Fri 09, Aug 2019
Food and dietary choices seem a world away from pelvic health, but there’s a closer link than you think.
Let us explain: excessive straining on the toilet also strains your pelvic floor, weakening the muscles and potentially leading to problems with urinary and faecal incontinence and prolapse. A common reason for straining is constipation, which makes bowel motions difficult to pass.
This is where we end up back at food choices. We spoke with Milly Smith, Accredited Practicing Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, for advice on the relationship between constipation and food.
“From a dietary perspective, there’s a few things we can do to help reduce our risk of constipation,” Smith said.
“The main one we talk about is dietary fibre. Fibre is a really important part of our diet, particularly when it comes to our bowel health. It’s essentially the part of plant food that goes undigested in our digestive tract.”
Fast fibre facts:
- Most Australian adults do not eat enough dietary fibre. Aim for at least 25-30g of fibre each day.
- There are two kinds of fibre – soluble and insoluble.
- Soluble fibre forms a gel when it combines with water and slows down our digestion. E.g. the flesh of fruit and veg, beans and lentils, oats, psyllium husk.
- Insoluble fibre doesn’t break down and helps bulk out bowel motions (e.g. the skins of fruit and veg, seeds and wholegrains, kidney beans and chickpeas).
- A mix of both kinds of fibre is vital.
Milly Smith has tips on how to hit your recommended 25-30 grams of fibre daily.
“A lot of us tend to leave vegetables just for dinner, so really try to make sure you’re including them at other meals of the day as well. Try substituting a plant protein a few times a week in place of things like meat, chicken or fish. So that would be things like legumes or lentils.”
“Other good ways are choosing snacks like a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit or veggie sticks rather than things that may not give us very much fibre. And eating wholegrain varieties of breads and cereal.”
The Continence Foundation’s Healthy diet and bowels fact sheet has more information on specific food choices and serves of fibre.
Before increasing fibre
Boosting fibre intake is best done gradually, otherwise you may experience gut discomfort, bloating or diarrhoea.
Make sure to increase your fluid intake if you’re consuming more fibre. Water is the preferred choice over drinks with added sugar and caffeine, as these may irritate the bladder.
Find water a bit boring? Milly Smith has tips on including more of it in your diet.
“I often recommend patients to try something like sparkling mineral water or adding a bit of flavour to their water with lemon juice or sliced cucumber. Sometimes flavouring the water alone can just help make it more appealing,” Smith said.
“A lot of people find water intake to be a challenge when it’s cold, so other things I also recommend are caffeine-free herbal teas like peppermint, lemongrass and ginger and camomile.”
It’s important to seek advice from a health professional for your specific bladder, bowel or pelvic issue. For example, the above information may not be relevant for people with prolapse which Smith said requires a different plan.
“Sometimes we’ll actually do the opposite and put someone on a really low-fibre diet, just short-term. That’s so the bowel motions are so soft and watery that there’s no bulk to them at all and so there shouldn’t be any straining,” Smith said.
Search to find an Accredited Practicing Dietitian in your area on the DAA website.
Learn more at the Continence Foundation’s Healthy diet and bowels fact sheet.