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Top 7 Foods to Avoid in Constipated Kids

Published November 05, 2023

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Studies have long shown that factors like food choices and physical activity can contribute to kid’s constipation [1]. 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 [2]. 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

Processed foods such as chips, candies, and sodas - often high in refined sugars and low in fiber, can contribute to constipation [2]. 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 [4].

Dairy Products

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 [5].

Begin Health Expert Tip: Growing Up Prebiotics contains 2-FL HMO’s that uses lactose as a starting ingredient, but after the process of fermentation, almost all the lactose is turned into human milk oligosaccharides. To put this in perspective, an 8oz cup of milk contains 12 grams of lactose. Our testing shows that there is around 4mg of lactose per packet (which is 0.03%, less than ½ a percent vs 1 cup of milk) and any residual lactose is not likely to cause any symptoms for kiddos with lactose intolerance.

For more information about whether kiddos with a lactose intolerance or cow’s milk allergy can use Growing Up Prebiotics, check out our blogs Can My Kid Use Growing Up Prebiotics If They Have A Lactose Intolerance? and Can My Kid Take Growing Up Prebiotics If They Are Allergic To Cow Milk Protein?

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 [7].

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 [6].

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 [8].

Fast Food

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 [8]. 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 [10].

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:

  • Fruits such as apples, berries, and kiwis
  • Vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, or sweet potatoes
  • Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, and black beans

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.

Begin Health Expert Tip: Got a picky eater in the house? Incorporating Growing Up Prebiotics into your child's daily routine is an effortless way to provide them with the necessary prebiotic fiber that helps them with more regular and comfortable bowel movements [3]. Every serving provides 3 grams of fiber to go towards their daily recommended fiber intake.
Summary: Constipation in kids is a concern for many parents, but it can often be addressed by making thoughtful dietary choices. By limiting or avoiding high sugar or high fat foods that can cause constipation and incorporating more fiber-rich options, you can help promote a healthier and happier kiddo as they continue to grow into healthy teens.

References:

[1] Fujitani, A., Sogo, T., Inui, A., & Kawakubo, K. (2018). Prevalence of Functional Constipation and Relationship with Dietary Habits in 3- to 8-Year-Old Children in Japan. Gastroenterology Research and Practice, 2018, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/3108021

[2] Shi, Z. (2019). Gut Microbiota: An Important Link between Western Diet and Chronic Diseases. Nutrients, 11(10), 2287. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102287

[3] 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

[4] Pahwa R, Goyal A, Jialal I. Chronic Inflammation. [Updated 2023 Aug 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/#

[5] Dehghani SM, Ahmadpour B, Haghighat M, Kashef S, Imanieh MH, Soleimani M. The Role of Cow's Milk Allergy in Pediatric Chronic Constipation: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Iran J Pediatr. 2012 Dec;22(4):468-74. PMID: 23429756; PMCID: PMC3533146.

[6] Guasch-Ferré M, Satija A, Blondin SA, et al.. Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of red meat consumption in comparison with various comparison diets on cardiovascular risk factors. Circulation 2019;139:1828–1845

[7] Holma R, Hongisto SM, Saxelin M, Korpela R. Constipation is relieved more by rye bread than wheat bread or laxatives without increased adverse gastrointestinal effects. J Nutr. 2010 Mar;140(3):534-41. doi: 10.3945/jn.109.118570. Epub 2010 Jan 20. PMID: 20089780.

[8] Zhang Y, Lin Q, An X, Tan X, Yang L. Factors Associated with Functional Constipation among Students of a Chinese University: A Cross-Sectional Study. Nutrients. 2022; 14(21):4590. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14214590

[9] Taba Taba Vakili S, Nezami BG, Shetty A, Chetty VK, Srinivasan S. Association of high dietary saturated fat intake and uncontrolled diabetes with constipation: evidence from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2015 Oct;27(10):1389-97. doi: 10.1111/nmo.12630. Epub 2015 Jul 15. PMID: 26176421; PMCID: PMC4584183.

[10] Rollet M, Bohn T, Vahid F, On Behalf Of The Oriscav Working Group. Association between Dietary Factors and Constipation in Adults Living in Luxembourg and Taking Part in the ORISCAV-LUX 2 Survey. Nutrients. 2021 Dec 28;14(1):122. doi: 10.3390/nu14010122. PMID: 35010999; PMCID: PMC8746799.

May Zhu, RDN

May Zhu, RDN

May is the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and nutrition expert at Begin Health.

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