Adopting a more plant-based way of eating has many health benefits, but the variety of fibrous foods in your diet can take a little extra work for your digestive system to break down. The unfortunate result? Vegan bloating and gas that can be uncomfortable at best and embarrassing at worst – especially if it strikes when you’ve got an important work presentation or a first date ahead.
Here, Rob Hobson, a nutritionist from Healthspan (healthspan.co.uk), explains how to make plant-based living sit easier on your stomach.
Why does veganism cause bloating?
“Everyone has experienced bloating at some point and probably recognises the uncomfortable sensation of a swollen belly,” says Hobson.
“The burbling, abdominal pain, distension and embarrassing noises associated with trapped wind or bloating is known as ‘borborygmi’ and often results in a tell-tale explosive release of gas, either upwards or downwards.”
Hobson explains that certain staple vegan foods can encourage bloating, such as beans, pulses and vegetables which are high in fibre. This is the reason why an overnight adoption of total plant-based eating can lead to sudden discomfort. “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,” he adds.
Some plant-based foods are synonymous with boating and many of these are high in FODMAPS – short-chain carbohydrates that pass straight through to the colon, where they’re fermented by gut bacteria and produce lots of gas.
Typical bloating foods include garlic, onions, mushrooms, apples, artichokes and cruciferous veg like cauliflower and broccoli. Hobson says to watch out for nuts, wheat, barley, rye and soy foods too, which can also have a similar gassy effect.
Ensure your vegan diet provides all the nutrients you need including Omega-3. Read our guide to 5 vegan foods that are great sources of Omega-3.
What can you do to relieve bloating on a plant-based diet?
Luckily, Hobson says that there are a number of key ways in which you can help to relieve bloating and avoid gassy episodes in day-to-day life. Try these tips to help your body adjust to a new way of eating…
1. Soak your beans
“It might sound like extra effort, but soaking beans (such as butter, black, kidney and pinto varieties) overnight in water can help to break down the complex sugars that can cause bloating,” explains Hobson. “Adding seaweed or bay leaves to the water when you cook beans can help too, as enzymes in these foods are able to break down indigestible sugars.”
2. Choose lower fibre lentils
Lentils are really high in fibre, but overloading your body can lead to bloating, fast. “Lighter coloured varieties are lower in fibre, so for an easy switch, try choosing red lentils over brown or green,” says Hobson.
3. Try soaking your nuts
As well as beans, nuts can benefit from sitting in water while you sleep too. “Phytates in foods – such as nuts – have been shown to encourage bloating,” says Hobson. “Soaking nuts overnight is a helpful way to reduce the phytate content, making them more easily digested.”
4. Choose non-cruciferous vegetables
Most of us are familiar with the unpleasant after-effects of eating cruciferous vegetables, such as sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower at Christmas.
“The reason why these foods cause gas and bloating is because we don’t possess the enzyme required to break down a complex sugar called ‘raffinose’.
“This sugar is left to ferment in the gut and contribute to excess gas,” says Hobson.
Opt for more easily-digested veg if you’re putting together a packed lunch for work and don’t want to be left doubled over with pain.
5. Cook your vegetables
Raw vegetables are often touted as being more nutritious, but Hobson believes that they can be tougher on the body.
He says: “Cooking vegetables can help to start the breakdown of these foods, making them easier to digest.”
6. Ditch processed foods
Processed foods are convenient, but they’re 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’s more important than ever to be aware of the basic principles of healthy eating,” warns Hobson.
The initial side-effects of bloating may deter you from sticking to plant-based eating, but over time, Hobson says your body will naturally adjust to the increased intake of fibre.
If your bloating is accompanied by abdominal pain, a change in bowel habits, weight loss or proves troublesome for more than a week or two, it’s important to tell your doctor, in case it needs further investigation.