After my last post, (Whole-food plant-based – Change for the better) I received a question from Nikki about what causes bloating and how it can be prevented. First of all, thank you for the question Nikki and for encouraging others to visit and read my blog.
Well, I remember very clearly experiencing bloating for about the first 3 weeks of wfpbno (whole-food plant-based no oil) I wasn’t worried about it at the time as I knew why it was happening and had every expectation that it would end. That belief, I think, came from reading all the comments of others ahead of me in the 21 day plant-based challenge that I started in November 2019. I now know of course that for some people it takes longer for the gut to adjust, and some need to continue to be careful of what they eat. Bloating and gas is completely normal by the way!
There are so many benefits to following a plant based diet: better health, weight loss, lowering your carbon foot print etc. However, there are side effects that are not so enjoyable – you’ve got it – bloating and gas! This can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but for me the pros outweigh the cons.
If you are new to plant-based eating, or have increased the fibre in your diet, you can blame any gas and bloating on all the fibre you are eating. Fibre, also known as roughage is the indigestible part of plant foods that cleans out your digestive system. However, fibre is a double edged sword: while it may cause gas and bloating, it also improves digestion and relieves constipation. Also, there are studies that have shown a diet high in fibre can prevent certain types of cancer, heart disease, obesity and type 2 Diabetes. It also promotes a healthy gut, so it’s well worth persevering with plants.
So, what are the culprits that can cause gas and bloating:
What did I eat?
Cruciferous veg: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage and our old favourite – Brussel sprouts (personally, one of my favourite veg). These vegetables contain glucosinolates, which are sulphur containing compounds – smells like rotten eggs, right! So with the fibre that humans can’t digest, bacteria breaks down the food via fermentation. The end result (pardon the pun) is carbon dioxide, methane or hydrogen – also known as gas!
Beans/Legumes: Legumes such as beans and lentils are the second leading gas producing foods (dairy products being number 1). These contain 2 relatively indispensable sugars: raffinose and stachyose, that end up in the large intestine. Tip: if you use canned beans, rinse them thoroughly with water. If you use dried beans, soak them before cooking.
Processed foods and oils – can be hard on your digestive system (even plant-based processed foods). If you are following a whole-food plant-based diet you will be avoiding processed foods as much as possible. High fat foods, especially oils and fried foods move slowly through the digestive tract and is often the cause of bloating.
So, that’s the science bit. Now – 5 tips to reduce gas and bloating:
- Incorporate fibre slowly – too much too soon will cause gas and bloating
- Drink water – plenty of it as it aids the digestion process
- chew your food – really chew it. Well chewed food is easier to digest
- Cook your veggies – easier to digest than raw, especially as you transition to eating more vegetables
- Drink your smoothies slowly – sip them and drink half and save half for later
Natural remedies that can help with the issue of gas and bloating:
- Ginger – add it to water with lemon. Incorporate it into meals such as curries and soups
- Herbal teas – such as peppermint, ginger or fennel, can provide digestive relief while also increasing your water intake
- Lemon water – neutralises stomach acid
- Yoga – certain yoga poses have been shown to relieve gas and bloating, including the aptly named “Wind Pose”.
I personally would suggest keeping a food diary so you can identify the foods that are causing bloating and gas. That way you can eliminate or reduce that particular food for a while until your body and particularly your gut has transitioned to the new diet. Its your gut biome that has to adjust from your former eating style.
There are some real but benign reasons of bloating and discomfort so consider:
- Eating smaller meals
- Eating slower. A substantial amount of gas in your gastrointestinal system is from swallowing air
- Drink plenty of water. This will assist in ‘keeping things moving’
- Pay attention to other beverages: coffee, alcohol, and some teas may exacerbate stomach bloating and discomfort. Try eliminating these drinks if this applies to you.
Of course, I would always advise anyone who is changing their diet to consult a medical professional before embarking on it. If you find a doctor who is aware of the health benefits of this eating lifestyle, you will have hit the jackpot! But, be prepared for a doctor saying you need to eat meat and dairy for a balanced diet. Be prepared also for comments such as ‘ where do you get your protein from.’ The answer to that is very simple – from plant-based, whole-foods. Most of us consume far more protein than our body requires. Eat a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains and you will give your body the nutrients, vitamins and fibre it needs to function optimally. I personally take a Vitamin B12 daily oral spray, as this is not readily available in a plant-based diet. Equally, if you choose to take a multi vitamin daily tablet, as I do, it’s not going to hurt either.
Just to demonstrate how quickly our bodies adapt to a plant-based diet. Remember I started eating wfpbno in mid November 2019, well a friend bought me a box of Baileys Chocolates, my absolute favourites. I resisted until late Christmas Day evening, thinking a few wouldn’t hurt! My body was very quick to let me know that a few would definitely hurt. The pain I experienced I likened to child birth!!!! That could be an exaggeration – But lesson learned.
I am passionate about whole-food plant-based eating because it works – on so many levels. After over 40 years of yo-yo dieting I have not only found an eating lifestyle that supports weight loss, but, I am healthier, fitter, have more confidence and improved self-esteem. What’s more, I don’t even entertain the idea of going back to my previous way of eating – there is no end date. I have thrown the yo-yo away! I’m now skipping around like a 20 year old – well not quite, but I’m sure you get what I mean.
This post has been a bit long winded (sorry – not an intentional pun!) But so important to address the real issues. I hope this information is beneficial and please keep your comments and questions coming.