Constipation isn’t a fun topic to talk about, but if you’re experiencing it, you’re going to want to know what’s causing it and what you can do about it. It’s a question I hear pretty often. Will the keto diet make me constipated?
Keto may cause constipation because, for many people, carbohydrates in the form of fruits and grains were the only fiber sources they had in their diet. Not having a good source of fiber in your diet can cause you to become backed up.
The good news is that you don’t have to suffer needlessly. Keep reading to learn more about what causes constipation on keto and what you can do about it.
What Is Constipation?
Before we dive into what causes it, let me tell you a little bit about what constipation is. Cleveland Clinic defines constipation as having stools that are hard for your body to pass.
Constipation used to be defined as simply not being regular, but what’s considered regular has changed drastically over the years. A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information explains regular differs widely from person to person. This study found the regular range can vary from three bowel movements per day to three bowel movements per week.
Another study published by the National Institutes of Health agreed that with such a wide range of what can be considered regular, it’s also challenging to be able to say how many people are affected by constipation. The study estimated, however, that over 15% of adults suffer from chronic constipation. When adults reach the age of 60, cases rise to nearly 34%.
Will The Keto Diet Make Me Constipated?
Whether or not the keto diet will cause you to become constipated doesn’t have a simple yes or no answer. As with multiple facets of this way of eating, keto affects everyone differently. For most, all of the changes are healthy. Some people, however, are forced to deal with irritating side effects such as this one.
If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume it’s because you’re on keto and having issues with constipation. I’m going to help you figure out what’s going wrong and what you need to do to make it better.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the most common symptoms of constipation include:
- Incomplete evacuation, which occurs when the stool is only passed partially
- Two or fewer bowel movements each week
- Difficulty passing stools
- Pain when passing stools
- Stools that are lumpy, excessively dry, or hard
Here are some of the most common reasons you may be constipated while doing keto:
You’re Not Eating Enough Fiber
Not getting enough fiber as part of your daily diet is the number one reason people experience constipation. According to the guidelines set out from the Department of Health and Human Services, people who are consuming a standard 2,000 calorie diet should be getting between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates each day.
If you’re on keto, eating that many carbs in a day sounds nearly impossible, which is one reason people who choose this way of eating agree that the government is out of touch when it comes to what is and isn’t healthy. On the contrary, Harvard Medical School recommends a ketogenic diet consisting of 20 to 50 grams of carbs daily.
When you were eating a regular diet, you were most likely getting most of your fiber from bread and fruits. The bread is a no-go on keto, and a significant amount of the fruit you were eating may not be keto-friendly either. (Click here for 16 fruits you can eat on keto.)
When you remove these types of foods from your diet, you take away the foods that provide you bulk in your stomach, which is what typically is needed to keep you regular.
Add the following foods to your diet to ensure you’re getting plenty of fiber:
- Flax seeds (4g fiber in two tablespoons)
- Chia seeds (11g fiber in two tablespoons)
- Chia seeds are easy to add to your diet. Add them into your smoothies or use them in your salad for a little added crunch.
- Avocado (9g fiber in one small avocado)
- There are so many things you can do to include avocados in your keto regimen. Mix them into guacamole to use as a dip for pork rinds or celery or eat them with your morning eggs.
- Almonds (4g fiber in one ounce)
- Unsweetened coconut (5g fiber in one ounce)
- Add unsweetened shredded coconut to your keto desserts, breakfast dishes, or smoothies.
- Blackberries (7g fiber in one cup)
- Raspberries (9g fiber in one cup)
- Add into a yogurt parfait, use as a topping for keto cheesecake, or eat them on their own.
- Pistachios (3g fiber in one ounce)
- Wheat bran (6g fiber in 1/4-cup)
- Wheat bran has a slightly nutty flavor that brings a little something extra to low-carb yogurt, keto casseroles, smoothies, or baked goodies.
- Cauliflower (2g fiber in one cup)
- One of the most popular ways to eat cauliflower is riced. You can also steam them to create faux mashed potatoes, or eat them raw with your favorite keto-friendly dips.
- Broccoli (2g fiber in one cup)
- Steaming your broccoli provides more benefits to your health than consuming it raw.
- Asparagus (3g fiber in one cup)
- Tastes great steamed or raw in a salad.
- Eggplant (3g fiber in one cup)
- Purple cabbage (2g fiber in one cup)
You’re Eating The Wrong Kind Of Carbs
As you know, keto macros are essential when it comes to the fats, protein, and carbohydrates you consume. Since your carbs are only making up about 5% percent of your diet, you want to be very careful to eat the ones you need.
For the limited amount of carbohydrates you’re allowed to eat, you should be trying to get them from keto-friendly fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber.
Your Body Is Adjusting
Think about how long you had been eating your previous diet before starting keto. Had you been eating that way your entire life? That’s the case for most people. Unhealthy habits begin at an early age and continue to get worse into adulthood.
Eating too many carbs is not an option if you’re on keto. The problem is that most of us have to go cold turkey on them, or it’ll never work. When those carbs are eliminated from out of nowhere, your gastrointestinal system becomes stressed.
Once you make the switch to keto, your body starts to wonder why it isn’t digesting all those carbs is now being made to digest a ton of fat. It takes time for your body to get used to these new needs, and it may cause you to become constipated in the meantime.
You Need Healthy Gut Bacteria
You have most likely heard many people talking about probiotics and how it’s good for your gut health. Probiotics are the bacteria in your gut that aids in digesting your food, protects you from disease-causing bacteria, and keeps your immune system regulated.
What you may not have heard of is prebiotics, which is a form of soluble fiber that our body isn’t able to digest. Prebiotics are what feeds our probiotics, keeping your system as healthy as possible. The problem is that we don’t get nearly enough prebiotics on keto since they are mostly found in rice, potatoes, and other starchy vegetables that can’t be consumed via this way of eating.
Fortunately, some keto-friendly sources can be added to your diet. Things like berries, garlic, asparagus, leeks, tomatoes, and artichokes give your body a prebiotic boost.
Probiotics are a little more difficult because they are best-sourced through foods that are fermented, such as fermented pickles, Korean fermented cabbage (commonly known as kimchi), and sauerkraut. If you can’t stomach fermented food, it might be a good idea to take a supplement.
It’s no secret that drinking plenty of water each day is essential for your overall health. What you might not know is that water is one of the most important tools you have at your disposal to ensure regular bowel movements.
When you aren’t drinking enough water, your body becomes dehydrated, which can be dangerous. Since your body will do whatever it can to protect itself, it’ll start looking for other sources of water, pulling it from your colon.
Water is essential for lubricating your stool so it can pass through your body easily. Without water in your intestines, it’s not able to help, which may cause you to become constipated.
According to Mayo Clinic, the most common symptoms of dehydration are:
- Extreme thirst and feeling as though you can’t get enough to drink
- Urinating very little
- Dry lips
- Dark urine that may also have a strong smell
Water should always be your go-to drink to ensure you’re remaining hydrated. Drinks that have a lot of caffeine don’t do you any favors, and if you’re struggling with dehydration, you should avoid alcoholic beverages as well.
You’re Not Getting Enough Electrolytes
For your gastrointestinal system to function optimally, your body requires your electrolytes to be maintained at certain levels.
A study listed in the US National Library of Medicine found that when you limit carbohydrates to very low levels, the insulin levels in your body fall, which causes the output of urinary sodium to be reduced as well.
When this happens, the potassium in your body is shifted around to ensure that your minerals are as balanced as possible.
Are You Really Constipated?
Before I get into telling you how to solve your problems with constipation, let’s figure out if you really are, in fact, constipated.
If you’re having fewer bowel movements on keto than you were while eating how you previously did, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem.
On a ketogenic diet, you’re more likely to find that you’ll feel the need to defecate quite a bit less. This is especially true if your previous way of eating included lots of foods that promoted regular, bulky stools like beans and cereals that had high bran content.
If you’re having bowel movements far less frequently, but find they are smaller and passed easily and aren’t accompanied by the need to strain, pain, and bloating, you probably don’t have a problem with constipation. This is likely what your bowel movements will be like on keto, and you have nothing to worry about as long as you’re going more than twice a week.
Steps To Fix Constipation On Keto
- Drink Plenty Of Water – One of the most common causes of constipation is dehydration. Drinking plenty of water on keto should help the symptoms. If regular water isn’t helping, sparkling water may be more effective, according to a study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
- Stay Away From Other Carbonated Beverages – Advances in Nutrition, an international review journal, has found that regular consumption of carbonated drinks, specifically soft drinks such as soda, may make your constipation problems worse.
- Eat More Foods That Are High In Fiber – Increasing the fiber in your diet increases the bulk of your stool, leading to more regular bowel movements.
- Get More Exercise – The Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology quotes studies that show sedentary people are more likely to suffer from constipation. These same studies have shown that regular exercise improves the symptoms. Simple activities like walking, jogging, swimming, or biking may help to get your system moving.
- Drink More Coffee – Coffee lovers rejoice because drinking it regularly helps stimulate your digestive muscles, giving you the urge to use the restroom, according to the World Journal of Gastroenterology. Try to stick to caffeinated if you can because it has a 23% stronger effect than decaf.
- Try An Herbal Supplement – Herbal laxatives can help if you haven’t gone to the bathroom, and it’s starting to feel painful. A laxative, such as this one from Senna, speeds up your bowel movements by stimulating the nerves in your stomach.
- Herbal laxatives should only be used for up to 3 days. If constipation does not go away after that, consult your doctor.
- Do not take herbal laxatives if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have inflammatory bowel disease.
- Try Probiotic Supplements – Probiotics are live bacteria that are naturally found in your stomach. On keto, you may not be eating enough of the right foods, so a supplement may be necessary. A study published by Frontiers in Medicine shows that supplementing with probiotics for two weeks aids in correcting constipation, improving the consistency of the stool, and increasing stool frequency.
- Eat Shirataki Noodles – Shirataki noodles are popular on keto as a pasta replacement. They’re made from konjac plant roots, which contain the soluble fiber glucomannan. Research published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care shows that the root is an excellent alternative treatment for constipation.
- Take Glucomannan Supplements – Some people have issues with the texture and consistency of shirataki noodles. If this describes you, you may consider a glucomannan supplement instead.
- Eat Foods With Prebiotics – Prebiotics are carb fibers that the body is not able to digest. These fibers help increase the number of healthy bacteria is in your gut, improving your overall digestive help. Naturally, this aids in overcoming constipation.
- Take Over-The-Counter Magnesium Citrate – If you’ve heard of magnesium citrate, but can’t figure out why, it’s likely because it was given to you by a doctor. Medical professionals prescribe this in high doses to prepare someone’s bowels before a surgery or medical appointment. The over-the-counter version will give you similar results, at a far less intense level.
- Stop Consuming Dairy – I saved this tip for last because it made me the saddest to think about. Personally, it would be the last thing I would try because I love cheese so much. Unfortunately, it’s possible to become intolerant to dairy and not even know. If this happens, it could put a halt to the movements in your gut, causing constipation. If all else has failed, consider removing dairy from your diet and see if it helps.
There are many possible causes that you could be experiencing constipation. If you’ve recently started keto, there’s a good chance you’ve found your culprit. Try any of the above tips to see if you get the relief you’re looking for.
If the condition doesn’t go away, consider contacting your doctor to make sure there are no underlying conditions that are causing the constipation. When over-the-counter and dietary remedies fail to work, your doctor can work with you to find the best possible treatment.
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