Diet and Bowel Health



Fiber helps to relieve constipation

Constipation occurs when small amounts of hard, dry stools are unable to pass through the colon.  Bowel movements may become both difficult and painful as you attempt to push out the stool.

Diet advice: The most common cause of constipation is a low-fiber diet. Fiber, mostly found it fruits, vegetables and grains, is a nutrient that your body is unable to digest. Soluble fiber dissolves easily in water and takes on a soft, gel-like texture which helps promote regular bowel movements and prevents constipation. If you suffer from constipation, include more fiber in your diet – 30 to 35g.

Liquids also help to reduce constipation by adding bulk to stools.  Liquids make bowel movements softer and easier to pass.  Caffeine, coffee and soft drinks all seem to have a dehydrating effect and often worsen constipation.

Laxatives are sometimes used to treat constipation because these can cause contractions in the colon and force bowel movements.  However, excessive use of laxatives causes nerve damage and interferes with the colon’s natural ability to contract.  Eventually the body becomes unable to have a bowel movement without the use of a laxative. Therefore, laxatives are rarely recommended for constipation relief.


Diarrhea occurs when stools become loose and watery, making your trips to the restroom frequent. Although diarrhea can be a symptom for more serious problems, usually it is caused by a food intolerance, bacteria or parasite.

Diet advice: Lactose, the enzyme found in dairy products, is a common food intolerance that causes diarrhea.  Many people will develop a case of diarrhea soon after drinking a glass of milk or having a bowl of ice cream. Fortunately, there are now products like Lactaid which you can take prior to consuming dairy products. Lactaid breaks down lactose in your body so you can enjoy dairy products without any side effects.

In general, it is best to avoid dairy products during a bout of diarrhea regardless of whether or not you are lactose intolerant.  French fries, onion rings, and any other greasy food are also not recommended when you have diarrhea.

Although fiber eases constipation, it worsens diarrhea as your body is unable to digest this nutrient; therefore, it is advisable to stay away from high-fiber foods. Sweets and sugars are also best left in the cabinets when you have diarrhea as they increase the frequency of restroom trips.

As your symptoms improve, try to stick to soft, bland foods.  Bananas, rice, boiled potatoes, toast, crackers, cooked carrots and baked skinless, fatless chicken can be helpful during the onset of diarrhea.

Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease is an immune disease characterized by an intolerance of the protein gluten.  When gluten products are consumed, celiac disease causes the immune system to attack and damage the small intestine. This hinders your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients in food.

Gluten products include wheat (spelt, tritcale, kamut), rye, barley, grains, pasta, cereal and oats and is also present in the additives, preservatives, and stabilizers found in processed foods, medicines and mouthwash.

Diet advice: Some companies make gluten-free breads and pastas so sufferers of Celiac disease can still enjoy these foods.  Potato, rice, soy or bean flour can also be used instead of wheat flour when cooking.  Plain meat, fish, rice, fruits and vegetables are completely gluten free, so it’s good to have these items often.

Colon cancer

Too much red meat can increase your risk for colon cancer

Colon cancer is caused by small pre-cancerous polyps that develop in the colon wall.  As the polyps grow larger, a tumor forms.  The process can take many years, allowing time for early detection with colon cancer screenings.

Your risk for colon cancer is partially dependant on genetics.  If someone in your immediate family has been diagnosed, your likelihood of cancer development is greater than someone without a family history of the disease.

Diet advice: The best way to prevent cancer is to eat and live well.  A diet rich in calcium, folate found in fruits and vegetables, and folic acid found in enriched grains and cereals can reduce your risk. You can also reduce your risk by exercising. Exercising even a small amount can reduce polyp growth.

Smoking, drinking red wine, consuming red meat and neglecting screenings can increase your risk for colon cancer if someone in your immediate family has been diagnosed.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the intestines that causes cramping, bloating, gassiness, and changes in bowel habits.  Some people with IBS have constipation, others have diarrhea, while some experience both.

Diet advice: The best way to keep IBS in check is to keep a food journal as certain foods may trigger your IBS.  As you begin to realize which foods cause you discomfort, you can eliminate them and ease your IBS symptoms.

Dietary fiber may lessen symptoms. By maintaining a high fiber diet you will have regular bowel movements and possibly delay IBS episodes.  Whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, fruits and vegetables are all good sources of dietary fiber.

A low-fat, high carbohydrate diet is recommended for people with IBS.  This diet will help reduce colonic contractions after a meal.  Meats, poultry skin, whole milk, cream, cheese, butter, vegetable oil, margarine, shortening, and whipped toppings can all cause strong colonic contractions and increase IBS symptoms.

Crohn’s Disease

Maintaing a food journal can help you identify IBD triggers

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that occurs when the immune system responds inappropriately to food, bacteria and minerals in the intestine by mistaking them for foreign substances.  This causes the body to send white blood cells into the lining of the intestine, causing inflammation.

Diet advice: Crohn’s disease often causes a reduction in appetite, which can be problematic because during flare-ups an increase in caloric intake is necessary.  Maintaining a well-balanced diet is essential to reducing symptoms and replacing lost nutrients.

Diarrhea is the most common sign of active Crohn’s disease and most people find that soft, bland foods may cause less discomfort than high-fiber or spicy foods.

As with IBS, most people find it helpful to maintain a food journal.  This way you will be able to find which foods trigger your Crohn’s.

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is another type of IBD.  Ulcerative colitis is characterized by inflammation and ulceration of the innermost lining of the colon.  Tiny ulcers form on the lining of the colon as the immune system reacts improperly to ingested food, bacteria and minerals.  The ulcers bleed and secrete pus and mucous, making the colon empty frequently.

Diet advice: Ulcerative colitis is very similar to Crohn’s disease. Diet is extremely important to reducing the diarrhea and abdominal pain associated with Crohn’s.

Eat bland foods and cooked vegetables when the disease is active and keep a food journal to determine which foods worsen your colitis symptoms.

Decreasing intestinal cramping

If you suffer from IBS or and IBD these tips may help ease your flare ups and decrease intestinal cramping after eating.

  • Eat frequent small meals instead of spaced-out large meals.
  • Reduce cream sauces, fried foods, greasy foods, pork, butter and margarine as these all can cause diarrhea.
  • If you are lactose intolerant, limit your consumption of dairy products.
  • Stay away from or restrict your intake of nuts, seeds, corn, popcorn and other high-fiber foods.

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