Studies have long shown that factors like food choices and physical activity can contribute to kid’s constipation . The foods kids eat can impact nutrient absorption because their microbiome helps absorb nutrients for overall health and development. Our kid’s food choices can also change the amount of good gut bacteria in their microbiome to help promote long-term health . Let’s review some common foods that can cause constipation in kids, what the research tells us about diet choices and gut health.
Processed foods such as chips, candies, and sodas - often high in refined sugars and low in fiber, can contribute to constipation . Studies show that high consumption of ultra-processed foods can change the gut microbiota and lead to inflammation in the body. Long-term inflammation in the body can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease .
Research reviewing the role of cow’s milk allergy and pediatric constipation has found that 80% of the kids within the study showed improvement in constipation symptoms after excluding cow's milk products. An additional study found that kids with chronic functional constipation who did not respond to 2 months of laxative therapy, were responsive to elimination of cow's milk and dairy products for a 1 month period .
White Bread and Pasta
Refined grains like white bread and pasta are low in fiber. Dietary fiber is essential for regular and softer bowel movements. A research study in the Journal of Nutrition found that consuming breads with a higher natural fiber content, such as rye bread may help relieve mild constipation symptoms compared to white wheat bread, and even commonly used laxatives without increasing gastrointestinal adverse effects .
Processed Red Meat
Processed red meats can include bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats. While red meat is a good source of protein, it is also generally low in fiber. Low fiber diets can slow down digestion and contribute to constipation. Studies involving short-term randomized intervention trials have demonstrated benefits of replacing processed red meat with plant protein sources such as lentils, chickpeas, or tofu as a way to reduce LDL cholesterol and other cardiometabolic risk factors .
Fried and Greasy Foods
Fried foods that are high in saturated fats are typically low in fiber and can delay bowel motility. Evidence from studies have shown that individuals who prefer fried foods had a higher prevalence of gastrointestinal symptoms. When high-fat, caloric-dense foods are consumed in excess with a lack of dietary fiber, the risk for symptoms from functional constipation is more likely to occur .
Fast food often contains excess sugar, salt, and saturated fats. A high dietary saturated fat intake is associated with significant increase in the prevalence of constipation . The American Heart Association recommends keeping total fat intake between 30 to 35% of calories for toddlers 2 to 3 years of age and between 25 to 35% of calories for kids and adolescents 4 to 18 years of age, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and olive oils.
Sugary Snacks and Sugar Sweetened Beverages
Studies have shown that frequent consumption of sugary snacks, including candies, chocolates, and sugary cereals were linked to increased risk of constipation symptoms. Sugary snacks can disrupt digestive health due to their lack of fiber and sugar content .
Foods to Include for Constipation Relief in Kids
A diet that lacks a variety of foods can lead to nutritional deficiencies and poor digestion, potentially causing constipation. While avoiding constipation-triggering foods is essential, it's equally important to provide kids with the right dietary support for healthy digestion. Kids should aim for a variety of fiber-rich foods including:
For more information about sources of fiber to support constipation relief in kids, check out our blog about Top 5 Sources of Prebiotic Fiber for Kids.
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 Shi, Z. (2019). Gut Microbiota: An Important Link between Western Diet and Chronic Diseases. Nutrients, 11(10), 2287. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102287
 Closa-Monasterolo, R., Ferré, N., Castillejo-DeVillasante, G., Luque, V., Gispert-Llauradó, M., Zaragoza-Jordana, M., Theis, S., & Escribano, J. (2016). The use of inulin-type fructans improves stool consistency in constipated children. A randomised clinical trial: pilot study. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 68(5), 587–594. https://doi.org/10.1080/09637486.2016.1263605
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May is the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and nutrition expert at Begin Health.
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