water and forms a gel, which slow down digestion. It delays the emptying of our stomachs and makes us feel full. I believe soluble fiber is important to digest in partner with fat because it helps absorb and carry fat out of our system. I understand now why many people following a paleo diet often get constipated because they are eating a higher fat diet and don't have a soluble food to absorb and push the fat through. In my opinion, having too high of a processed, carbohydrate-heavy diet is ineffective too because it requires more work by our bodies to break down all of those ingredients.
Insoluble fiber-- This is the fiber that is considered gut-healthy because it has a laxative effect and adds bulk to the diet. They do not dissolve in water, but pass through the gastrointestinal tract relatively intact. The main sources of insoluble fiber are vegetables. I believe that we need insoluble and soluble fiber in conjunction, but that it shouldn't be scrutinized as a daily value we have to get too. Rather, it fiber should just naturally be incorporated in a healthy whole foods diet. As we become attuned to eating a variety of whole foods both insoluble and soluble fiber will come naturally into our digestive system and give us happier gut health.
If your still constipated though, I have some solutions detailed below that have worked well for me!
1. Supplement with magnesium citrate. Magnesium is a nutrient we are very deficient in since our soils have been depleted from essential nutrients nowadays. I would argue that it is actually more important to supplement with than calcium because it will keep calcium we get from foods in our cells to do their jobs instead of in the bones breaking them down or calcifying in our arteries. Magnesium works synergistically with the absorption of calcium and vitamin D3 (another nutrient we are deficient in because we don't get outside enough). Check out the link I highlighted in the previous sentence; like Dr. Mercola I advocate getting nutrients in balance from the foods we eat, but since most of our calcium:magnesium ratio in America is 3.5:1 and it should be 1:1, I think supplementing with magnesium can be beneficial. I love the brand Natural Calm magnesium. A spoonful in a hot drink, whether tea or plain water, will alleviate constipation within a day. Whenever I am traveling this is my go-to. I pack some in a tiny sealed tupperware and add it to my tea or hot water; it certainly does the trick ;0!
2. Make sure you are getting proper fat intake. Any diet that is too heavy in one macronutrient can offset our digestion. But most diets today are carbohydrate heavy with an emphasis on processed foods. We detest fat. Not all fat is created equal as I outlined in a previous post. A little bit of undigested fat can help grease the passage of a stool through the colon. When you eat fats, bile is released into the intestines. Bile has two acids, chenodeoxycholic acid (CDCA) and deoxycholic acid (DCA). They promote the passing of stools by secreting a small, but very essential, amount of water in the colon*. I believe an avocado a day keeps the doctor away because it contains vital nutrients and also is a good source of monounsaturated fat. Other healthy fats are coconut oil, olive oil, cod liver oil, and raw nuts. Remember that we don't actually need carbohydrates to survive. That's right, we could actually live on a no-carb diet and we would live. We wouldn't survive, however, on a no protein or fat diet. These are essential to our bodily functions. And I am in no way toting a "no carb" diet because it can make us feel like crap and I believe some amount of carbs from healthy sources are good for you too.
3. Make gluten-free oatmeal a rotation in your diet. I know many people disagree with oatmeal, but I want to defend for a bit. Oatmeal is naturally gluten-free; it is the manufacturing process that often contaminates it with wheat. Oatmeal also is a good source of soluble fiber, so served with some coconut milk and nuts one gets a perfect coalition of the right fiber and fat! Plus, it is delicious and can be served in so many delicious ways. I love the taste of Bob Red Mill's gluten-free rolled oats. If you aren't gluten sensitive feel free to just buy a regular oatmeal brand, such as steel cut oats. I would stay away from oatmeals that have sugar additive or are the quick-cook types. Steel cut oats take about 5 minutes versus 1 min to make and the taste is so much more enjoyable. If you are gluten-free and weary of eating oatmeal, check out this pre-preparation post here. Many people also advocate soaking oats in water the night before so they digest easier.
4. Eat lots of fresh, lightly steamed green vegetables. Besides the fact that vegetables are a great source of nutrients, they are also an awesome source of insoluble fiber. Aim for a variety and try to lightly cook them instead of eating them raw or boiled so that it is easier on digestion and the nutrients are retained. I opt for dark leafy greens such as kale and swiss chard, but green beans, zucchini, broccoli, and cabbage are also great sources! Eating bitter greens like dandelion is also a great source.
5. Research the FODMAPs diet. Some of us have different sensitivities to different foods. I don't believe in such a restrictive diet as this full-time, but I think an elimination diet like this in the short run can help us trigger foods that do not make our digestion happy. Many people have adverse reactions to egg plant and bananas for example. I am not saying to never eat these, but it is important to assess how we feel after eating, something Americans on the go rarely do.
6. Supplement with HCL and Pepsin. Many of us have low stomach acid, a problem since that is what digests our foods. I suggest supplementing with Thorne's biogest or Betaine HCL and Pepsin, especially when eating things like meat. Along these lines a probiotic can be helpful in repairing our gut flora. I drink Kombucha for this purpose as I think it really does make a difference! Many people supplement with probiotics, but there are natural ways to get them too as I outline below...
7. Eat fermented food. Yes fermented foods are a natural source of healthy bacteria. This includes raw sauerkraut or kimchi (this one is an acquired taste). Many people are proponents of eating these foods right before a main meal as it prepares the stomach for digestion. You can also try apple cider vinegar. I add it to my salads or even eat a spoonful with my cod liver oil.
8. Drink water-- fresh, natural, unbottled water! Okay it doesn't have to be unbottled unless you are a tree-hugger like me, but beware-- some bottles of water now contain sodium! Just tote around a BPA-free 42 ounce water canteen like me and get it out of the tap for 0$! Water provides moisture to our stool and helps rid the toxins from our body.
9. Try to go at the same time every day. Our bodies like schedules. Being on the same sleep schedule-- going to bed at the same time each night, waking at the same time, and therefore getting around the same number of hours. Keeping our bathroom schedule the same will put our digestive system on the clock-- a system that our bodies can amazingly tune to.
10. Get a small step stool for your bathroom. Nowadays most of us dangle our feet when we sit down. In the old old days we used to have to squat. It sounds weird, but this movement actually massaged our colon and allowed for a more relaxed bathroom break. Adding a step stool will do the same by elevating our legs and hopefully bringing the knees up to the stomach more.