Food and constipation: What impact does milk have?
Dairy products can cause constipation, while plant-based milks are a much more easily digested, healthier alternative.
Gas, abdominal pain, bloating, heaviness, discomfort and, depending on the case, increased or reduced appetite: these are the most common symptoms of constipation. As Mario López, nutritionist at SHA Wellness Clinic, explains, constipation “is technically defined as three days or more without going to the bathroom and can also have a negative impact on cognitive function, impairing mental clarity and concentration, and affecting mood”.
The main cause of constipation is a diet lacking in fibre and water, although a sedentary lifestyle is also a factor. “The vast majority of nutrients in food are absorbed in the small intestine, where they pass into the bloodstream, and it is in the large intestine, which is the last part of the digestive system, that water is absorbed”, says Mario. The faeces become very dry when you don’t drink enough water making it difficult to pass. The Bristol scale, a graphical representation that classifies stools according to their shape and consistency and indicates how close or far you are from constipation, can be used as a reference. To ensure sufficient hydration, the average recommended daily intake of water is two litres and should include soups, juices and herbal teas. “This amount can increase depending on certain factors”, Mario warns, “such as climate, regular exercise, body weight or a diet rich in nutritionally dense foods”.
Equally as important as drinking the necessary amount of water and consuming foods rich in fibre, such as seasonal vegetables and fruit, pulses, wholegrain cereals and seeds, is avoiding foods that cause constipation. Dairy products slow down intestinal transit and make it difficult to evacuate their contents, especially in people with lactose intolerance. For this reason, Mario recommends ”avoiding dairy products when you are constipated because they are nutritionally very dense and can also cause other harmful effects, such as the appearance of eczema, acidity and intestinal bloating or excessive mucus. Plant-based milks, on the other hand, are healthier and are not associated with the health issues associated with animal-based milks. Another advantage is that they allow us to maintain our habits: milk consumption is widespread and replacing it with a plant-based alternative is easier than doing without it altogether. However, it is important to clarify that, although vegetable milks do not cause constipation, they do not favour intestinal transit. The most recommended plant-based alternatives for people with digestive problems are oat and rice milks, which usually contain 14% of these grains and, to a lesser extent, almond milk, with 4%. Plant-based milks that include nuts are also recommended, such as rice and hazelnut milk, because they are well tolerated and have a more intense flavour”.