You guys know that I’m all about that plant-based life. Of course, I have to be honest: high fibre living is not without its quirks. When my clients adopt a plant-based diet, it’s not uncommon for them to feel kind of bloated.
It’s not a ton of fun to have to deal with excessive gas and bloating; as you eat more whole plant foods, it may be a dramatic change from the foods you have eaten in the past. Moving from a low fibre, high starch and high sugar diet to one that is filled with high fibre plants is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and vitality. It also requires your body to adapt…which takes a bit of time.
Your digestive secretions adapt in response to how your diet evolves over time, as do your gut bacteria.
As you continue to eat a high fibre diet, beneficial gut bacteria, experts at fermenting your leftover plant fibre, will continue to grow and crowd out other less helpful bacteria that may be causing sluggish digestion or bloat-inducing inflammation.
How to get rid of bloating on a plant-based diet
If you’re feeling bloated, consider these strategies to help ease your transition:
Drink a ton of water to help fibre do its job properly
All that extra fibre you are 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. Whenever your elimination is sluggish, you will be bloated because if there is a lot of stool in the gut, it will hinder the movement of gasses. The gasses that do escape will also be extra smelly. In addition, if you’re dehydrated, your gut will attempt to retrieve water from your stool, further slowing down transit in the process.
How much water to drink? Well, I hate to say it…but 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, less active or in the winter. Keep a one litre bottle of water at your side, you’ll probably want to fill it up at least twice a day.
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 post swallow work best when there is more surface area to attach to. So 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.
Smoothies and Bloating
Blending foods can also improve digestion; if you are feeling like kale is difficult to digest, try adding it to smoothies, or blending into a pesto. New to beans? Make hummus your first stop on the legume train. A word to the blender-wise: if you love smoothies, be mindful about how you consume them. If you chug 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 ten yummy vegan smoothies.
Cooked plant foods are more digestible
I do a lot of work in digestive health and when my clients first see me, they may be having trouble tolerating raw vegetables. However, cooked vegetables may be much easier for them to handle…so it also may work for you! Enjoy more cooked foods over raw as you transition to a higher fibre diet. Cooking foods lightly helps gently break them down and makes them easier on the digestive process. Give a quick steam, roast, stir fry or saute until hot and fork tender but not mushy.
Spread your fibre throughout the day and be consistent
If consciously trying to increase fibre intake, it’s not uncommon to add a lot of high fibre foods to a single meal, such as breakfast, which 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 one large dose.
This is also the perfect place to talk about beans and lentils. If you are new to beans and start eating 2 cups of them a day, you are going to be pretty bloated. 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 cup and then a full cup at a meal. Enjoy lower fibre 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 are feeling bloated is digestive enzymes, which 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 this stance is that a) your body will adapt given the chance and b) 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.
Natural Remedies for Bloating
I am of course a big advocate for a little probiotic support. Especially if your diet was less than healthy previously, a good probiotic can help your gut bacteria bounce back quicker. 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 as a tea throughout the day; chew a few organic fennel seeds post meal or enjoy a strong peppermint tea or a few drops of food grade peppermint oil to cool you down.
If you are eating a healthy, plant-based diet a little gas will always be a part of your life. It means that your gut is functional, you have good bacteria in there and….you are eating your fibre. However, daily discomfort and significant bloating is a sign that you need some extra support. Give these strategies a try and hopefully they will help you love your plant-based life!