Can food cause constipation?

Constipation is often defined as the reduced frequency of using your bowels and hard or lumpy stools which are difficult to pass. Constipation can be acute and only lasts for a short period of time or it may be chronic and persist for longer than 3 months. Anyone can experience constipation at any stage of life. However, young children, people over the age of 65 and women are all more likely to experience constipation. Constipation can also be caused by many different factors. It can occur as a side effect of some medications, due to underlying medical conditions, a lack of physical activity, stress or depression, or as a result of the foods we eat. People often wonder what foods may contribute to constipation. It is unlikely that one specific food can lead to constipation. A diet that is low in dietary fibre is one of the major causes of constipation. Adult men need 30 grams of fibre per day, whereas women require around 25 grams. There are two different types of fibre; soluble and insoluble. They work in combination to promote a healthy digestive system. Good sources of dietary fibre include fruits and vegetables, lentils and legumes, and whole grains. Therefore, dietary causes of constipation are more likely a result of very high intakes of animal foods (such as meat and dairy products) and a very low intake of plant-based foods (fruits and vegetables, lentils and legumes, and whole grains).

Dairy Foods are important to talk about as it is such a big part of children’s diet. Dairy foods contain plenty of important nutrients including protein, calcium and vitamin K2. However, one important nutrient they tend to lack is fibre. A diet that is very high in dairy foods, and therefore replacing high fibre foods, could be contributing to constipation. There is also some speculation around the proteins found in cow’s milk and if they may be responsible for causing constipation in children. However, there is limited research to support this claim. If you do suspect your child may be experiencing constipation due to dairy products, it may be worth having an allergy test for cow’s milk protein.

Another food group that is a big part of our diet is processed grains. Unlike whole grains, processed grains provide minimal amounts of dietary fibre. These foods include white bread, white rice, pastries, cakes, sweet biscuits and potato chips. These foods are also often high in sugar and calories and do not provide much nutritional benefit. Wholegrain food sources include oats, brown rice, barley and wholegrain bread and pasta. Increasing our intake of whole grains can help reduce our risk of constipation.

Similar to dairy foods, red meat is also a poor source of dietary fibre. A very high intake of red meat and other animal products can lead to a lower intake of foods that are high in fibre, such as fruits and vegetables. Although red meat contains many other important nutrients, including protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, it’s important to also include plenty of plant-based foods in your diet to ensure you are getting enough fibre. So, good bowel habits and a balanced diet in children can help with constipation and ease those difficult moments and stress. If there are any medical issues involved, it is important to seek medical support at a children’s health clinic in Melbourne.

Written by;

Dr Raj Khillan, Paediatrician

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