DIET FOR HEALTHY BOWELS
Fiber helps food move through the digestive tract but fiber cannot do its job without water. Focusing on diet is very important but drinking water appropriately is also key. Contrary to popular belief (especially in the ‘fitness’ industry) more water is not better and on average it is recommended to drink 4-6oz per hour, while increasing water intake for exercise, heat, and high sodium meals. See Misconceptions for more information on hydration and normal water intake.
Food is the body’s fuel. It is our energy and everything we put in our body will effect us negatively or positively. It is recommended 25-35 grams of fiber per day. However the key is a balance between soluble and insoluble and spreading the fiber intake throughout the day. On average 9-12 grams per meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) or less per meal if there are fibrous snacks between meals. It is important to not rely on “high fiber” foods or try to ingest the daily recommendation in one meal or snack to “get it over with”. Similarly with water, our body needs time to process the fiber hence spreading it throughout the day. It’s best to ingest fiber from natural resources including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains instead of processed fiber supplements including metamucil, benefiber, fiber one, etc.
Soluble Fibers turn into a gel during digestion and can firm up and slow down colonic transit time. Those with Type 5, 6 or 7 (diarrhea) may benefit from adding more soluble fibers to bulk up their stool especially if fecal incontinence is present. In people with diarrhea, this can help to firm up and slow down the bowel movement. Therefore soluble fiber may help to prevent leakage associated with soft, frequent bowel movements. Sources of soluble fiber are oats, barley, rye, legumes (lentils, kidney beans, chick peas), peeled fruits and vegetables. Food that firm stool also include: banana, white rice, peeled apple, apple sauce, cheese, white pasta, white bread, tapioca, smooth peanut butter, potato, pumpkin, yogurt, pretzels, and marshmallows.
Insoluble Fibers speed up digestion and are useful for treating constipation. This type of fiber should be avoided or reduced if you have soft, frequent bowel movements or leakage. Major sources of insoluble fiber are wholegrain wheat, wheat bran, corn and wholegrain rice cereals, fibrous vegetables such as carrots and celery and the skins of fruits and vegetables. Food that soften stool also include: vegetables (cabbage, onion, spinach, dried and fresh beans, peas, corn, brussel sprouts, broccoli), bran, high fiber cereals, multigrain breads, fresh, canned, or dried fruit (grapes, apricots, peaches, plums, prunes, and most berries except blueberries, chocolate, nuts, popcorn, greasy foods, juices (prune, orange, apple and grape), chille, curry, garlic and ‘sugar free’ foods containing sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, diet drinks or ice-cream, and cough syrup.
Remember to check out the Bristol Stool Chart to identify your stool type and consistency. Your goal is to be a Type 4 with no pushing or straining needed to empty and no excessive wiping. See Defecation Mechanics and What is Normal for more information on bowel habits.
Caffeine, alcohol, ‘sugar free’ or artificial sweeteners tend to speed up our bowels and make the stool softer than ideal, this can lead to strong sudden bowel urges, excessive wiping, or fecal leakage. Food intolerances to lactose (dairy), wheat protein, gluten, and fructose vary by the individual but signs of a food intolerance may include flatus, bloating, abdominal pain, and/or diarrhea. If you ingest too much fiber too fast you may have similar effects as well. Pay attention to what your body is telling you and adjust your diet accordingly.