Foods You Should Never Eat When You're Constipated

When you're constipated, the last thing you want to do is to eat something that could make things worse. There are plenty of foods you can eat to help ease constipation, so it shouldn't be too hard to cut out those that are known to slow digestion and create hardened stools.

Some of these foods need only be avoided when you are constipated, while others may need to be excluded from your diet to prevent future bouts.

Although there's little published research regarding the effects of specific foods on constipation, there are common-sense guidelines to follow if and when constipation strikes.

Anything With White Flour

A loaf of sliced white bread

Ross Durant Photography / Photolibrary / Getty Images

White flour is wheat that has had most of its gut-healthy fiber stripped away. A healthy intake of fiber is essential for keeping your bowels moving smoothly. To help to ease and prevent constipation, avoid foods made from white flour, including:​

  • White sandwich bread or rolls
  • Hamburger buns
  • Bagels
  • Cake 
  • Cookies
  • Pizza dough
  • Flour tortillas
  • Saltines and similar crackers

Processed Meats

A plate full of bacon
Amy Neunsinger / Getty Images

Processed meats can be hard on the digestive system. They almost invariably contain high amounts of fat, which can slow digestion, and low quantities of dietary fiber. Many processed meats also contain nitrates to extend their shelf life, substances thought to contribute to constipation.

When constipated, it is best to avoid processed foods like:

  • Bacon
  • Bologna
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausage
  • Corned beef
  • Beef jerky

Though not without their concerns, processed white meat products like turkey sausage and chicken lunch meat tend to be healthier options than processed red meat.

Fried Foods

A box full of fried chicken
Jobrestful / Getty Images

Like processed meats, fried foods are hard to digest, slowing gastrointestinal motility and contributing to hardened stools. Fried foods, particularly deep-fried foods, are high in saturated fat. Diets high in saturated fat are known to increase constipation, particularly in older adults, compared to diets low in saturated fat, which do not.

To help ease constipation (and possibly prevent it from coming back), make an effort to avoid:

  • French fries
  • Fried chicken
  • Fish and chips
  • Onion rings
  • Donuts
  • Corn dogs
  • Potato chips
  • Fried tortilla chips

Dairy Products

Blocks of cheese on a cutting board

Image Source / Getty Images

Many people report that dairy products make them constipated. This may be due to lactose or other compounds found in dairy. There are also suggestions that milk allergy can promote constipation, particularly in children.

A 2018 study from Australia found that the long-term restriction of lactose and fructose reduced the severity of chronic constipation in a small group of children, suggesting that these natural sugars also play a central role.

When constipated, try to reduce your intake of dairy (especially full-fat dairy). These include:

  • Cheeses (all types)
  • Ice cream
  • Milk
  • Sour cream
  • Custard
  • Yogurt

Once your constipation has eased, try adding a little yogurt back into your diet. Yogurt has gut-healthy probiotics that may help normalize gut bacteria and prevent constipation before it starts.

If you think dairy is causing constipation, try an elimination diet in which you avoid eating dairy for a few weeks to see if symptoms improve.

Red Meat

A hanger steak cut and spread on a cutting board

Brandon Rosenblum / Getty Images

Most doctors will advise you to cut back on red meat to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. More than anything else, red meat contains high amounts of saturated fat that can clog arteries and lead to atherosclerosis. There is also evidence that it promotes constipation.

In the same way saturated fat in fried foods contributes to constipation, eating large quantities of red meat may do the same.

A 2015 study in Neurogastroenterology and Motility reported that the high consumption of saturated fat (defined as over 30 grams per day) is associated with an increased risk of constipation.

To put this into context, one ribeye steak can deliver as many as 28 grams of saturated fat per serving. The researchers suggest that eating this much fat activates the ileal brake, a biological mechanism that slows the emptying of the stomach.

If you are a beef lover, grass-fed beef may be "healthier" than grain-fed beef in that it has as many as 4 fewer grams of fat per 100-gram portion. Even so, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends limiting the intake of red meat, including processed red meat, to one portion per week.

A Word From Verywell

As much as the consumption of certain foods increases your risk of constipation, the lack of dietary fiber contributes as much, if not more. To maintain digestive regularity and improve heart health, women between 31 and 50 should consume 25.2 grams of fiber per day, while men of the same age should consume 30.8 grams daily.

Excellent sources of fiber include whole grains, berries, beans, vegetables, nuts, seeds, avocados, and popcorn.

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