We remind ourselves every time we feel awkward in the office bathroom: Everyone poops.
But then again, there are times when, well, not everyone can.
We’ve all been backed up at some point. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, constipation is defined by spending time struggling on the toilet, unusually hard number-twos, and/or going fewer than three times in a week.
“Even though most people don’t like to talk about it, regularity is really important for digestive health as well as detoxification,” says Robin Foroutan M.S., R.D.N., H.H.C., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition Dietetics. So let’s talk about it.
Constipation can be caused by anything from the foods we consume, to hormonal troubles, to supplements and medications, says Niket Sonpal M.D. Sonpal recommends first adjusting your diet to promote smoother moves. Check with your doctor if you’re constipated regularly, but if you’re in a bind and need something asap, here are eight foods and beverages that might help move things along.
Drinking water may sound like a no-brainer, but according to Sonpal, one of the most common causes of constipation is dehydration. When you’re well-hydrated, available water can be drawn into your colon and help get your gut going, he explains.
Sonpal recommends drinking around eight glasses of water per day. Whenever your lips or mouth feel dry, it’s time to grab a glass. And if water is too bland for your taste buds, try adding sliced lemon or fruits like strawberries to your glass or water bottle for a hint of flavor.
So many of our nutritional struggles can be answered by fruits and veggies, and they may also be the answer to your gotta-poop prayers. Thank you, fiber. “Fiber is an insoluble, indigestible compound in our food that later helps to bulk up our stool,” says Sonpal.
Foroutan recommends trying nomming on high-fiber foods like non-starchy vegetables, leafy greens, prunes, and pears. A half-cup of prunes contains about six grams of fiber, while one large pear contains seven grams, according to USDA. (The U.S. dietary guidelines recommend adults get 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day.)
Another fiber-filled food group that might solve toilet troubles: nuts and seeds. Pumpkin seeds, for example, contain four and a half grams of fiber in a quarter cup.
One of the biggest constipation-busters in this category also happens to be the most itty-bitty of seeds: Chia seeds. With more than five grams of fiber per tablespoon, chia seeds soak up tons of water, and can help bulk up your number-two, says Foroutan.
Your morning cuppa Joe and some varieties of tea can get your bowels going. These popular bevvies stimulate contractions and reflexes in your GI system, which is why they tend to make you go soon after you finish your cup, says Sonpal.
Sonpal recommends teas like Traditional Medicinal’s Smooth Move tea, which uses natural ingredients like chai spices, dried fruits, and ginger that may help support digestion. Smooth Move, and teas like it, incorporate a plant called senna, which is often used as a natural laxative.
Just don’t guzzle coffee by the pot. “While coffee can help keep you regular, too much can dehydrate you and actually make you constipated,” says Sonpal. Everyone tolerates caffeine differently, so keep an eye on how java makes you feel.
This wonderful plant can do more than soothe scorched shoulders in the summer. Aloe vera juice can be beneficial for the digestive track and promote regularity, says Foroutan.
When your poo needs an extra push, Foroutan recommends upping your intake of healthy fats, which help promote regularity. The fats in avocados and olive oil help to soften up your stool for a less strained meeting with the porcelain throne.
One of the most commonly-recommended and recognized food sources of probiotics, yogurt is a good go-to breakfast or snack when you just can’t go.
The live organisms we call probiotics help us digest food—literally keeping our GI tracts on track, ha!—and prevent food-borne illness, says the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
If you’re lactose intolerant or just freaked out by yogurt (it’s a consistency thing, we hear you), Foroutan recommends trying fermented foods like sauerkraut or pickles, which also contain probiotics.
If you’re feeling like takeout, opting for a spicy dish may help snap your system back into action.
Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers, for example, can get your bowels going, says Sonpal. So if you’re a lover of all things heat, go ahead and order that ghost pepper salsa. If spicy foods aren’t usually your thing, though, don’t go too crazy, warns Sonpal. You may find your constipation has shifted straight to diarrhea. Wonderful.
Pin this handy infographic for the next time you just can’t go…