Let’s get real: sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t poop! No need to be shy—we’ve all been there at least a few times before—so we know that eventually, things will smooth out. Occasionally struggling to go number two is uncomfortable but is usually caused by minor things like inactivity, dehydration, or not getting enough fiber. Getting regular exercise and drinking plenty of fluids is key to keeping your entire digestion system running smoothly, but there are certain foods that can also help prevent or relieve constipation. Here, nutritionists share their top picks to help you go.
Note: If you experience two or more of the following symptoms for three months—regularly skipping bowel movements (having only three or less a week), hard or lumpy stools, or feeling like you have to strain to empty your bowels when you do go—that’s chronic constipation, and you should see a doctor to rule out more serious causes such as an intestinal blockage, cancer, or nerve-related conditions like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.
“Fiber supports good digestion, and berries, especially raspberries and blackberries, top my list for high fiber fruit,” says Marisa Moore, R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist in Atlanta, Georgia. Both berries clock in at about 8 grams of fiber per cup (plus they’re high in water for extra constipation-fighting power), so add them to your smoothie, oatmeal, or enjoy alone as a sweetly tart snack.
If you find yourself racing to the bathroom after your morning cup of joe, there’s a reason for that—”coffee poops” are actually a thing. “Coffee contains a number of compounds that stimulate the bowels and can even result in a laxative-like effect for some people,” says Moore.
3. Chia seeds
These seeds are teensy but powerful—just one ounce of chia seeds boats 10.6 grams of fiber, which is 42% of your daily needs. “When chia comes in contact with water, it forms a gel, which can help soften stools and make them easier to pass,” says Vanessa Rissetto, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian at Culina Health.
Grandma was onto something when she ate dried prunes to help her go. “Prunes contain insoluble fiber, which is a type of fiber that pulls water into your colon to add bulk to our stool, making it easier to go, as well as sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that speeds up bowel movements,” says Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Shaw Simple Swaps.
Ever wondered why broccoli sometimes smells a little stinky? That’s thanks to sulforaphane, a compound that can cause a little odor, but more importantly, may help prevent overgrowth of intestinal microorganisms that can interfere with healthy digestion, says Rissetto.
Beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas—these legumes are collectively known as pulses, and they’re a great choice for constipation prevention and relief. “These are my go-to high fiber foods because some, like lentils, can pack as much as 15 grams of fiber per cup,” says Moore. “Add lentils to soups, curries, and salads, or go with black beans as a side dish or plant-based burger. And this is a fun trick I love to roast chickpeas in the oven until crunchy and then eat them on a salad or alone as a snack.”
This veggie fights constipation twofold—it’s high in fiber and also contains inulin, a type of prebiotic that feeds good gut bacteria. “When your GI system is in harmony, constipation is more likely to stay at bay,” says Shaw.
Your next cheese board may offer more than tasty bites. “Just three to five figs (depending on size) dish up about 5 grams of fiber,” says Moore. Besides being the perfect cheese pairing, figs are also a great way to sweeten baked goods or add sweetness to a salad, Moore adds—all while helping with constipation.
This fruit is an underrated fiber superstar. “A medium pear offers about 5.5 grams of fiber, plus they’re delicious,” says Shaw.
Popeye’s favorite food can also help you poop. Spinach contains fiber and magnesium, a mineral that helps stimulate bowel movements by drawing water into the intestines.