If you’re among the 27% of adults suffering from a sluggish digestive system, discussing the issue may be as uncomfortable as the condition itself.  Yet constipation is more than a discomfiting nuisance — it’s a potential health threat, as slowing colonic transit increases colon cancer risk.  Fortunately, new research suggests swapping out your sandwich or breakfast bread for rye may help get things moving — even more effectively than commercially available laxatives.

Finnish researchers recruited 51 adults (47 women, 4 men, ages 22-78) suffering from chronic constipation (in this study characterized by fewer than 5 weekly bowel movements). Some participants were assigned 240 grams of rye bread daily, while others were given probiotics and over-the-counter laxatives –the control group was assigned white bread. At the end of three weeks, the rye bread-fed group enjoyed the most significant results, including a 23% reduction in the time it took food to make it through their digestive system — 52.2 hrs vs 68.1 hrs — a 16 hour reduction in transit time. This in turn increased the frequency of bowel movements by about 26%. The use of laxatives made no difference at all and the probiotics actually increased transit time by 21%!

In addition to being lower in gluten than other wheat varieties, rye is relatively high in fiber offering 16% of your daily value in a two slice serving — that’s in addition to 5g of protein, 25% manganese plus 20% folate and thiamin. Such nutrient density may help explain why eating rye bread helped dieters feel fuller than did those who ate wheat.

Bonus: Not high on rye? Then opt for kiwis to counter constipation. Eating two kiwis daily delivered a 23% reduction in discomfort. In addition to fiber, the kiwi enzyme actinidin may play a role.

Published October 1, 2010