One of the most common side effects of shifting towards a plant-based diet is an increase in bloating. The good news is that this discomfort often subsides within 2 to 3 weeks as your body adapts to plant-based eating. However, if the bloating persists, then there are some recommended next steps for you to take.
Why Do We Get Bloating with a Plant-Based Diet?
Bloating happens when our digestive tract becomes filled with air or gas. When we introduce higher quantities of gas-producing and fibre-rich foods (such as beans, lentils and cruciferous vegetables), a natural side effect of this is an increase in bloating. This is especially true for people who transition to a high plant-based diet overnight.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Bloating
Occasional bloating from time to time is still considered normal, but it’s not fun to deal with daily. Before changing what you eat, start with HOW you eat:
1. Chew Your Food More Thoroughly
This sounds almost too obvious to be meaningful, but plant-based foods (particularly their cell walls), take a considerable amount of grinding to break down effectively. Think of how much grinding and chewing cows do when eating grass, and you get the idea. Chewing is the very first step to healthy digestion. When you chew and break down your mouthful into smaller pieces you increase the surface area for stomach acid and enzymes to attach to. Be mindful that you have fully chewed each mouthful before you choose to swallow, and you will also be reducing the amount of air swallowed at the same time.
2. Get Moving after a Meal
One way to ease the discomfort bloating gives you is to replace your post-meal nap, with some light exercise. Walking, jogging, or any other form of lower intensity exercise can help stimulate the passage of gas through your digestive system. Resist the urge to lie down after a bigger meal, and instead go for a light stroll to alleviate discomfort.
Dietary Changes to Reduce Bloating
Eating a dietary pattern that is filled with high-fibre plants is one of the best things you can do for your health and vitality. To avoid bloating from these health-promoting foods, here are our top strategies:
1. Drink More Water
All of the extra fibre you’ll be consuming on your plant-based diet requires a significant amount of water to work it’s way through your system. With enough water, fibre promotes digestion, without it you get the opposite effect. Whilst the standard 8 glasses of water per day may be sufficient, it’s more important to pay attention to your urine output. Drink enough so that your urine is pale in colour and that you’re going to the toilet every couple of hours. Also, use common sense on days when you’re more active or the temperature is higher, and drink more.
2. Eat Lots of Fresh Fruits
Fruit is naturally high in enzymes that may help with digestion and alleviate bloating. Fruits that are especially high in digestive enzymes include papaya, pineapple, mango, banana, avocado, and kiwifruit.
3. Soak Your Beans & Nuts
Soaking beans (such as butter, black, kidney and pinto varieties) overnight in water can help to break down the complex carbohydrates that can cause bloating. Simply place dried beans in a container, cover them with water and leave them to soak. They’ll need to soak for 8 to 12 hours, but the key to eliminating the gas is draining and rinsing every three hours. Discarding the water frequently gets rid of the excess sugar starch—and that’s what you’re really aiming for here, so try not to skip this step! It’s labour intensive, but makes a big difference.
Just like beans, nuts too can benefit from sitting in water whilst you sleep. Phytates in foods such as nuts may encourage bloating. Soaking nuts overnight is a helpful way to reduce this phytate content, making them easier to digest.
4. Eat Lower Fibre Lentils
Lentils are very rich in fibre, which can contribute to bloating. As a general rule, lighter coloured varieties of lentils are lower in fibre, so give red lentils a try if green or brown give you significant discomfort.
5. Cook Your Vegetables
Raw vegetables (when eaten as soon after being harvested as possible) are often promoted as more nutritious than cooked. However they can be tougher on the body. Remember those tough cell walls? They are broken down during the cooking process, making them easier to digest.
6. Blend Certain Foods
Just like chewing and cooking, blending helps to break down foods, making them easier to digest. If you struggle with veggies such as kale, try adding it to a smoothie or blending it into a pesto. The same goes for beans. If you battle with bloating after eating chickpeas in a salad, try making hummus.
Supplements to Consider to Reduce Bloating
Food and lifestyle changes always come before the introduction of supplements – and for good reason. Supplements are just that, a supplement to a good diet and lifestyle pattern. That being said, there are some fantastic products for you to try:
1. Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes can help you with relief from bloating in the short term. Consider a course for when you first introduce your new high-fibre approach.
2. Probiotics and Fermented Foods
A good quality probiotic supplement can help to make sure your gut bacteria are optimal for digestion, especially if your diet was less than healthy before your new plant-based diet. Fermented foods are nature’s probiotic supplement. Consider adding foods such as kombucha (although take caution as the fizzier brews may contribute to bloating), kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi to your diet to naturally boost your gut bacteria.
3. Herbal Support
There are a few herbs known to help soothe and support digestion. Consider supplements, tinctures or even teas containing ginger, fennel and peppermint to calm a bloated stomach.
A Little Bloating is Normal
If you’re eating a healthy, plant-based diet, then a little gas will always be a part of your life. Gas means that your gut is functional, that you’re eating enough fibre, and that you have good gut bacteria. That being said, daily and significant bloating is a sign that you need additional support. Try the strategies above and hopefully they will keep you feeling fantastic on your new plant-based diet.