Why Do High-Protein Diets Make You So Constipated?
There's no doubt that cutting back on carbs while loading up on protein has definitely helped plenty of women shed pounds. "Protein is great for anyone trying to lose weight. Since it's digested slower than carbs, it helps you to stay full and satisfied after your meal," says Torey Armul, RD.
That said, one common downside of going high-protein is that it can also leave you a bit, ahem, stuffed up. The good news is you don't have to grin and bear down if constipation is an unpleasant side-effect of your high-protein diet.
Here's what's going on below deck and what to do about it.
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The Poop Problem
If you're feeling stopped up, it's what you'renoteating that's messing with you. "It's not the protein but a lack of fiber that causes constipation," says Armul. “People eat less fiber on a high-protein diet since they're more focused on eating animal proteins, which don't have any fiber at all."
Fiber, which is found mostly in fruits, veggies, and grains, adds bulk to your stool, drawing water and waste through your GI tract. That, in turn, helps ensure the foods you eat move more efficiently right on through. "By keeping things moving, fiber keeps you feeling good, reduces bloating, and removes any potential irritants in the GI tract," says Armul.
How To Solve It Now
Your best bet is to make sure you chow down on high-fiber foods on the regular. To get the biggest bang for your nutritional buck, Armul recommends munching on plant-based proteins like lentils, chickpeas, edamame, black beans, and kidney beans. "It's a double-whammy. You're getting protein, but you're also reaping the benefits of fiber," she says.
That said, if you're going uber low-carb and generally avoiding legumes, which have more carbs than animal protein, it is still possible to stay regular by filling up on lower-carb veggies. Keep your count the lowest by choosing produce that's highly water-based, says Armul. Good options include dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are nutrient powerhouses), zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, green peppers, and broccoli. Asparagus is an especially good pick since a cup of the stalks also has about three grams of protein, she adds. (Get the secret to banishing belly bulge from women who've done it with )
Seeds and nuts like chia seeds, flax seeds, peanuts, almonds, and walnuts are other smart choices because they offer a heavy dose of fiber and protein with few carbs.
As for fruit, you've probably already heard it's good for keeping you regular, though you might be steering clear because it's also higher in carbs. But consider adding a regular dose to your diet. "I tell my clients not to worry about the natural sugars in fruits because they contain a lot of fiber that's satiating," says Armul. However, she says a good rule to follow for a low-carb, high protein diet is to pick fruits with a higher ratio of skin-to-pulp (like blueberries). These have a lot more fiber and fewer carbs than other fruits sans skin (like watermelon).
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Staying Regular On The Regular
To keep from getting constipated, aim for about 25 grams of fiber per day (spread out evenly between each meal). Ideally, filling half of your plate with veggies, a quarter with an animal protein (chicken, beef, fish, etc.), and a quarter with a high-protein grain or legume (like quinoa, chickpeas, or lentils). Since one cup of leafy greens has around five grams of fiber, a robust salad at lunch loaded with spinach, peppers, and tomatoes should get you halfway there.
Try this harvest wheatberry salad with a poached egg:
At the same time, make sure to chug more fluids. "Fiber pulls water from your body, so up your water intake as you eat more of it," says Armul "I recommend carrying a water bottle throughout the day." Eight cups of water per day is a good place to start, but increase from there if you feel thirsty or constipated. The best indicator that you're drinking enough is the color of your urine: If it's light like lemonade, you're good to go.
Video: 3 Myths About High-Protein Diets Debunked | Jose Antonio, PhD
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