There’s no need to dance around it: Being constipated feels awful! Your belly becomes a bloated bulb, your gas is extra smelly, and every time you try to find relief, all you get is an engorged forehead vein. So if you’re feeling blocked up, it makes sense that you’d take something to help your digestion along.
But unless your healthcare provider gives you the thumbs up, that probably shouldn’t be an over-the-counter laxative. “These can throw your electrolytes out of balance, causing symptoms like muscle soreness, fatigue, and generalized weakness,” says Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, DC, founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com, and author of the best-selling book KETO DIET. “Overuse of laxatives has also been tied to more serious side effects, including liver damage, kidney failure, and even rhabdomyolysis, which is the breakdown of muscle tissues.”
Thankfully, your bowels don’t need medication to unclog. “Natural laxatives can support regularity just as well, without all the negative side effects associated with over-the-counter laxatives,” says Dr. Axe. In fact, many so-called ‘natural laxatives’ are just high-fiber foods you probably already have in your fridge and pantry, he says.
Incorporating these real foods in your everyday diet is an especially effective solution if you’re routinely googling “what is a laxative” or hunting for constipation relief. “If someone is experiencing chronic constipation, once we decide it’s not caused by a medical condition or medication, the first place to look is their fiber intake,” says Keri Gans M.S., R.D.N. certified yoga instructor and owner of Keri Gans Nutrition. “Fiber is well-known to encourage stool regularly. Not getting the recommended 25 grams a day of fiber can lead to constipation.”
So the next time you’re straining on the toilet, try one of these 12 natural laxative foods. Or better yet, include some into your daily diet and say goodbye to constipation for good!
Prunes have an image issue, which is why dietitians have started calling them “dried plums.” Whatever you call them, though, they do as they’re rumored to do: help you go. With 2 grams of fiber per serving (usually about 3 prunes), Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, Spokesperson for the California Avocado Commission and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table, “Many people will attest that a serving of dried plums a day keeps the laxatives away.”
Prunes also have a naturally occurring sugar-alcohol called sorbitol, which, she explains, “is poorly absorbed by the body and therefore the body wants to expel it.” Eat a few on their own, mix them into your yogurt, or add some prune juice to your smoothies.
Ah, roughage. Sweet, sweet roughage. Dark leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard, spinach, and cabbage are dense with indigestible fiber—usually around 2 grams per cup. Dr. Axe says leafy greens also contain high levels of magnesium and water, both of which naturally soften stool, too.
At about 30 calories per cup, leafy greens are also one of the lowest-calorie laxative foods on the list. And cooking it doesn’t change its fiber content, so experiment with tossing, sautéing, and even grilling them in different ways.
You know this: Fruit is a fibrous food group. But certain fruits like berries, apples, pears, and mangos are particularly high in fiber, with 5 to 8 grams of fiber per serving. “Many people think fruit is only good for constipation when eaten fresh, but that’s actually not true,” says Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Smart Healthy Living. “Frozen and dried fruits are just as effective.”
Dried fruits like figs, apricots, and the aforementioned prunes may actually be extra effective because they’re extra high in sugar, which can get the digestive tract grooving, she says.
Dark leafy greens may take the crown, but Miller says other vegetables like corn, carrots, and artichokes are also great sources of fiber. “Frozen, fresh, or canned, getting at least three servings of vegetables a day, can keep you regular,” says Miller. Serving size varies from vegetable to vegetable, so use the American Heart Association’s serving size chart to figure out what a portion is.
Cereal lovers to the front. Bran, a high-fiber part of the oat grain, can be eaten by the spoonful, but it kind of tastes like dirt. Luckily, according to Taub-Dix, “because it’s high in soluble and insoluble fiber, it’s also found in many high fiber cereals.”Her recommendation? “Pair a bowl of Fiber One or All Bran with a big glass of water or cup of coffee to get things moving in the morning.”
How much fiber is in each one serving of bran-based cereal will depend on the brand. When choosing a cereal, read the label and try to buy one with 8 to 10 grams of fiber per bowl.
RELATED: Your guide to the anti-inflammatory diet that heals your gut.
Ever gotten your head stuck between the rungs on a staircase? Or your hand stuck in a jar? If yes (or you’ve seen that one Full House episode), you know oil is usually the fix when things are stuck. Taub-Dix explains: “The oil makes you slippery, so you can slip out of wherever you’re stuck.” Well, “that’s more or less what happens to your stool when you eat oil.” It lubes up your bowels, helping the stool pass through more seamlessly. And, “because of the fat content of the oil, may help make your stools softer,” she says.
One tablespoon of the stuff should do the trick, says Taub-Dix. But don’t worry, you don’t have to take it straight: use it in your salad dressing, on your roasting pan, or you can mix it into a glass of OJ.
“Castor oil is also used to combat constipation,” says Dr. Axe. In addition to being a high-fat oil, like olive oil, “it contains something called ricinoleic acid, which is thought to motivate the muscles in the intestinal tract to move,” he explains.
One study published in Complementary Therapies In Clinical Practices found it was effective for controlling symptoms of constipation (more specifically decreasing the strain required to pass stools and aiding in the feeling of complete evacuation) even in patients who had been struggling with irregular stools for over a decade. To try it, down a tablespoon.
You’ve probably heard eating probiotics can be good for digestion. Well, according to Dr.Axe, that includes helping to relieve symptoms of constipation. “By regulating the good bacteria in your gut, probiotics can improve stool regularity and consistency,” he says. Fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, tempeh, natto, kraut, or kimchi are rich in probiotics, and consumed daily, can promote regularity, he says.
He warns: When you first introduce fermented foods into your diet, you may experience bloating. So start by eating half the recommended serving and gradually working up to a full serving.
Another option: take a probiotic supplement, which one review published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found were effective at relieving symptoms associated with IBS, like constipation.
If you’re looking for a supplement that might do the trick, take magnesium citrate instead of a laxative. “Magnesium draws water into the intestinal tract, which helps loosen stools and therefore helps with constipation,” says registered dietician Amy Chow, founder of BC Dietitians Directory.
The supplement comes in an oral solution and tablet form. If you’re using it to make a bowel movement happen ASAP, opt for the oral solution form. If, however, you’re looking for a daily supplement, choose tablet form.
Especially when consumed in the morning, any hot beverages can help you stop, drop, and plop, according to registered dietitian, Diana Gariglio-Clelland RD with Balance One Supplement, who explains that the heat stimulates the digestive tract. But a cup of senna tea (made from the senna herb) is particularly effective, she says, and a must for non-coffee drinks. In fact, it’s an FDA-approved natural laxative.
Did you know failure to sip Mother Earth’s juice all day long can lead to clogged pipes? “Being dehydrated can make your stool hard, and therefore harder to pass,” says Chow. “Drinking more water throughout the day is a quick fix for constipation,” she says.
Guzzling more water is especially important if you recently added more high-fiber foods to your diet to combat constipation. “Adding fiber to your diet without also adding water can actually make your symptoms worse,” she says.
OK, this is something you do, not something you take. But if you’ve ever been in the middle of a run and suddenly had to go, like, yesterday, you’ll understand why it’s on the list. “Moving your body can literally encourage intestinal motility,” according to Miller, who says: “Daily physical activity is key for digestive regularity.”
Don’t worry, you don’t need to start marathon training to find relief, a daily walk, hike, or yoga flow are usually enough to get things moving, she says.