Adopting a more plant-based way of eating has many health benefits. Eating more plants in your diet can help to increase your intake of nutrients such as fibre as well as vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. The cumulative effect of this has been shown to reduce the risk of many health conditions such as heart disease and cancer while also improving digestion and maintaining a healthy gut microbiota.
Whether you have decided to go vegan or simply increase your intake of plant-based foods, one of the most common side effects is bloating and wind. In the short-term this may make day-to-day living a little uncomfortable but it’s a small price to pay when you consider the benefits gained.
What is bloating?
Everyone has experienced bloating at some point and recognises the uncomfortable sensation of a swollen belly which for some reason appears to be more common in women than men.
The burbling, abdominal pain, distension and embarrassing noises associated with trapped wind or bloating is known as borborygmi and often results in a somewhat explosive release of gas either upwards or downwards.
What are the main causes of bloating?
Certain foods can encourage bloating such as those high in fibre (beans, pulses, vegetables) which is why a sudden adoption of plant-based eating can lead to this condition. Gut bacteria also have a role to play and it may take a little time for your microbiota to adjust to the increased intake of fibre in your diet.
When should you seek help for bloating?
If bloating is accompanied by abdominal pain, a change in bowel habit, weight loss or proves troublesome for more than a week or two, it’s important to tell your doctor in case you need further investigation.
If bloating and pain become very bad and you haven’t passed any gas through the rectum over a prolonged period of time (e.g. 24 hours), you may have a bowel blockage – If this happens, call a doctor straight away.
What are the culprit foods on a vegan diet?
Some plant-based foods are synonymous with boating and many of these are high in FODMAPS which are short-chain carbohydrates that pass straight through to the colon where they’re fermented by gut bacteria (and produce lots of gas).
Typically bloating foods include:
- Cruciferous vegetables (e.g. cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale)
- Beans, pulses and lentils
- Wheat, barley and rye
- Soy foods
What can you do to help relieve bloating?
There are several ways in which you can help to relieve bloating on a vegan diet. Try these tips below to help your body adjust to a plant-based way of eating.
Leave beans and pulses to soak
Soaking beans in water overnight can help to break down the complex sugars that can cause bloating. It has been shown that adding seaweed or bay leaves to the water you then cook your beans in can help as enzymes in these foods are able to break down indigestible sugars.
Choose lighter coloured lentils
Lentils are really high in fibre but overloading your body can lead to bloating Lighter coloured varieties are lower in fibre so try choosing red lentils over brown or green.
Leave nuts to soak
Phytates in foods such as nuts have been shown to encourage bloating. Soaking nuts is a helpful way to reduce the phytate content making the more easily digested. Reducing the phytates also makes the minerals in these foods more available.
Cut back on cruciferous vegetables
Most of us are familiar with the aftereffects of eating cruciferous vegetables such as sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower. The reason why these foods because bloating is because we don’t possess the enzyme required to break down a complex sugar called raffinose which is then left to ferment in the gut and contribute to excess gas.
Limit your raw vegetable intake
Raw vegetables are often touted as being more nutritious, but can they can be difficult to digest. Cooking vegetables can help to start the breakdown of these foods making them easier to digest.
Switch to psuedograins
Some people find that certain grains like barley or spelt can be quite bloating. Psuedograins are actually derived from seeds and include quinoa and buckwheat. These are a little easier to digest for some people and may help to ease bloating.
Avoid processed foods
Processed, convenience foods are often loaded with bad fats and sugar which can put a strain on your digestive system. The growing trend for plant-based fast food has made it easier to become an unhealthy vegan so it is even more important to be aware of the basic principles of healthy eating.
How else can you prevent bloating?
There are a number of ways in which you can help to ease the pressure on your digestive system such as:
- Add fibre slowly to the diet
- Drink plenty of water to accommodate extra fibre in the diet
- Avoid excess sugar as this can disrupt a balanced microbiota
- Eat smaller portions of food (little and often)
- Include probiotic foods in your diet such as live vegan yoghurt or kimchi
- Chew your food slowly to maximise enzyme production
- Drink mint or ginger to help relax the muscles in the gut
What about supplements?
There are a number of natural remedies that can help to support your digestion and relieve unwanted bloating which include:
- Artichoke extract which stimulates bile production to help aid digestion and reduce bloating and flatulence.
- Magnesium which can help with muscle relaxation and may help to ease constipation.
- Natural heartburn remedies which contain the antacids sodium bicarbonate and calcium carbonate.
- Probiotic supplements which help to promote a healthy diversity of bacteria in the gut.
Switching to a vegan diet is hugely healthy but the initial side-effects of bloating may deter you from sticking to this healthy way of eating. Your body will adjust to the increased intake of fibre and there are many natural aids that can help to calm excess gas and bloating.