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Dietary Management Of Constipation And Diarrhoea

Dietary Management Of Constipation And Diarrhoea 

As a person going back and forth between being constipated and having diarrhoea, you may have wondered if there’s any food that can help both problems. The truth is, constipation and diarrhoea, two common gastrointestinal issues, can be due to problems that cannot be resolved with dietary management (food) only.

Severe constipation, resulting from pain or nausea medications, or as a result of digestive conditions like small bowel obstruction, calls for medical intervention. If you experience bloating (abdominal distention), pain, or fever, speak to a doctor immediately; do not attempt to self-medicate with food. 

Even if you have less severe gastrointestinal issues, the first thing you should also do is to speak to a doctor about the problem; they will prescribe medications to help lessen the episodes of constipation and diarrhoea. 

With that aside, you may be thinking that there are certain foods can still help with the management of bowel disorders. Well, there’s good news for you. Though gastrointestinal issues cannot be resolved with food only, the good news is that fibre foods are great for normalising bowel function. 

What you just need to do as a person having any (or both) of these two bowel disorders is to get the right type of fibre (for each condition). Fibre foods are significant for the dietary management of constipation and diarrhoea.

Let’s take a closer look at constipation and diarrhoea, and their dietary management i.e the right type of fibre suitable for each condition.


Discussing bowel movements (poops) may be an embarrassing or uncomfortable topic, but there’s no way constipation (and diarrhoea) can be defined without talking about bowel movements. After all, the frequency of bowel movements and the consistency of poops really reveal a lot of useful figures as regards health and diet.

So, what is constipation? Constipation is infrequent bowel movements with lumpy, dry, or hard stools, occurring less than three times per week. Constipation may be caused by many factors including eating a diet low in fibre, physical inactivity, certain medications, being less active, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), having an irregular meal pattern, and dehydration. This bowel disorder can reduce your appetite and cause discomfort.

Symptoms, which may be long-term or resolve in a short period include bloating, abdominal pain, bloody stools, and a sense of incomplete emptying. In addition, diverticulosis, haemorrhoids, and anal fissures may occur from chronic constipation. 


It is the passing of watery, loose stools more than three times per day. Diarrhoea happens when foods and liquids pass quickly through the bowel before the body has a chance of absorbing water from it. This type of bowel disorder may be caused by infections, treatments, and medications. 

Three types exist; watery, small-volume, fatty (or steatorrhea). Knowing the type may help determine its cause. Let’s give short details on some types to differentiate them. Watery diarrhoea occurs when the number of electrolytes (and water) moving into the intestinal mucosa surpasses the amount absorbed into the blood. 

There are two subtypes of watery diarrhoea – osmotic and secretory, and each can be determined in relativity to fasting. Watery osmotic diarrhoea is relieved by fasting, while watery secretory diarrhoea is not. The former usually accompanies enteral feeding intolerances, lactose intolerance, and dumping syndromes. The latter is a sign of viruses and bacterial enterotoxins. 

Symptoms include dehydration, dry mouth, bloody or black stool, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, insufficient urine production, fever, flatulence, and weight loss. Diarrhoea is a major culprit of dehydration, therefore, you need to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. The best way to replenish fluid and electrolyte loss is by adding soups and broths to your diet.

Dietary management of constipation and diarrhoea: the right type of fibre for both bowel disorders

Regular eating is the best way to regulate and manage your bowels. If you’re fond of skipping meals, especially breakfast, you need to stop it now because it can make you have an irregular or sluggish bowel habit. You may wonder why it is so. This is a result of the body having a natural “gastrocolic” reflex. 

Natural reflex usually occurs after a meal, making you want to go to the toilet, which is a result of making room for more food and fluid to enter your body. Since the reflex is often intense in the morning, having breakfast with a warm drink can further stimulate your body’s natural response and promote the movement of stools via the colon, known as peristalsis, to induce a bowel movement.

As opposed to popular belief, very high-fibre foods are not always best for constipation, regular meals containing high insoluble fibre and a good fluid intake are the real deal. So, if you’re going back and forth between being constipated and having diarrhoea, soluble fibre is good for you.

But if you have constipation only, foods high in insoluble fibre are best for you. And if you have diarrhoea only, ensure you have a low-fibre diet; it reduces the frequency and volume poops, decreasing irritation to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to allow healing. 

What is fibre?

Fibre is food that originates from plants (e.g grains, cereals, seeds, fruits, legumes, and nuts) that when consumed, the body cannot easily or fully digest it. When fibre foods are eaten, it passes through the GI tract into the colon, forming the bulk of the stool. 

Foods that contain fibre are crucial for colon health. Having sufficient fibre is an important aspect of a balanced diet which has many health benefits, including stimulating peristalsis and improving the function of the gut. Fibre plays the following roles in the body;

  • Maintaining the proper function of the muscles in your bowels
  • Adding ‘bulk’ to stools and softening them, making it easier to pass
  • Promoting the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in your bowel to improve gut health

Two main types of fibre can affect bowel functions; they are soluble and insoluble. 

Soluble fibre

It is completely digested by the body and aids in stabilising blood sugar, getting rid of toxins present in the GI tract, and reducing cholesterol. Soluble fibre slows down the movement of waste products through the GI tract and functions as a bulking agent. Foods containing higher amounts of soluble fibre are; 

  • Fruit (especially if eaten with skins or seeds) or dried fruits (such as apricots, sultanas, raisins, and prunes)
  • Vegetables (those eaten with skins or seeds will also contain insoluble fibre)
  • Lentils
  • Oats (for example, in porridge)
  • Beans (for example kidney beans, butter beans, baked beans, etc)
  • Peas 

Foods containing soluble fibre are also less likely to cause bloating than foods containing insoluble fibre. Therefore, adequate amounts of soluble fibre are recommended to make the passage of stools easier and to promote a healthy bowel.

Insoluble fibre 

This type of fibre is not digested by the body and is eliminated as waste. Insoluble fibre promotes bowel regularity and prevents the development of haemorrhoids. Because insoluble fibre absorbs water within the bowel, it makes it harder for any bacteria to break it down in the bowel, hence adding bulks to stools.

The advantage of larger stools with insoluble fibre is that they make it easier for peristalsis movements to push poops through the bowel, making stools softer and easier to pass. Bowels are then opened more regularly. Foods containing higher amounts of insoluble fibre are; 

  • Wheat bran
  • Wholemeal pitta bread
  • Beans and peas (they contain considerable amounts of soluble and insoluble fibre)
  • Rye bread
  • Potatoes cooked in their skins
  • Wholemeal pasta
  • Nuts (all nuts)

Now that you know what fibre is and its types, you may be wondering which is the best. Well, both soluble and insoluble fibre is vital for overall nutrition and good health. However, insoluble fibre can help promote regularity in those who suffer from constipation only. 

On the other hand, soluble fibre is beneficial for those suffering from constipation and diarrhoea. All you need to do is to know the right type of fibre for each bowel disorder. 

Other ways of alleviating constipation include; 

  • Drinking plenty of liquids

Fibre is processed by your body without discomfort when you drink fluids. It is reasonable to aim for eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid per day as a starting point.

  • Adding exercise or physical activity to a daily routine

A natural way to assist constipation is physical activity. But before trying any exercise or physical activity, be sure to discuss it with a medical professional first.  

Other ways of alleviating diarrhoea include; 

  • Avoiding milk and dairy products

Milk and dairy products are required to be avoided by those who are lactose intolerant. 


Fibre is crucial in the dietary management of constipation and diarrhoea when the right type of fibre is taken. For both constipation and diarrhoea, you want to get more soluble fibre like barley, oats, and bran. For constipation only, you’ll need to add some insoluble fibre such as vegetables and fruits. 

Daily fibre supplement is another way to lessen bowel disorders, but their use is not specific. This is because most fibre supplements are mostly made up of soluble fibre, and if you have constipation only, taking fibre supplements may worsen the situation because it can irritate the intestine.

Therefore, speak to a doctor if it is okay to include more fibre in your diet before trying out a supplement. Though fibre supplements are considered safe for almost everybody, some digestive issues may worsen with the inclusion of fibre. 

Do you have any health concerns that need the hearing of a doctor? Book an appointment to speak to one HERE.

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