Let’s talk about constipation. It may be an embarrassing topic, but did you know that there’s a big vegetarian advantage when it comes to preventing and treating constipation, and some more serious colon health problems, that are so common in our meat-centered society? When it comes to constipation, the sales figures for laxatives tell the story as well as anything. No one should have to pay to poop, yet Americans spend over $700 million dollars on laxatives every year to do just that. The culprit, as with so many other health problems, is the low-fiber, meat-centered, American diet. This is where, as with so many health issues, a healthy vegetarian diet can come to the rescue.
Problems caused by low-fiber diets have been brewing for some time now. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Americans have eaten less and less fiber, as our diets have become more processed, and have included a higher proportion of foods made from animal products. Fiber is present in abundance in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, but there is no fiber whatsoever in animal products such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs. By consuming ever-increasing quantities of these foods, and by processing whole grains to remove all the nutrients and fiber to make the soft white flour, white bread and white rice that many Americans prefer, we’ve left the average American diet with only 5 to 14 grams of fiber, when we really need around 35 grams daily.
The result is constipation and host of other colon diseases such as painful hemorrhoids, diverticulosis (little pockets that form in the colon and become inflamed and infected) and even appendicitis. While you are probably already aware of just how common constipation and hemorrhoids have become, many people are surprised to learn that, by age 60, two thirds of Americans will have developed diverticulosis, and that 7% of the population will develop appendicitis in the course of their lifetimes. Both of these conditions are due to low-fiber diets.
Study after study has shown that people following a vegetarian diet, and in particular a vegan diet, have much lower rates of constipation, and therefore lower rates of hemorrhoids, appendicitis and diverticulitis. By replacing the animal products in your diet with lots of healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and by adding plenty of water, you’ll save yourself the money you may have spent on laxatives and visits to the doctor, the time you may have spent pushing and straining in the bathroom, and the pain you may have felt from suffering the consequences of a low-fiber diet. While we may not wish to talk about these issues in public, it’s good to know that you can do something about them in private, and save yourself money, time and pain.