The keto diet is excellent for reaching and maintaining your ideal weight. Eliminating carbs from your diet primes your body for faster fat loss. In ketosis, your body preferentially burns fat for fuel and, as a result, you lose weight quickly and easily. Yes, initially at least, some of this weight is in the form of water, but after you’ve graduated from keto induction and into full keto mode, more of that weight will be fat.
On the downside, the changes that accompany getting into ketosis often produce several different side effects – collectively called the keto flu. One such problem is keto constipation.
Did you hear the one about the mathematician with constipation? He worked it out a pencil!
All jokes aside, constipation is no laughing matter and can be very uncomfortable. Irregular or unpredictable bowel movements can increase your stress levels, and that can make constipation worse.
The good news is that constipation on keto is temporary and easy to fix. If you’ve been affected by keto diet constipation, or just want to avoid this problem when you start your next keto diet, we are here to help!
What is constipation?
Constipation is best defined as any change in your normal bowel movement frequency. What counts are normal is up for debate as some people have two bowel movements a day while other people only have a few per week. For all intents and purposes, if your bowel movement frequency changes for more than a day or so, you can consider yourself constipated.
Constipation may also be accompanied by:
- Difficulty going to the bathroom, i.e., having to strain
- Abdominal pain and discomfort
- Bloating and abdominal distention
- Difficulty passing gas
Occasional bouts of constipation are perfectly normal. Eating unusual foods, inactivity, flying, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and stress can all interfere with your regular bathroom schedule. However, with the keto diet, constipation can last several days, and that’s a problem.
What causes keto constipation?
By definition, keto is a very low-carb diet. You must consume less than 50 grams of carbs, and usually closer to 20-30 grams per day, to enter ketosis. That means you’ll have to eliminate foods like bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, and cereal from your diet and eat more fat and protein instead.
While this is the perfect solution for weight loss and fat burning, it can upset your digestive system and cause constipation.
To keep your digestive system working properly, you need to consume adequate amounts of dietary fiber. Fiber is commonly found in starchy carbs – all the foods that you can no longer eat on keto. Eating fewer starchy carbs makes it very difficult to consume the recommended amount (25 for women and 35 grams for men) of fiber per day that you need to keep your digestive system working correctly.
How does fiber prevent constipation? Good question!
Fiber is indigestible plant material. You’ll find it in things like fruit and vegetable skins, grain husks, and the flesh and pulp of plants. There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves into a gel and soaks up things like unused bile and cholesterol as it passes through your intestines. In contrast, insoluble fiber acts as an intestinal scrubbing brush, cleaning your digestive tract as it moves along it. Both types of fiber are very good for you.
Fiber also adds bulk to your feces – that’s a nice word for poop. Feces move along your digestive tract because of something called peristalsis. Peristalsis is a wave-like contraction that pushes your poop through the tubes of your digestive system. Imagine a snake swallowing an egg; that’s peristalsis.
By adding bulk to your feces, your body won’t have to work so hard to push it along your intestinal tract. This ensures your poop moves along in a timely manner and doesn’t spend longer in your body than necessary. Slow-moving feces can lead to a buildup of harmful, unhealthy bacteria.
Think about it like this: How hard it is to get that last bit off toothpaste out of the tube? Pretty hard! You’ll have to apply a lot of pressure in precisely the right place to get that last dollop of paste onto your toothbrush.
The same is true for your feces. Without fiber, your feces will be much less bulky, and your digestive tract will have to work much harder to squeeze it along. There is only so much peristalsis can achieve, and without sufficient fiber in your diet, you are more likely to suffer keto constipation.
Too little fiber is not the only cause of constipation. Slow moving feces also soak up more water than their speedier counterparts. Your body uses water to lubricate your intestines so that your poop can slide along easily. Less water means more friction and even slower moving poop.
This combination of low-bulk feces and intestinal dehydration can lead to constipation and keto bloating.
Other factors that may also contribute to keto constipation include:
- Eating less food than usual – the keto diet is very satiating
- Changes in gut flora – the good bacteria that live in your intestines
- Food intolerances and allergies – you may start eating foods that you have not eaten before as part of your new diet
How to combat keto constipation
Keto constipation is unpleasant, but it’s usually straightforward to put right or even avoid in the first place. However, if constipation persists, please speak to your doctor because it could be that your keto diet is not the issue and there may be an underlying health issue that needs investigation.
Practical solutions for keto constipation include:
1. Increase your fiber intake – just because you can’t eat bread, rice, pasta, etc., doesn’t have to mean your keto diet is low in fiber. There are lots of keto-friendly foods that are also high in fiber.
Dietary fiber keto-friendly foods include:
- Coconut flour and flakes
- Almonds and almond flour
- Peanut butter
The best type of fiber for beating constipation is soluble fiber. It doesn’t have the bulk of insoluble fiber, and it tends to be gentler. Ironically, consuming too much fiber can be as bad for constipation as bad for you are eating too little. That’s especially true for insoluble fiber. More on that topic later.
2. Take probiotics – the keto diet can unbalance your gut flora. Gut flora is “good” bacteria that live in your digestive system. The most common probiotic strains are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These bacteria are vital to your immune system and also keep your digestive system working as it should. Properly balanced gut bacteria can help normalize bowel function.
Probiotics are high in good bacteria and consuming them can help keep your gut flora happy and healthy. You can use probiotic supplements or eat foods that naturally contain these essential substances. Good options include cultured yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and miso.
3. Drink more water – water plays a vital role in almost every function within your body. It makes up the majority of your blood, keeps you cool, lubricates your joints, and helps maintain the elasticity of your skin. It’s also vital for the smooth passage of feces through your digestive system. Dehydration means your body won’t have enough water to lubricate your digestive tract, slowing the transit of feces and leading to constipation.
Avoid dehydration by drinking more water. Aim for around 64 fluid ounces per day. If you don’t usually drink this much, increase your water intake gradually to avoid overwhelming your urinary system.
4. Eat more food – eating more fats and protein may mean you simply do not feel as hungry as usual. That’s good news for weight loss but not so useful for avoiding constipation. With less food in your digestive tract, food transit times will increase, and constipation could be the result.
Avoid this problem by eating small but frequent meals. Small meals should be much more manageable even if you don’t feel very hungry.
5. Stay active – inactivity is a leading cause of constipation. Getting up and moving stimulates your entire body, and that includes your digestive system. That’s why being bedridden, e.g., in hospital, is often accompanied by constipation and exercise often makes you want to poop.
Avoid keto constipation by staying active. Exercise is good, but even walking will help keep your digestive system working normally. Try to clock up around 150 minutes of physical activity per week – that’s about 30 minutes per day, five days a week.
6. Eliminate allergens – when you start keto and eliminate carbs from your diet, you may find yourself eating lots of new and even unusual foods. If you are allergic to any of these foods, you may experience constipation. Foods that may cause allergic reactions and constipation include eggs, full-fat dairy, soy, and nuts.
Try excluding different foods at different times and see if you notice any changes. If that proves inconclusive, schedule an allergy test.
7. Increase your consumption of magnesium – magnesium relaxes your bowels and draws water into your intestines to help relieve constipation. You can use a magnesium supplement or increase your consumption of magnesium-rich foods such as cocoa, avocados, nuts, tofu, seeds, oily fish, and leafy greens.
8. Consume MCT oil for constipation – medium chain triglycerides, MCTs for short, are the ideal accompaniment to the keto diet. They are easy to digest, are a good source of energy, and can help ward off the keto flu. MCTs also have a mild laxative effect that can help you overcome constipation. Coconut oil and palm kernel oil are the best natural sources of MCTs, and full-fat dairy is also an acceptable source. You can also use a concentrated MCT oil supplement.
9. Start each day with an anti-constipation keto smoothie – many keto dieters struggle when it comes to breakfast. Cereal is off the menu, and there are only so many ways you can cook eggs before you get bored. A keto smoothie is not only an excellent way to provide your body with vital nutrients and ward off hunger, but it can also prevent constipation.
Use avocado as your base ingredient and add spinach, kale, peanut butter, or any other fiber-rich ingredients you like. You can also add MCT oil to help fight gut inflammation and balance out intestinal flora.
10. Use a fiber supplement – fiber supplements are an easy way to increase your fiber intake without consuming more food than usual. There are tablets and drinks available. Just ask your local pharmacist for recommendations. Make sure you check the ingredients and avoid any products that contain sugar or carbs. Good choices include psyllium husk and methylcellulose.
Can too much fiber cause keto constipation?
While consuming too little fiber is a leading cause of keto constipation, too much fiber can be a culprit also. A lot of people subscribe to the “more is better” approach to fiber consumption but eating more than your body can handle may have unwanted effects.
As you know, fiber adds bulk to your poo. Some extra bulk is a good thing and makes moving waste material through your digestive system much easier. But, an excess of fiber could mean that your poo is all-but wedged in your gastrointestinal tract. This can cause a buildup of gas, leading to bloating and discomfort as well as constipation.
A lot of keto dieters quite rightly eat more non-starchy vegetables when they start their keto diet. However, that sudden increase in fiber could be too much too soon for your digestive system. After all, those starchy carbs you were eating up until recently contained some fiber, but probably not as much as all the vegetables you are now eating in abundance. Foods like white bread, white rice, and breakfast cereals are nowhere near as high in fiber as aptly-named fibrous veggies.
Rather than overload your digestive system with too much fiber too soon, increase your veggie intake gradually over several days, and preferably before you start your keto diet. That way, you’ll be well on your way to becoming accustomed to an increased fiber intake, and it won’t cause the very problem you are trying to avoid!
But I don’t have keto constipation!
While keto constipation is normal, not having it is normal too. Some keto dieters end up with mild diarrhea instead. We are all individuals and respond to changes in diet in our own unique way. For some, that means high protein diet constipation, lethargy, brain fog, or difficulty sleeping. For others, it means loose bowels, feeling more energetic than usual, not feeling hungry, and headaches.
The symptoms of keto flu that accompany your transition into ketos are unique to you. Don’t worry that you aren’t constipated – it’s not a necessary part of keto induction! Some people get it, while others do not. That’s the joy of bio-individuality and the truth behind the expression “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.”
One of the reasons that the keto diet is so effective is that is changes how your body uses energy. However, initially at least, those changes can result in short-term side effects and symptoms – constipation being one such example.
While constipation is a real keto diet concern, it doesn’t usually last very long, and it’s straightforward to fix. It’s also important to remember that almost any change in diet or lifestyle can trigger constipation – it’s not limited to the keto diet. I always get constipated after flying!
Constipation is unpleasant but worrying about it often makes it worse. As soon as you realize that your bowel movements have lost their normal rhythm, take action and get things back on track as quickly as possible. The longer you leave it, the worse things tend to get and the longer it takes to get things back to normal.
Not constipated with keto? Good for you! This problem does not affect all keto dieters.