I’m all about that plant-based life. Of course, I have to be honest: high-fibre living is not without its quirks.
When clients in my private practice (I’m a registered dietitian) adopt a plant-based diet, it’s not uncommon for them to feel kind of bloated at first.
While it’s 100% normal to be bloated from time to time, it’s not a ton of fun to have to deal with excessive gas and bloating. If it gets to be a daily issue, it’s probably a good idea to check in with a doctor to make sure you don’t have IBS or another digestive concern because your previous low fibre diet may have been hiding symptoms.
Moving from a dietary pattern that is low in fibre, and high in starches and added sugars to one that’s filled with high-fibre plants is one of the best things you can do for your health and vitality.
How to get rid of bloating on a plant-based diet
If you feel bloated, consider these five strategies to help ease your transition:
- Drink water
- Chew thoroughly
- Blend some foods
- Eat cooked vegetables
- Spread fibre consumption throughout the day
1. Drink water to help fibre do its job properly
All that extra fibre you’re consuming requires a significant amount of water to work its magic. In fact, without adequate water, fibre will have the opposite effect.
Yep. It’s literally plugging you up. It can even constipate you!
Whenever your elimination is sluggish, you will be bloated because, if there’s a lot of stool in the gut, it will hinder the movement of gasses.
The gasses that do escape will also be extra smelly. Also, if you’re dehydrated your gut will attempt to retrieve water from your stool, further slowing the process.
How much water should you drink?
Well, it’s very individualized. Ideally, drink enough water to be urinating pale urine (unless you take B vitamins or meds that change urine colour) every couple of hours.
If you are larger, more active or it’s hot out, you will need more than someone who is smaller or less active. Keep a one-litre bottle of water at your side and fill it up at least twice a day.
2. Chew thoroughly to more effectively digest plant foods
This sounds too ridiculously obvious to be meaningful but plant cell walls take a considerable amount of grinding to break down properly.
Why does this matter?
All of the acid and enzymes that your food encounters after you swallow work best when there is more surface area to attach to.
Chewing is the one act of digestion that you have control over, which will optimize the process. Yet most of us gulp down our food barely chewed.
It makes a difference! Be mindful that you have fully chewed before you choose to swallow. Slowing down the rate at which you eat will also help minimize the amount of air you are swallowing, which will decrease the amount of gases you are introducing into the gut.
3. Blend some foods
Blending foods can also improve digestion. Blending is a common strategy for my clients with particularly sensitive digestive tracts such as those with ulcerative colitis because it helps to break down the tough cell walls of plant foods.
A word to the blender-wise: if you love smoothies, be mindful about how you consume them. If you gulp a 500ml smoothie, you will place a lot of nutrients into the gut quickly and likely feel bloated. Instead, sip slowly and actually chew your smoothie. That’s right! Make the physical motion of chewing before you swallow and it will help slow you down, giving the enzymes in your saliva a bit more contact with the food.
Need some smoothie inspiration? Check out these 10 vegan smoothies.
4. Eat cooked vegetables
When you have a seriously inflamed or irritated gut, it’s not uncommon to have trouble tolerating raw vegetables. Unfortunately, this usually leads to eating more low fibre, low nutrient foods that feel good in the short term but may lead to more inflammation later on.
Cooked vegetables are often easier to handle. Enjoy cooked foods over raw foods as you transition to a higher-fibre diet. Cooking foods helps gently break them down and makes them easier on the digestive process. Give your veggies a quick steam, roast, stir fry or saute until hot and fork tender but not mushy.
5. Spread fibre consumption throughout the day
It’s not uncommon to add a lot of high fibre foods to a single meal like breakfast. This can place a heavy fibre load on the gut.
Instead, try to eat high-fibre foods at each meal, such as beans, berries or hardy vegetables. Adding smaller fibre doses—say 5-10 grams—throughout the day will feel better than a large dose in one sitting.
This is also the perfect time to talk about beans and lentils. If you’re brand new to beans and start eating 2 cups of beans a day, you’re going to be pretty bloated. Really bloated, actually. Instead, start small.
Add ¼ cup of beans to one of your meals every single day. Give your body the clear signal that it needs to adapt without going overboard. You can gradually go up to a half a cup and then one full cup at a meal. Enjoy some other lower fibre plant-based proteins like organic tofu or hemp seeds at other meals as you transition.
Should you take a digestive enzyme?
Usually the first place people head when they feel bloated is digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes can help you feel better in the short term but I don’t agree that they are a long term solution—unless you have a diagnosed deficiency in pancreatic enzyme production.
The reason for my stance is that:
- your body will adapt given the chance
- all of those undigested fibres are food for your gut bacteria
The body was not designed to, nor does it require, that you digest and absorb 100% of your food intake. Waste happens—it’s supposed to. And when you eat a variety of whole plant foods, that ‘waste’ is actually fermentable fibres and carbohydrates that feed gut bacteria to protect and heal your gut for the long term.
Natural remedies for bloating
I’m a big advocate for a little probiotic support. Especially if your diet was less than healthy before. A good probiotic can help your gut bacteria bounce back quicker but it’s not an overnight thing.
I also love natural herbal support for digestion. Ginger, fennel and peppermint are all excellent at soothing angry, bloated guts.
You can chew fresh, picked or dried ginger or sip it as a tea throughout the day. Chew a few organic fennel seeds after a meal or enjoy a strong peppermint tea or a few drops of food grade peppermint oil.
If you’re eating a healthy, plant-based diet a little gas will always be a part of your life.
It means your gut is functional, you have good bacteria in there and you’re eating fibre. But daily discomfort and significant bloating is a sign that you need some extra support. Give these strategies a try and hopefully they’ll help you love living a plant-based life.