Can Plant-Based Food Make You Constipated?

Most people think vegans have no problem going to the toilet. Constipation is not a common discussion point on most vegan/plant based message boards. But it does happen sometimes. So can plant-based food make you constipated? Let’s look a little closer …

Can Plant-Based Food Make You Constipated?

 For most people, plant based food will not make you constipated due to the high fibre content of this kind of diet. Dietary fibre usually has the opposite effect although there are some people for whom this is not the lived experience. 

Plasticine man sitting on the toilet.

Many of us have endured it at some point in our lives and know that constipation is no fun. Sitting on the pan for what feels like an eternity and passing just a little pellet, if you’re lucky, is not the way things are supposed to work.

A healthy digestive process should result in 1-3 decent movements every day. Any less than this and you’re entering the realms of constipation. If you’re only passing once every 3 days or so then the situation needs addressing.

Constipation is rarely life-threatening but can lead to other complications which may translate into more serious ailments. A rectal prolapse, for example, is an extremely painful condition which is not something anyone should have to go through!

Related: Are You Constipated On a Vegan Diet?

Why Am I Not Pooping On a Plant-Based Diet?

Lower fat intake, not enough (or too much!) fibre and not enough water can all be reasons you’re not pooping on a plant based diet. Food sensitivities could also be a culprit. Gluten, for example, can be tolerated badly in the gut leading to constipation and other digestive issues.

Fat is worth looking at a little closer. Shifting to a plant based diet can often mean a significant lowering of your fat intake. Dairy and many meats tend to be high in fat … and it’s not good fat.

Less fatty foods passing through the GI tract means less lubrication and it can slow the passage of the stool. If you think your fat intake is low, try increasing the good fats in your plant based regimen. Avocados especially are a great source of good fats.

Another problem could be that you’re eating too much junky type food …

Vegan ‘Junk Food’ Could Be The Problem

Dirty burger with a glass of beer.

‘Plant based’ is the buzzword of the moment and it’s no secret that thousands of people are switching to a vegan diet on a daily basis. Incidentally, veganism is not actually a diet but many have conflated it with the plant based craze.

Although that’s another article!

The food marketing industry has not let this situation pass them by. All the big supermarkets now have sizeable plant based ranges and with this explosion in choice comes the inevitable rise of the ‘junk food vegan’.

Now don’t get me wrong. Before you go off your head swearing at me because you think I’m preaching at you to avoid junk food, just know that is not what we’re discussing here.

Oh … sorry … I forgot this isn’t Twitter 😉

Just because it’s plant based, doesn’t mean it’s not junk food. There are plenty of people who decide to go plant based for whatever reasons, replacing the meat and dairy with ultra processed food (UPF) labelled ‘plant-based’.

Some of these products have almost no real nutritional value, just like their non-vegan counterparts. It’s not uncommon for people to experience problems with digestion when consuming a lot of these types of foods.

So too much plant based junk food can result in constipation and it’s best to try and limit your consumption of UPF, in all its forms.

Focus on fresh vegetables and fruit for a more comfortable tummy!

What We Need Is More Veg!

Basket of fresh veg.

‘Plant based’ covers a wide variety of foods but, as mentioned above, it doesn’t mean a product is automatically healthy. As plant based junk food becomes ever more ubiquitous, so do the stomach complaints!

If you’re new to veganism or even if you just want to eat less meat and dairy, the general advice is to eat a good varied mix of fresh vegetables and fruit along with pulses, beans and seeds. All of these foods are high in fibre.

Dietary fibre is key to keeping the digestion functioning optimally. Most people these days do not get enough in their diet. However, you can get too much of a good thing and overdo it so it’s a bit of a balancing act.

Annoyingly enough, the symptoms of too much fibre are similar to those seen when ingesting too little so it can be difficult to diagnose. Seek the help of a professional nutritionist if you’re in any doubt.

Having said all that, since going vegan and making sure we eat lots of fresh veg, I can honestly say I’ve never had a problem with constipation. Regular as clockwork.

Even before that I was veggie for twenty years or so and rarely experienced a problem. Again, we ate fresh veg almost every day during this time.

A Balanced Plant Based Diet Shouldn’t Cause Constipation

Close up of a woman's flat tummy.

Due to the high fibre content in most plant based diets, the majority of people will fare well following this regimen. Constipation and other digestive problems rarely become a problem for vegans and plant based followers.

Listening to your body, if you feel it is your plant based diet giving you grief down below then first try to establish if you could be eating too much fibre. If you are and you’re also drinking lots of water then this can exacerbate the problem.

It’s well known that a large intake of water combined with too much dietary fibre can compound to make the problem worse. Any fibrous material stuck in the GI tract can swell up with the water and make the blockage more severe.

It’s a kind of feedback loop where your constipation prompts you to drink more water (as the advice is common on this) which in turn makes the problem worse.

In reality it’s quite difficult to eat a low-fibre plant based diet especially because it entails consuming quite a bit of highly processed food. The processing of the flour tends to remove the fibre in white bread, for example.

I’m by no means a medical professional. If you have concerns it’s best to seek the professional help of a registered nutritionist or visit your medical centre.

 

I hope this article has helped you answer your question. If so please share with your friends. If you’d like to leave a comment you’re most welcome to do so below.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Rohan.

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