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The #1 Underrated Food to Help You Poop, According to Dietitians – EatingWell

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When was the last time you went No. 2? There’s no need to be embarrassed; your bowel habits are an important part of understanding your digestive health. Plus, as dietitians, we’re trained to understand and talk about poop. 

The thing is, when you can’t poop, it can really disrupt your quality of life. And, unfortunately, there is no definitive criteria one has to meet to diagnose someone with constipation. What may seem normal for you may mean constipation for someone else. With this said, there are some general guidelines provided by the National Institutes of Health to help identify someone who may be experiencing constipation, which include:

  • Having less than three bowel movements a week
  • Stools that are dry, hard or lumpy 
  • Stools that are difficult or painful to pass
  • Feeling like you have not been able to get all the poop out

Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints people seek the care of gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons for.  Believe me, I know this all too well. In my 20s, I was one of the few younger adults I knew of that had colonoscopies for chronic idiopathic constipation. Yes, even as a dietitian, I too had some trouble going No. 2, too!

Since constipation is not a disease, but rather a condition that can lead to serious health consequences if left unmanaged, it’s important to get the right help and treatments to improve your symptoms. Diet and nutrition play a crucial role in keeping your bowel movements regular. In fact, one of the top recommendations to treat constipation at home is to eat more high-fiber foods and focus on hydration. 

Leading GI dietitians agree with this plan of care, too. Registered dietitian Kate Scarlata, M.P.H., RDN, co-author of Mind Your Gut: The Science-Based, Whole-Body Guide to Living Well with IBS, shares that “eating a variety of plants daily, hydrating with adequate water and keeping active” are all important strategies to maintain ‘great pooping habits.’”

This sounds doable, right? To help you get started in the right direction, read on for the No. 1 underrated food to help you poop. 

The #1 Underrated Food to Help You Poop

The No. 1 underrated food to help you poop is beans. They are chock-full of nutrients, especially important ones that contribute to healthy bowel habits, like dietary fiber. Here’s a quick look at the nutrition content of 1 cup of black beans to show you just what we’re talking about:

Nutrition of 1 Cup Canned Black Beans:

  • Calories: 240 
  • Total Fat: 1 gram
  • Saturated Fat: 0 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 grams
  • Sodium: 626 milligrams 
  • Carbohydrates: 44 grams
  • Total Sugar: 1 gram
  • Dietary Fiber: 18 grams 
  • Protein: 16 grams

Whether you enjoy cooking them from scratch or popping open a can, both types can certainly fit into a balanced diet to keep things moving. Plus, you can control the sodium content by either making your own and reducing the salt you add, choosing no-salt-added varieties, or simply rinsing canned beans under water to lower the sodium content. There are a variety of beans on the market (these are 7 that dietitians recommend most frequently), so you can’t really go wrong adding more of your preferred beans of choice to your diet. Here’s why. 

Why Beans Can Help You Poop

First, we have to talk about fiber (it’s a dietitian’s favorite F-word!). According to Scarlata, “Fiber is the essential ingredient to poop.” The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend individuals consume upward of 25 to 35 grams of dietary fiber per day. Unfortunately, the average American only consumes closer to 15 to 18 grams daily, per Scarlata. 

Fiber has long been studied for its health benefits. Earlier research supports dietary fiber helping to relieve constipation by increasing the number of bowel movements one has per week. However, more current research expands on this and suggests that dietary fiber aids in preventing constipation, too. But, that’s not all! It also has benefits that extend to mental health, heart health and even longevity. 

Why is the fiber in beans such a superstar? 

First and foremost, beans contain two different types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Scarlata says, “Soluble fiber in beans is gel-forming, which attracts water into the gut and softens stool for an easier exit from the body. The insoluble fiber in beans adds bulk to the stool for quicker transit through the gut.” With this dynamic duo present in beans, it’s no wonder they help regulate your digestive system. 

Second, beans support overall gut health, and while unpleasant, the gas they can cause may actually be a good thing. According to Jessie Wong, M.Acc., RDN, LD, a gut health dietitian and founder of Poopedia, a website devoted to improving poop consistency, “While having gas may not be the most romantic thing, it’s actually good for our gut to get fermentable fiber. We want to keep our microbes thriving by feeding them fermentable fiber. Having some gas is a way to know that they are working.” Since these types of carbohydrates (insoluble and soluble fiber) are not absorbed by the body, when they get to our large intestine, they are fermented by our gut microbes, and gas is a by-product of the fermentation. Wong notes that if a person tends to be more gassy from eating beans, soaking beans overnight or using canned beans that are drained and rinsed can help reduce the fermentable carbohydrates they contain.

Lastly, eating a variety of beans is a prime component of the Mediterranean diet, and the benefits extend beyond your bathroom habits.  Reviews have explored the beneficial effects beans can have on chronic disease risk as well. Scarlata shares that this research shows, “Eating beans not only promotes gut microbial diversity (a marker of good gut health) and colon health, but also helps suppress inflammatory conditions and reduce one’s cancer risk.”

Convinced to add more beans to your diet? Great! Let’s talk about how to do so. 

Tips for Eating More Beans

Beans can be a great addition to your daily diet. But, if they are new to you, start slowly when adding them to your eating pattern. Increasing your dietary fiber intake gradually can help you avoid feeling bloated and gassy. 

Here are some tips from Wong for enjoying more beans in a gut-healthy way:

  • Start with canned beans: They’re convenient and may cause less gas because the soaking process leaches out some fermentable carbs. Always drain and rinse them before using to help lower the sodium content as well. And try to opt for no-salt-added varieties when you can. 
  • Soak dried beans overnight: If you’re using dried beans, soak them overnight. This not only helps them cook faster, but also reduces their fermentable carb content, decreasing gassiness.
  • Mix them into familiar dishes: Incorporate beans into meals you already enjoy like soups, salads, casseroles or stews to help you get used to their texture and flavor.
  • Enhance the flavor: Season beans with your favorite spices or herbs to improve their taste and make them more enjoyable to eat.

Scarlata also recommends experimenting with using beans as a healthy and flavorful appetizer or dip, like our five-star Lemon, Mint, and White Bean Dip recipe. 

The Bottom Line

Nutrition and diet quality have a big impact on your health, including your frequency (or lack thereof) of bowel movements. Thankfully, you don’t have to purchase expensive supplements or make major changes to get things moving. Nutrition experts share that beans are the No. 1 underrated food to add to your eating pattern to help you poop. Not only are they budget-friendly and convenient, they also pack fiber, an important nutrient that keeps you full while also keeping food moving through your GI tract. Whether you enjoy black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas or other pulses (like lentils and peas), start adding them to your meal plan today to reap their health benefits. 

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