You switched to a paleo diet — lots of veggies, a moderate amount of meat and eggs, a small amount of fruit for dessert, and perhaps some dairy. Good for you. You’re probably healthier than ever before. And now that you’ve gotten off the roller coaster of energy spikes and dips from consuming too much sugar and starch, you’re probably feeling better than ever. Trouble is, now you’re constipated. If this diet is healthier, why isn’t it making you poop healthier, too? And, more importantly, what can you do about it?
What’s Causing My Constipation?
Whenever you drastically change the way you eat, your body needs time to transition how it functions. With the paleo meal plan and lifestyle, the transition may be even more challenging, for several reasons:
- You’re switching your fuel source from sugar (and other simple carbs, such as bread and pasta) to fat.
- You’re probably eating less fiber, especially if you’re loading up on meat and not so much on vegetables or if you’ve switched to a low-carb paleo diet, avoiding certain fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes.
- You’re probably consuming fewer calories, so you have less waste — less poop.
What Can I Do About It?
Fortunately, you can usually cure caveman constipation without giving up your paleo ways. The first step is to understand the composition of healthy poop:
- 75% water
- 7.5% undigested fiber and solidified components of digestive juices
- 7.5% bacteria
- 2.5% to 5% fat
- 2.5% to 5% inorganic matter
- .5% to .75% protein
To alleviate your constipation, you need to give your body, and the microbes that reside in your lower digestive tract, the nutrients they need to produce the ingredients for healthy poops:
- Drink sufficient amounts of fluids. Water is best, but other fluids count, too. Diuretics, such as beverages containing caffeine and alcohol, may be counterproductive.
Eat more plants than animals. If you’re loading up on meat, eggs, and dairy and ignoring veggies, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds, try eating less of the former (animal-based products) and more of the latter (plant-based products). Plant-based foods contain the two types of fiber your body needs:
- Soluble fiber: Soluble fiber absorbs water and turns into gelatinous mush. It slows the absorption of sugar into your system, bulks up your poop, helps to eliminate toxic waste and maintain a healthy pH (acidity) in the intestines, and nourishes the beneficial microbes in your gut. (For more about feeding the friendly microbes, see our previous post, “Restoring Intestinal Flora Leads to a Healthy Gut and Happy Poop.”)
- Insoluble fiber: Insoluble fiber is found in vegetables, fruit and potato skins, seeds, and nuts. It retains a lot of water and helps to keep waste moving through the colon and to control and balance pH, but it’s largely un-fermentable, meaning it’s not the greatest food source for your friendly microbes.
- Take a probiotic. A probiotic consists of live bacteria that can restore or add to your friendly intestinal microbes. You can take a probiotic daily, but more importantly, take a probiotic for several weeks after taking an antibiotic. Probiotics are present in in some foods, including live-cultured yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, miso, and tempeh, and they’re available as supplements.
- Take a prebiotic daily. A prebiotic is soluble fiber that nourishes the microbes already in your digestive tract, in addition to delivering all the other benefits of soluble fiber. Prebiotics are contained in many foods, including beans, vegetables (especially Brussels sprouts, turnips, sweet potatoes, squash, and asparagus), fruits (especially apricots, grapefruit, oranges, and mangoes), nuts, and seeds. You can also buy prebiotics as supplements, typically psyllium.
- Make sure you’re getting enough potassium and magnesium. If you switched to a low-carb paleo diet, you may be avoiding some of the best sources of potassium, including bananas and sweet potatoes. Taking a good multi-vitamin that contains potassium and magnesium, both of which support motility (the contraction of muscles that mix and propel contents in the gastrointestinal tract), may help. However, avoid taking massive amounts of potassium or magnesium, because doing so can lead to imbalances that cause other health problems.
- Be patient. Give your body some time to adjust to the paleo diet and to any changes you make, including upping your fiber intake and taking a probiotic. A paleo diet is healthier than the Standard American Diet (SAD), but your body needs time to adjust.
If you’re currently following a paleo diet or you tried it and decided it wasn’t for you, please share your experience and insights. Did it make you constipated? If so, what did you try to alleviate the constipation? What was most or least helpful? If you tried the paleo diet and then returned to a more “normal” diet, why did you switch back?
encouragement, and information. Let us know how you approached this condition — what helped and what didn’t. Help shorten the journey from illness to wellness for others!
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Disclaimer: This blog post on the paleo diet provides general information and discussion about medical issues and health-related subject matter. The words and other content provided in this post, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If you or any other person has a medical concern, consult with an appropriately licensed physician or other health care professional immediately and do not rely on the information presented in this post. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog post or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.