Constipation is a taboo subject for many people. If you’re too embarrassed to discuss it, know that you are far from alone. Constipation affects about 14% of adults in the United States and accounts for an astounding 3.2 million medical visits every year. It’s a common and widespread issue. Nobody wants to talk about it, but for the sake of our health, maybe it’s time we opened a dialogue.
Americans spend three-quarters of a billion dollars on laxatives every year, and it’s not helping. Pharmaceutical laxatives and stool softeners often make constipation worse. Laxative overuse can lead to dependency, making it difficult or impossible to have a bowel movement without using strong laxatives. Over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives also tend to produce some serious side effects including abdominal cramps, dehydration, dizziness, low blood pressure, electrolyte imbalance, and bloody stool.[3, 4]
A better plan is to incorporate foods into your diet that have a natural laxative effect. While pharmaceutical laxatives tend to result in explosive emergencies, these foods produce a mild laxative effect. They won’t send you sprinting for the restroom, but if you incorporate a few of them into your daily diet, they should keep things moving so regularly that laxatives become completely unnecessary. Even better, these foods don’t come with the unpleasant side effects that make constipation more miserable than it needs to be.
22 Natural Laxative Foods
High-fiber foods, like fruits, vegetables, and beans, support gut health and promote regularity. In addition to a high-fiber diet, look for foods that can stimulate the digestive system, encourage enzyme activity, or assist in detoxification. When possible, consume foods that are organic, pesticide-free, seasonal, and fresh. Avoid big-box grocery retailers and look to your local farmer’s market or organic produce store for the healthiest raw fruits and vegetables.
Each of the following 15 foods produces a natural laxative effect without the unwanted side effects of OTC laxatives. These foods can help relieve common symptoms of constipation, as well as many other gastrointestinal issues. Before you start taking laxatives or stool softeners, try incorporating more of these laxative foods into your diet. You will be surprised at how well they work. Here is a list of 22 of the best laxative foods and drinks.
1. Prunes and Plums
We might as well start off with the fruit that’s most famous for its laxative properties. Recognized as “nature’s laxative,” prunes and plums are naturally rich in antioxidants, vitamin A, potassium, and iron. They are especially high in dietary fiber, which is what gives them their relieving properties. Prunes also promote the health of beneficial bacteria in the gut, making them a great addition to any colon-cleansing diet. Prunes are one of the best laxative foods for babies, but remember that you shouldn’t give solid food to infants under four months old.[7, 8]
You can also try prune juice, but be sure to read the ingredients label and get one that’s made only from prunes and water. Avoid anything with added sugar.
Bananas are high in pectin, a soluble fiber that normalizes bowel function. This makes them a natural bulk-producing laxative, and a great way to promote easy digestion. Since bananas have a high potassium content, eating a banana a day will help restore valuable electrolytes to your intestinal tract. Bananas also contain a natural compound called fructooligosaccharide, which can help beneficial bacteria proliferate in your large intestine.
Be sure the bananas you pick are fully ripe. Unripe bananas contain heavy starches and can cause constipation.
An apple has as much dietary fiber as a bowl of bran, and it tastes a lot better. The high pectin content stimulates the bowels and provides bulk for breezier bowel movements. If you’re looking for laxative foods for children and toddlers, apples are a good choice. While your little ones might shy away from prunes, a sweet, tasty apple is usually an easy sell.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar
Speaking of apples, don’t forget apple cider vinegar (ACV). ACV contains acetic acid, which helps food break down more efficiently in your stomach. I recommend only raw organic apple cider vinegar as it still has the “mother of vinegar,” the living nutrients and bacteria that provide the bulk of ACV’s health-promoting properties.
High in antioxidants, berries rank among my favorite foods. They also help relieve constipation with their high dietary fiber content. I recommend consuming the following berries during any colon cleanse and on a daily basis afterwards — blueberries, strawberries, bilberries, cranberries, blackberries, goji berries, and acai berries. If you opt for berry juice, make sure that it contains only natural ingredients and no added sugar.
6. Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is one of the oldest and most popular medicinal plants known to man. The bulk of the aloe vera leaf is filled with a gel that contains beneficial vitamins, minerals, amino acids, phytonutrients, and enzymes.
Avoid “whole leaf” or “outer leaf” aloe products — these contain aloe latex, a bitter yellow liquid derived from the skin of the aloe leaf. Aloe latex is a very harsh laxative, and can cause cramping. What you want is inner leaf aloe, a much more mild laxative. Inner leaf aloe juice or high-quality supplements are readily available.
Ginger is one of the best laxative spices and has been an important ingredient in traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Indian medicine (and cuisine) for hundreds of years. The piquant root is known for effectively relieving gastrointestinal distress, which is why many commercial laxatives contain ginger extracts. Dried ginger is also an ingredient in many laxative teas. Ginger works by relaxing the intestinal tract, allowing elimination to proceed smoothly.
Like ginger, turmeric has a long history of culinary and medicinal use in many Eastern cultures. It gets both its rich golden color and its healing properties from a natural phytochemical compound called curcumin. Clinical trials have found that curcumin can have a tremendously positive effect on many gastrointestinal issues, including irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.
9. Bitter Melon
Bitter melon, also known as goya, bitter gourd, and balsam-pear, is a vegetable grown in tropical regions around the world and appreciated for its health-boosting properties. It is less known in the United States, but if you can find it, I recommend giving it a try. Loaded with beneficial phytochemicals and nutrients, constipation relief is just one of bitter melon’s many uses. The vegetable is also used for eczema, weight loss, kidney stones, liver issues, and dozens of other applications.
10. Leafy Green Vegetables
When you are ready to detox your body, fill your refrigerator with kale, spinach, dandelion greens, alfalfa, chard, mustard greens, arugula, or other dark leafy greens. Why? They act as natural laxatives and are high in dietary fiber, calcium, folic acid, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and K. These essential nutrients aid your digestion and overall health.
Tomatoes are great laxative foods, rich in fiber and vitamins A, C, and K. Additionally, they are very high in lycopene, an antioxidant that helps protect you from developing colon cancer and prostate cancer. If possible, I recommend buying locally-grown, organic tomatoes.
Avocados are packed with beneficial nutrients such as dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin K, and folate. If you eat one avocado a day, it will provide you with approximately 30% of your daily fiber needs. Furthermore, avocados contain an antioxidant called lutein along with vitamin E, magnesium, and healthy monounsaturated fats. Avocado also improves the absorption of nutrients from other foods.
13. Coconut Oil
In animal studies, researchers have discovered that coconut oil may help protect the colon and digestive tract from damage, keeping your primary route of elimination clear and in good health. Look for raw, organic extra virgin coconut oil. This assures that it's unrefined and contains no harsh chemicals or genetically modified additives.
Legumes like beans and peas are one of the very best laxative foods. They aid digestion, are high in fiber, and are low in both fat and cholesterol.
15. Raw Seeds and Nuts
Incorporate more raw seeds and nuts into your diet. Not only are they delicious, seeds and nuts are rich in fiber, vitamin E, protein, zinc and other essential nutrients. Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, cedar nuts, and sunflower seeds are all great choices.[2, 20]
High in pectin, they add bulk to stool and can stimulate bowel contractions. If you’re eating carrots to help relieve constipation, eat them raw. Raw carrots are more effective at relieving constipation than cooked.
Extremely high in antioxidants and fiber, broccoli can help stimulate detoxification enzymes in the digestive tract. Broccoli sprouts are more effective than the fully-grown vegetable, containing a higher concentration of beneficial nutrients.[7, 21]
Eating cauliflower will increase the amount of glucosinolate in your system, which supports the production of enzymes in the liver. These liver enzymes help flush carcinogens and other toxins from your body. There are many excellent cauliflower recipes to help you add this great-tasting veggie to your diet.
Much like other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, eating cabbage helps flush out toxins and soften stool for easier bowel movements. To maximize the potential of cabbage, consume it as kimchi or sauerkraut for the probiotic benefits. Speaking of probiotics...
20. Probiotic Foods
Every normal, healthy human gut is home to around 100 trillion beneficial microorganisms. Together, these organisms are called your microbiota, and they are critical to your gastrointestinal system and overall health. Fermented foods help stock your system with these beneficial bacteria. Consuming plenty of probiotic foods keeps your microbiota healthy, aids digestion, and eases constipation. Kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut are all excellent examples of probiotic foods.[22, 23]
Watermelon isn’t just a classic summertime treat; it’s a great healing food as well. The large fruit contains high levels of dietary fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, and B6. Chinese traditional medicine prescribes watermelon as a mild laxative. Watermelon is also, of course, a great source of water — 92% by volume.[24, 25] As for why that's important, read on.
Last, but most definitely not least, don’t forget to hydrate! Drinking plenty of purified water is one of the best natural ways to relieve constipation. Water is vital to all bodily functions and makes up 60-80% of your body weight. It helps moisten the intestines, regulating bowel flow. Imagine going down a waterslide, then imagine trying to go down that same slide dry, and you’ll see how important water is for easy bowel movements.
Drink half your body weight in ounces every day. In other words, if you weigh 180 lbs, you need at least 90 oz of water daily. Be sure to add more if you’re doing anything that makes you sweat. Healthy liquids, like detox water and coconut water count toward this total, but skip soft drinks, energy drinks, alcoholic beverages, caffeinated beverages, and fruit juice with added sugar — those all dehydrate you.
Foods That Cause Constipation
Now that we’ve gone through such trouble to incorporate all these laxative food into your diet let’s not undo our hard work. There are some foods that cause constipation. If you are prone to irregularity, avoid ice cream, cheese, meat, and processed foods. Caffeine can also trigger constipation in people with irritable bowel syndrome. Those with IBS should avoid caffeinated products like coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate.
A Word of Caution on Laxatives for Weight Loss
Many people ask me about the best laxative foods for weight loss. I would like to remind you that pharmaceutical laxatives, should never be taken for weight loss. They simply don’t work that way, and trying to do so can cause serious issues. Abusing laxatives this way is a type of bulimia.[29, 30]
Supplements for Gentle Colon Cleansing
A healthy diet is the safest, easiest, most sustainable way to prevent constipation and support overall health. However, in extreme cases, supplementation can help.
If you still find yourself constipated, then it’s likely the sign of something else. I recommend a full colon cleanse to improve digestion, support colon health, and relieve occasional constipation. Oxy-Powder® is Global Healing Center’s scientifically formulated, all-natural colon cleansing supplement. It uses the power of oxygen to cleanse and detoxify your entire digestive tract.
How do you avoid occasional constipation? Leave a comment below and share your experiences with us.
- Corliss, Julie. "Probiotics May Ease Constipation." Harvard Health Blog. Harvard Medical School, 09 Mar. 2015. Web. 26 June 2017.
- "What You Need to Know: Constipation." University of New Hampshire Health Services. University of New Hampshire, Nov. 2010. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Heller, Jacob, et al. "Laxative Overdose." MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 5 June 2017. Web. 26 June 2017.
- "Use Certain Laxatives with Caution." U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 19 Feb. 2016. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Ehrlich, Steven D. "Constipation." University of Maryland Medical Center. University of Maryland, 19 Dec. 2015. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Futrell, Angel. "Nutrition Research Supports the Benefits of Dried Plums." Texas A&M College of Agriculture Life Sciences. Texas A&M University, 03 June 2015. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Murray, Michael T., Joseph E. Pizzorno, and Lara Pizzorno. "The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods." New York: Time Warner International, 2006. Print.
- Sabater-Molina, M., et al. "Dietary Fructooligosaccharides and Potential Benefits on Health." Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry 65.3 (2009): 315-28. Web. 26 June 2017.
- "Health Benefits of Apples." Office of Child Development. University of Pittsburgh, n.d. Web. 26 June 2017.
- "Apple Cider Vinegar." Go Ask Alice! Colombia University, n.d. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Hinkle, Angela. "The Benefits of Berries." University of Florida Solutions for Your Life. University of Florida, 27 Mar. 2012. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Ehrlich, Steven D. "Aloe." University of Maryland Medical Center. University of Maryland, 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 26 June 2017.
- "Ginger: Boundless Culinary and Medicinal Applications." Bastyr University Health Tips. Bastyr University, 10 Aug. 2009. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Gupta, Subash C., Sridevi Patchva, and Bharat B. Aggarwal. "Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials." The AAPS Journal15.1 (2013): 195–218. PMC. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Ramalingum, Nelvana, and M. Fawzi Mahomoodally. "The Therapeutic Potential of Medicinal Foods." Advances in Pharmacological Sciences 2014 (2014): 354264. PMC. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Adams, Ingrid. "The Health Benefits of Dark Green Leafy Vegetables." Universityh of Kentucky College of Agriculture. University of Kentucky, 2013. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Kralj, Richard. "Health Benefits of Tomatoes." Nutrition, Diet, and Health. Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, 13 Apr. 2017. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Palmer, Jessica. "Avocados Are Packed with Nutrients for Your Health." Healthy UNH. University of New Hampshire, 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 26 June 2017.
- "Coconut Oil and Health." WSU Extension. Washington State University, n.d. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Gall, Alevtina. "Ethiopian Traditional and Herbal Medications and Their Interactions with Conventional Drugs." EthnoMED. University of Washington, 3 Nov. 2009. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Higdon, Jane, et al. "Cruciferous Vegetables." Linus Pauling Institute. Oregon State University, Apr. 2017. Web. 26 June 2017.
- "Health Benefits of Taking Probiotics." Harvard Health. Harvard Medical School, 1 Dec. 2015. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Corliss, Julie. "Probiotics May Ease Constipation." Harvard Health Blog. Harvard Medical School, 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 26 June 2017.
- "Nutrition." Watermelon.org. National Watermelon Board, n.d. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Bentley, Sarah. "Chinese Medicine Nutrition: Benefits of Watermelon." AOMA Blog. AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine, 5 Aug. 2013. Web. 26 June 2017.
- "Constipation." University Health Services. University of California, Berkeley, Feb. 2009. Web. 26 June 2017.
- "Constipation." Stanford Medicine. Stanford School of Medicine, n.d. Web. 26 June 2017.
- "5 Foods to Avoid If Your Have IBS." Johns Hopkins Medicine. The Johns Hopkins University, n.d. Web. 26 June 2017.
- Mitchell, J. E., L. I. Boutacoff, D. Hatsukami, R. L. Pyle, and E. D. Eckert. "Laxative Abuse as a Variant of Bulimia." The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 1986. Web. 26 June 2017.
- "Laxative Abuse: Some Basic Facts." NEDA. National Eating Disorders Association, n.d. Web. 26 June 2017.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.