Harvard Health Letter

Rethinking fiber and hydration can lead to better colon health

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They're the biggest contributors to improved digestion.

If you struggle with bloating, diarrhea, and constipation, your diet may be partly to blame. Certain foods and medications can cause these digestion problems. Likewise, eating too few fibrous foods can cause constipation. "Most people are not eating the right foods, and they're not drinking enough water," says gastroenterologist Dr. Jacqueline Wolf, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The offenders

Dr. Wolf recommends taking an in-depth look at what you're eating to see if you're consuming potential offenders. "Too many carbohydrates may make you constipated. Artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol are big offenders for diarrhea and bloating," she explains. Dietary supplements such as calcium and iron can also make you constipated.

Sometimes the culprit may be a physical intolerance. People who are lactose intolerant don't have the enzyme to break down milk sugar (lactose). Some people are unable to digest casein, a protein in milk. People with celiac disease (a toxic body response to the protein gluten, found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye) or a gluten sensitivity often struggle with bloating and diarrhea.

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