After an injury to your spinal cord, your regular bowel habits will change. Constipation can be a problem. A bowel program is often used to help your bowels become regular and predictable. This program usually involves medications, a high fibre diet and a high fluid intake.
Fibre and fluid
Fibre, commonly called 'roughage', is not digested by your body so adds bulk to your bowel motions. As the fibre travels along your large bowel, it absorbs water. This increases bulk and softens your bowel actions, making them easier to pass.
High fibre eating
The first and most important step of your bowel program is making sure you have a high fibre diet. Eating a high fibre diet may reduce the amount of medications needed in your bowel program.
Foods high in fibre:
- help regulate bowel habits and soften bowel motions
- help satisfy your appetite
- may reduce the risk of hemorrhoids, diverticular disease and gall bladder disease
Sources of fibre
Fibre is only found in plant foods. There is no dietary fibre in meat. There are 2 main types of fibre, insoluble and soluble.
Insoluble fibre is found in:
- Fruits and vegetables with skins and seeds
- Wholegrain breads and cereals (e.g. Weetbix, Allbran, porridge, multigrain and wholemeal breads, brown rice, cracked wheat)
- Nuts and seeds (e.g. sesame, poppy, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Walnuts, cashews, almonds, peanuts)
Soluble fibre is found in:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Beans and lentils (eg: chickpeas, kidney beans, split peas, baked beans, haricot beans)
- Oats, barley and psyllium
How can I increase the fibre in my diet?
It is easy to change some of your basic eating habits, to include more fibre.
- Breads and cereals
- Wholemeal or wholegrain bread and rolls
- High fibre white bread
- Wholemeal pasta
- Brown rice
- Wholegrain breakfast cereals
- Barley (add to soups and casseroles)
- Lentils, split peas, haricot beans, kidney beans and chickpeas
- Baked beans
- Fruit and Vegetables
- Fresh, stewed, canned and dried
- All types of cooked and salad vegetables
- Eat with the skin where possible
- Nuts and seeds
- Sesame, poppy, sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- Walnuts, cashews, peanuts and peanut butter
Nuts are high in fat so eat only in small amounts if you are trying to lose weight.
Don't forget high fibre snacks! You can try wholemeal bread or dry biscuits with a topping, fresh or dried fruit, fruit breads or muffins, nuts (in small quantities).
Shopping and cooking with fibre
When shopping buy plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Look for wholemeal, wholegrain or high fibre on food labels, especially on breads, breakfast cereals, pasta and dry biscuits. Remember to include baked beans and other dried, fresh or canned legumes on your shopping list. Compare the nutrition information panels on food products to help you make higher fibre choices.
Experiment with your cooking! Use more legumes in casseroles, salads and soups. Add extra vegetables to casseroles and stir-fries. Serve wholemeal pasta or brown rice with casseroles and curries.
Am I drinking enough fluid?
The fibre traveling along your large bowel absorbs its own weight in water many times over. You need to drink enough fluid for this process to be able to work properly. Aim for 2-3 litres (8 -12 cups) daily. Fruit juice, milk, soft drink, cordial, soup, tea, coffee and water are all counted as fluid. Try to drink at least half your fluid intake as water. If your fluid intake is too low you can become constipated, which means your bowel actions may be small, hard and difficult to pass.