Constipation is the butt of many jokes (sorry), but you won’t hear any laughter from the 15% of Americans who suffer from it day in and day out, a percentage that soars to as high as 40% of people (women two to three times as often as men) in their mid-60s. Now a study from Finland, published in the January 2010 Journal of Nutrition, reveals a seemingly simple and appealing solution for mild constipation -- whole-grain rye bread!
The researchers found that rye bread was more effective in relieving constipation than laxatives... buttermilk (naturally rich in probiotics -- lactobacillus rhamnosus GG specifically -- and thought to have a laxative effect)... or "white wheat bread" (which has a bit of whole grain in it). Study authors report that the particular sort of fiber in rye is abundant in arabinoxylan(a type of polysaccharide), which adds water to stools and also produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Both of these help move waste more efficiently through the colon. So -- could it be this simple to improve your constipation?
The 51 constipated adults in the study consumed about 8.5 ounces of rye bread daily (this was seven to 14 slices, depending on how thickly it was sliced) for three weeks. This improved their "transit time" (from ingestion to defecation) by 21% to 43% and enabled them to move their bowels an average of 1.4 more times per week.
For more information about rye and constipation, I called Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD, a professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota and a specialist in the gastrointestinal effects of whole grains. Interestingly, Dr. Slavin told me that rye is by no means unique in containing arabinoxylan in generous amounts -- whole-grain wheat has a lot, too (though somewhat less) and oats are a plentiful source.
It’s important to note that what you need is whole-grain rye bread, and that is not so easy to find here in America -- at least not the flavor- and fiber-filled sort that those lucky Europeans eat all the time. Our supermarket rye breads (the ones that come in plastic bags) are of limited value in that even most of the "whole-grain" rye breads contain nongrain fibers that do little to help constipation. However, Dr. Slavin said that some whole grain is better than none.
Dr. Slavin offered the following advice on how to identify the breads that are most apt to improve your colon health and reduce constipation...
What a great reason to do what many people would prefer to do anyway -- bypass the "bread" aisle in the supermarket and buy baked goods fresh from an honest-to-gosh bakery! They’re not only more delicious, but clearly more healthful, too.
Source: Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD, a professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, and a specialist in the gastrointestinal effects of whole grains.