While gas and bloat isn’t the sexiest topic, one of the most common complaints I hear from plant based diet newbies is that they, “don’t feel well” when they only eat plants. This is usually their soft way of telling me that they feel bloated and gassy. While it is uncomfortable for you, and perhaps for others close to you, it is a very common side effect when you are adding large amounts of fiber to your diet in a short period of time.
One of the first things I tell people when they bring up the concern of gas and bloating, is that less than 3 % of Americans meet the daily minimum for fiber¹. This means that if they are used to eating the Standard American Diet (also referred to as SAD), they have likely never consumed normal or healthy amounts of fiber, and therefore their body is going to need some time to adjust. Our gut is full of good bacteria that is meant to help us break down the food we consume, however, if we are used to eating high animal protein, high fat diets, with little to no fiber, then our good bacteria will need some time to adjust to our new diet. I have found that increasing the good gut flora by means of consuming more fermented foods (like sauerkraut) can help decrease the adjustment period. You can also take probiotic supplements to help increase the good bacteria as well.
Another common cause for gas and bloat on a plant based diet is that people go from one extreme to the other, and don’t gradually increase their amount of fiber. If you hardly ever eat beans, nuts, cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale), dried fruit etc., and then start eating 2-3 bowls full a day, you are likely going to experience some uncomfortable gas and bloating. I usually suggest making a more gradual change to allow your body to catch up. Begin by adding small amounts of beans to your salad, and eating a handful of nuts. Then over time, increase the amount and frequency to which you consume the added fiber. It took my body about 3 months to adjust to the increased fiber, but the rewards are so worth it.
“In addition to its well-known effects on bowel health, high fiber intake appears to reduce the risk of cancers of the colon and breast, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and premature death in general…Legume consumption is associated with a slimmer waist and lower blood pressure, and randomized trials have shown it can match or beat out calorie cutting for slimming tummy fat as well as improving the regulation of blood sugar, insulin levels and cholesterol.”²
Beans may in fact be the magical fruit. The health benefits should far outweigh the short lived discomfort associated with increased fiber. Think of it this way, when you decide to increase your fitness regimen, that often entails increasing cardio routines and lifting weights— all of which cause discomfort, both during the workout and after. However, the benefits outweigh the temporary discomfort, which is why people continue to work out even when they are sore. Increasing fiber is essentially the same. You may experience a period of mild discomfort, but if it means reducing the risk for colon and breast cancer, as well as heart disease, diabetes and premature death— I will take the temporary discomfort.
Don’t give up. Give your body some time to adjust, try adding probiotic foods or supplements, and increase your fiber gradually. Your body will repay you later in the form of improved overall health.
Suddenly I feel like eating Lentil and Bean Chili!
*I am not a doctor or nutritionist. The statements in this blog are of my opinion, and based on my own experience and should not be taken as medical advice.
¹Clemens R, Kranz S, Mobley AR, et al. Filling America’s Fibre intake gap: summary of roundtable to probe realistic solutions with a focus on grain-based foods. J Nutri. 2012; 142(7):1390S-401S.
²Greger, M. Stone, G. 2017. How Not to Die. London. Pan Books. pg 49-50, 325.