Constipation in children is seldom an alarming concern. Parents use different foods to relieve constipation in kids most of the time. It typically results from irregular passing of stool, which causes pain due to its dry and hard texture when it does pass (1). Statistically, constipation is the reason behind one out of every 20 pediatric visits, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (2). So changing to a balanced diet with fiber-rich foods along with high magnesium content can help cure the condition. Besides, intake of plenty of water or coconut water has also been shown to help with constipation. This post will tell you about the different foods you can give your children to cope with constipation.
26 Foods To Help Relieve Constipation In Children
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “fiber keeps things moving in the digestive tract.” A diet with adequate fiber helps in smooth bowel function and avoidance of constipation (3).
Below is a list of high-fiber foods that you can include in a child’s well-balanced diet to relieve and prevent constipation. Children should consume atleast 19-25g of fiber daily.
Whole-grain and cereals
Whole-grains and cereals are the richest sources of insoluble dietary fiber that adds bulk to the diet and effectively treat constipation (4). For children and teens, the recommended daily intake of whole-grains is at least half of the total daily grain intake (5) (6). However, 100% of the grain intake should ideally be whole grains.
1. Ready-to-eat bran cereals
100% and 40% bran cereals are available over-the-counter as ready-to-eat cereal options. One-third to a three-fourth cup of these cereals offers 9.1 to 14.3 grams of fiber that can add bulk to the diet and keep the digestive tract active (7).
Quinoa is an excellent high-fiber, gluten-free pseudocereal food with essential amino acids necessary for healthy growth (8). One cup (185g) of cooked quinoa can provide 5.18 grams of total dietary fiber that help keep the bowel movement smooth (9).
Oats are whole-grain foods rich in soluble and insoluble fiber (10). While soluble fiber promotes overall health, insoluble fiber promotes bowel regularity and keeps constipation away. You can serve whole oats groats, steel-cut oats, rolled oats, and oats bran to enhance your child’s total fiber intake.
4. Brown rice
It is rice with intact husk, which is rich in vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber (11). A cup (195g) of cooked brown rice provides 3.12 grams of dietary fiber, which can be good for constipation (12).
5. Whole wheat
Whole wheat offers significant amounts of dietary fiber that can support digestive health (13). 100 grams of whole wheat flour contains 13.1 grams of dietary fiber. Common whole wheat products that you can consider are whole wheat bread, pasta, biscuits, and pancakes (14).
Millets are cereal grains with a high amount of insoluble dietary fiber that can promote bowel regularity (15). Children and teens can consume various millets, like pearl millet, sorghum, barnyard millet, small millet, etc. in moderate amounts to reap their benefits. Millet pancakes, bread, muesli, and roasted snacks are some readily available options to try.
Legumes and pulses
Legumes and pulses (beans, lentils, and peas) are nutrient and fiber-rich foods, making an excellent alternative to meat due to their low-fat content (16). Adding various legumes and pulses to your child/teen’s diet could add color and several nutrients to their meals.
7. Dried beans
Half a cup of different types of dried beans can provide 9.6 to 3.8 grams of dietary fiber through delicious salads, sprouts, soups, casseroles, curries, and snacks (7). Some of the common dried beans are lima beans, kidney beans, navy beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), pinto beans, and soybeans.
Lentils are a type of legumes available in green, brown, black, red, yellow, and orange colors (17). Half a cup of cooked lentils offers 7.8 grams of dietary fiber (7). You can serve lentils to your child in soups, curries, and lentil-stuffed veggies.
9. Split peas
Split peas are members of the legume family available in green and yellow colors. A cup of cooked split pea contains about 17 grams of dietary fiber that your child can relish through curries, soups, and snacks (18).
Edamame refers to immature soybeans while still inside the pod. Adding a cup of cooked edamame to your child’s diet gives 4.84 grams of fiber. Edamame dip or hummus, edamame crisps, salads, and soups are some recipes you can try for children and teens (19).
Vegetables and fruits
Whole vegetables and fruits (with peel) add color, flavors, and umpteen nutrients to the diet. Besides, they provide several health benefits, like relieving and preventing constipation in the long run (20). Children and teens should consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day (21).
11. Broccoli sprouts
Broccoli sprouts have shown effectiveness in regulating bowel movement due to a sulfur-rich compound called sulforaphane found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower (22). Children and teens can consume broccoli sprouts as smoothies, soups, and salads.
Artichoke is rich in dietary fiber (14.4g/cup) that helps maintain digestive health by alleviating constipation (7). Inulin found in artichoke has prebiotic effects that may promote overall gut health (23). Overall, fiber in general is a great prebiotic to feed our guts probiotics.
It belongs to the same family as broccoli and has excellent nutritional and dietary fiber profiles (24). Steamed collard greens in salads, soups, or as an accompaniment to grilled/roasted chicken or meat are good choices to increase your child’s fiber intake.
14. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potato has considerable amounts of fiber that can facilitate smooth bowel movement (25). Prepare boiled, baked, or roasted sweet potato with their skin to scale up your child’s dietary fiber intake.
Cooked or raw carrots in salads, sandwiches, rolls, soups, and side dishes significantly increase fiber intake. Besides, it gives various nutrients and bioactive compounds that can promote overall health (26).
16. Brussels sprouts
One guava with peel provides several nutrients and three grams of dietary fiber, which is good for overall health (7) (29). Children can consume guava as a midday snack or as part of mixed fruit salad, smoothie, and dessert.
Grapes with skin are a healthy source of fiber and add bulk to the diet to smoothen bowel movement (31). Besides, they provide several nutrients and antioxidants that support overall health.
A cup of fresh raspberries and blackberries, each, can provide about eight grams of fiber and several bioactive compounds (32). Berries can be easily made part of delicious food items, such as salads, yogurt, homemade granola bars, and desserts.
Kiwi or kiwi fruit increases water retention in the small intestine and adds bulk in the colon to facilitate smooth bowel function (33). Serve appealing kiwi recipes, like kiwi banana smoothie or kiwi pineapple punch, to scale up your child’s fiber intake.
Papaya is rich in water, fiber, and papain, an enzyme that aids digestion (34). Eating fresh, ripe papaya in fruit salads or yogurt can relieve constipation effectively.
Unsalted nuts, like pistachio, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and almonds, can add a considerable amount of nutrients and dietary fiber. Breakfast cereal, porridge, shakes, smoothies, and desserts are some recipes to which you can add nuts (35).
Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, etc. are sources of dietary fiber and promote improved bowel function (36) (37). You can add seeds in bread, biscuits, muffins, cookies, salads, soups, shakes, smoothies, or plain yogurt to increase your child’s fiber intake.
25. Dry fruits
Dried fruits are rich in dietary fiber and help maintain gastrointestinal health by regulating the bowels (38). A handful of prunes, raisins, dates, and dried figs make for a tasty and nutritious snack for children and teens.
26. Fermented foods
Naturally fermented foods, like plain yogurt, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, etc. are sources of probiotics that may boost gut health and prevent constipation (39). You can serve various fermented foods to children and teens in moderation as part of their daily diet.
Possible Health Benefits Of Fiber-Rich Foods For Children
- Prevent overeating by promoting a sense of satiety.
- Help maintain a healthy weight through regulation of calorie intake.
- Maintain gut health by being a source of prebiotics for gut microbes.
- Reduce the risk of gastrointestinal issues, such as hemorrhoids.
- Promote overall health by promoting insulin sensitivity, serum lipids, etc. in the long run.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do bananas cause constipation?
According to a study, unripe bananas contain tannins and amylase-resistant starch that may cause constipation (41). On the other hand, another study found that amylase-resistant starch in bananas may relieve constipation (42). Therefore, constipation due to bananas may or may not occur as per individual responses.
2. How can I soften my child’s stool?
Drinking plenty of fluids, limiting refined grains, and increasing the intake of fiber-rich whole foods, such as whole grains, veggies, and fruits, can soften a child’s stool and promote healthy bowel movements (38).
3. Do eggs cause constipation in children?
Egg consumption may cause constipation in some individuals (43). However, how eggs cause constipation is unknown.
You may offer more fiber-rich foods to relieve constipation in kids. Rice and whole wheat, legumes and pulses, vegetables, fruits, dry fruits, and fermented foods are some foods that can help manage constipation in kids. Fiber-rich foods also enhance bowel health and help maintain weight by preventing overeating. Further, you should limit the intake of junk foods and sugary drinks that lack fibers and nutrition, which cause bowel issues and weight gain in children. Drinking adequate water and exercising regularly can also help avoid constipation.
2. Definition & Facts for Constipation in Children; National Institute of Health
3. Kids Need Fiber: Here’s Why and How; AAP
4. Digestive Health; Grain and Legume Nutrition Council
5. Shifts Needed To Align With Healthy Eating Patterns; Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2015-2020
6. Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Constipation in Children; National Institute of Health
7. Appendix 13. Food Sources of Dietary Fiber; Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2015-2020
8. Quinoa; Harvard T.H. Chan
9. Quinoa, cooked, FDC ID: 168917; FoodData Central; USDA
10. Oats; Harvard T.H. Chan
11. Rice; Harvard T.H. Chan
12. Rice, brown, cooked, fat not added in cooking; FoodData Central; USDA
13. Peter R. Shewrycorresponding and Sandra J. Hey; The contribution of wheat to human diet and health; NCBI
14. Wheat flour, whole-grain, soft wheat, FDC ID: 168944; FoodData Central; USDA
15. Nutritional and Health Benefits of Millets; Indian Institute of Millet Research
16. Healthy eating for children; Government of UK
17. Lentils; Harvard T.H. Chan
18. Split Peas: Are they Peas or Lentils?; University of Illinois Extension
19. Edamame, cooked, FDC ID: 784302; FoodData Central; USDA
20. Mark L. Dreher; Whole Fruits and Fruit Fiber Emerging Health Effects; NCBI
21. 5 A Day portion sizes; NHS
22. Akinori Yanaka; Daily intake of broccoli sprouts normalizes bowel habits in human healthy subjects; NCBI
23. Adele Costabile et al.; A double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study to establish the bifidogenic effect of a very-long-chain inulin extracted from globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) in healthy human subjects; NCBI
24. Collards; University of Illinois Extension
25. Jing-Ying Zou et al.; Improvement of Constipation in Leukemia Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy Using Sweet Potato; NCBI
26. Krishan Datt Sharma et al.; Chemical composition, functional properties, and processing of carrot—a review; NCBI
27. Brussels Sprouts; The Nutrition Source; Harvard T.H.Chan;
28. Fei Li et al.; Human Gut Bacterial Communities Are Altered by Addition of Cruciferous Vegetables to a Controlled Fruit- and Vegetable-Free Diet; NCBI
29. Arun K. Verma et al.; Guava (Psidium guajava L.) Powder as an Antioxidant Dietary Fibre in Sheep Meat Nuggets; NCBI
30. Sun Hwan Bae; Diets For Constipation; NCBI
31. 5 Things Grapes Can Do for Your Overall Health; University of South California
32. Berry good for health; Harvard Health Publishing
33. Victoria Wilkinson‐Smith et al.; Mechanisms underlying effects of kiwifruit on intestinal function shown by MRI in healthy volunteers; NCBI
34. Aravind. G et al.; Traditional and Medicinal Uses of Carica papaya; Reasearchgate
35. Nutrition Tips for Relieving Constipation; Eat Right; Academy of Nutrition And Dietetics
36. 5 Seeds That Support Healthy Digestion; American College of Healthcare Sciences
37. Avoiding nuts and seeds for better gut health? You shouldn’t; Harvard Health Publishing
38. Constipation; Mount Sinai
39. Stephanie N. Chilton et al.; Inclusion of Fermented Foods in Food Guides around the World; NCBI
40. Fiber Fact Sheet; International Food Information Council Foundation
41. Sun Hwan Bae; Diets for Constipation; NCBI
42. Juan Wang et al.; Banana Resistant Starch and Its Effects on Constipation Model Mice; NCBI
43. Concerned About Constipation?; National Institute of Aging
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Jennifer Swallow(MS, RDN, LDN)
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