It’s true that a vegan diet, or eating more plant-based foods in general, can benefit your health. But, a significant shift in your diet might leave you with some much-maligned digestive woe, including bloating, gas, heartburn, and an upset stomach. Thankfully, being more intentional about the food you eat is one way to help soothe what ails your gut. Here’s how to ease bloating on a vegan diet, plus six ways to combat tummy troubles.
Why does eating vegan cause bloating?
Between 10- and 25-percent of healthy people experience the occasional stomach bloating. But, bloating, gas, and stomach cramps seem to be especially big problems with new vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians.
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The culprit is usually dietary fiber—the indigestible plant fibers that, unlike protein or carbohydrates, pass through your digestive system intact. Fiber is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and packs a number of benefits, including lowering “bad” cholesterol, controlling blood sugar levels, increasing longevity, and helping to maintain healthy bowels.
Some vegetables may cause more bloating than other plant-based foods. “Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are also responsible for some of these undesirable effects, thanks to an oligosaccharide called raffinose,” Stephanie Wells, RDN, tells VegNews. “Raffinose isn’t digested until it is fermented by bacteria in the large intestine, causing gas to be produced.”
How to ease bloating on a vegan diet
“Going plant-based is likely going to increase a person’s fiber intake exponentially, especially if they’re replacing a significant amount of meat with more beans and legumes which are very high in fiber,” Jenna Volpe, an RDN who specializes in gut health, tells VegNews.
Bloating may last a few days for some, and may persist for a few weeks in others as the body adjusts to the increased fiber intake. It could also be a sign of an underlying condition, such as leaky gut or irritable bowel syndrome. The best way to learn if your gut troubles need medical attention is to see your physician. You should talk to a doctor if you’re experiencing regular discomfort.
Ruling out digestive issues that should be addressed by a professional, here are six ways to manage everyday bloating on a vegan diet.
1 Eat slowly and mindfully
Eating slowly isn’t just about savoring the food. It can also help ease bloating. Research shows that people tend to eat less when they eat slowly because it leads to a boost in fullness hormones. There are a few reasons why this happens. When you eat faster, you tend to swallow more air, which can cause bloating.
So, being more mindful of how much fiber you’re adding to your diet can also help. Wells recommends introducing high-fiber foods to your diet gradually, rather than all at once.
“Start with smaller amounts of beans or cruciferous vegetables in meals, and try alternating whole grains with refined grains,” she says. “Some people find lentils to cause less gas than other beans, although this varies from person to person. Tofu and tempeh are other plant-based proteins that tend to be more easily digested.”
If you have persistent issues with bloating, you might want to start logging your foods in a journal with your daily meals and symptoms, which could help you or your doctor identify potential triggers.
2 Drink water—and not just at mealtime
Most vegan diets, especially a whole food plant-based diet, involve a lot of fiber. But, as with most diets, drinking enough water (3.7 liters a day for men and 2.7 for women) is essential to keep your body in good working condition. Water prevents soluble fiber—which is found in oats, beans, apples, citrus fruits, and carrots—from sitting in your gut for too long. Insoluble fiber—found in foods like whole wheat flour, beans, and potatoes—attracts water in the small intestine, also speeding up its exit from your body.
“It’s best to spread your water intake throughout the day rather than only drinking at mealtimes, so that water is readily available when required for digestion,” says Wells.
3 Soak legumes before eating
Legumes—chickpeas, black beans, lentils of all colors, pigeon peas, mung beans, and split peas—are staples of many cuisines and are a top source of plant-based protein. But, they are high in fiber, which can make gas and bloating worse. Soaking dried beans overnight leaches out the sugars that are responsible for this, reducing the chance that they’ll upset your stomach.
“Some people also find that blended beans are easier to digest, like hummus and other bean spreads,” says Wells.
4 Take a walk
If you have the capacity for it, a short walk or light exercise session after a meal can help reduce bloating and gas. Whatever you do, keep it casual so you don’t overwork yourself while your body is trying to digest food. As an alternative, take care of some chores around your home.
5 Limit processed foods, salt, and fat
Certain processed foods can trigger bloating and gas. These include sodas and other carbonated drinks, and sugar alternatives such as xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol.
Salt is another culprit. This is because the sodium in salt causes the body to retain water, which can lead to bloating. Many processed foods, like cured meats, cold cuts, and fast foods are high in salt.
Limiting your fat intake to small amounts of healthy oils and plant-based fats may also help reduce bloating. This is because your digestive tract needs more time to process fat.
To combat gas and bloating, limit your intake of super salty and high-fat noshes, including fast food, chips and other snacks, fried foods, and other highly processed foods.
6 Eat more probiotic foods
Research suggests that probiotic foods—such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, miso, and tempeh—may help reduce bloating. However, more evidence is needed in order to understand which probiotic strains are particularly beneficial. Either way, the medical community embraces the fact that probiotics are good for your gut in other ways, so try incorporating them into your regular diet. Try out kimchi in these vegan Korean BBQ bowls.