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THE QUESTION

What can I do to have more bowel movements? I eat a high-fibre diet filled with whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables, but I only have movements once every two days. Am I constipated? What am I doing wrong?

THE ANSWER

Having a bowel movement every two days does not necessarily mean you are constipated. Normal bowel frequency varies widely between people. However, if you normally have one every day – or you have difficulty passing stools – then you are probably experiencing constipation.

How much fibre do I need?

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The fact you eat plenty of whole grains and fruits and vegetables is great. But you may not be getting as much fibre as you think – or the right type

  • Women aged 19 to 50 need 25 grams of fibre each day and men need 38 grams.
  • After 50, women require 21 gram of fibre each day and men require 30 grams.

What type of fibre should I be eating?

The kind of fibre that helps treat and prevent constipation is called insoluble fibre. It’s found in wheat bran, whole grains, certain fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds. In the intestinal tract, insoluble fibre retains water, helping to form larger, heavier and softer stools that are easy to pass.

  • For breakfast, have half to one cup of 100-per-cent bran cereal (12 to 24 grams of fibre). Do this most days of the week. If you don’t want to eat an entire bowl of bran, mix a half-cup of bran cereal into your usual cereal. You can also add bran cereal to smoothies.
  • Make sure you eat a bran cereal made from wheat bran (e.g. Kellogg’s All Bran Original, Fibre One Original), not psyllium. Pysllium, a soluble fibre, functions differently in the body than insoluble fibre, making it less effective at treating constipation. In fact, increasing your intake of soluble fibre can make you feel worse by causing you to feel bloated.

Assess your daily water intake, too. Fibre needs water to do its job properly, so not drinking enough fluids can contribute to constipation. Drink 2.2 to three litres of fluid each day. Drink one to two cups of water with high-fibre meals.

Some people find prunes help keep them regular. Prunes contain dihydroxyphenyl isatin, a natural compound that has laxative properties. Eat four dried or stewed prunes as a snack. Or, add prune juice to your diet. For a morning bowel movement, drink six ounces of prune juice at bedtime. If the evening is preferred, drink prune juice at breakfast.

You might also consider taking a daily probiotic supplement. There is some evidence that probiotics – live bacteria naturally present in the digestive tract – may improve constipation, at least in people with irritable bowel syndrome. Look for a supplement that contains both lactobacillus and bifidobacteria strains.

One final tip: As much as possible, try to eat at regular intervals during the day. Sticking to a regular schedule helps to promote bowel motility.

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Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel’sDirect (www.lesliebeck.com).

Click here to submit your questions. Our Health Experts will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail’s Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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