By: Marie Suszynski, Everyday Health

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that what you put in your body has a lot to do with the way it comes out. Unfortunately, the typical American diet often leads to constipation and a hunt for constipation relief.

Too many processed, high-fat foods, and not enough fluids and fibre can cause constipation. It’s a bigger problem than people may realize, says John Fortunato, MD, a gastroenterologist at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

When you don’t have regular bowel movements, you may not be completely evacuating your bowel. Over time, stool can become backed up in the colon and the colon can stretch, making it even more difficult to have a bowel movement, Dr. Fortunato says. Chronic constipation can be a serious problem that can lead to leakage and may even require surgery.

One of the healthiest steps you can take is choosing foods that relieve constipation or prevent constipation in the first place. You may already turn to foods that relieve constipation, such as bran cereal or prune juice. However, if you don’t yet have constipation symptoms, you don’t need to wait until they start to begin eating healthier.

You can get constipation relief or work to prevent constipation now with the right constipation diet. Follow these diet dos and don’ts:

DO: Drink Plenty Of Fluids
Getting the recommended eight glasses of water a day helps to soften your stool, making elimination easier. Drinking the right amount of fluids may also help stool leave the colon, Fortunato says.

DO: Eat Fresh And Dried Fruit
Fruit, especially dried fruit, is loaded with fibre and is one of the foods that help relieve constipation. Along with water, fibre helps give stool the right consistency to pass easily. Good fruit choices for a constipation diet are raisins, prunes, figs, bananas, apples, and applesauce.

DO: Load Your Plate With Vegetables
Vegetables are also high in fibre and can help prevent constipation. Pinto beans, legumes, salads, and raw vegetables are all high in fibre, making them great choices for constipation relief and prevention.

DO: Fill Up On Whole Grains:
Look for whole-grain bread, oatmeal, ground flax seed, barley, and wheat bran cereal. Your goal should be to get up to 35 grams of fibre a day, and just one ounce of wheat bran cereal gives you 10 grams.

DON’T: Rely On Processed Foods
Processed foods don’t have much fibre, Fortunato says. Eating too many of them can lead to constipation — better to go with natural foods like fruits and vegetables than to get your meals and snacks from a box or bag.

DON’T: Drink Coffee Or Caffeinated Drinks All Day
Caffeine is a stimulant so it can cause you to have a bowel movement. But it can also cause dehydration, which can have the opposite effect and lead to constipation, Fortunato explains.

DON’T: Go Overboard On Dairy
Dairy on its own may not lead to constipation, but the lactose in dairy can produce gas and make you uncomfortable if you’re backed up already, Fortunato says. Also, foods that are loaded with cheese aren’t usually part of a balanced diet, so be sure to get the three recommended daily servings of dairy from healthy, low-fat sources, such as nonfat milk and yogurt.

DON’T: Drink Too Much Alcohol:
Like caffeine, alcohol can dehydrate you and cause constipation. Limiting your alcohol intake can help relieve constipation.