Today, I’m ditching recipes and coming to you with a topic that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now. I didn’t want to address it until I had it figured out.
I know I’m not alone in this struggle, but very few people talk about it enough and I have no idea why.
In saying that, I think it’s because most vegans want to promote the glamorous aspects of veganism and ‘hide’ the not-so-glamorous aspects of it.
If I’m going to promote veganism and share my experiences, I think it is fair that I tell you the good and the bad to help you prepare properly before you embark on the journey.
As you may have already judged from the title, the unglamorous issue I’m referring to is bloating.
When you initially start eating a vegan diet, it is very likely that you will experience bloating. Especially if you choose to eat a diet that predominantly consists of whole foods.
Just to be clear, by whole foods I mean fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes, and hardly any processed and vegan junk foods.
The main reason for the bloating you may experience is the increase in the amount of fibre you’ll be eating.
It has taken me about a year to figure out how to control it, and I’m going to share with you the ‘remedies’ that are currently working for me.
*If you suffer with severe, chronic bloating, you may have digestive issues that need to be addressed by a health professional.
Are you drinking enough?
When you start eating a vegan diet, you need to increase the amount of water you drink. Since you’ll be eating a lot more fibre than you’re probably used to, your body is going to need a lot more water to help move the fibre through your digestive system.
You don’t necessarily need to stick with drinking only 8 glasses of water per day either. Drink as much as you need. So if that means, 3L, 4L or a gallon of water, go for it!
You can tell if you’re drinking enough by the colour of your urine. If it is a very pale yellow to clear, you’re drinking enough. If it is darker, you are dehydrated. Also, if you wait till you’re thirsty to drink water, it means your body is already dehydrated.
Try to sip small amounts of water throughout the day.
You should also hold off on drinking caffeinated drinks like non-herbal teas and coffee because they will dehydrate you and make your bloating issue worse.
The timing of your water intake is crucial
As soon as you eat, your stomach starts releasing digestive juices that break down your food. If you drink a lot of water while eating, it may dilute these juices and prevent your food from being broken down properly, and thereby bloat.
Try to drink water before you eat, but not during your meals and not soon after you finish eating. Wait at least 2 hours after eating before you drink water.
I know this may be unconventional advice, but it has really worked wonders for me. It takes a little getting used to but, the more you practice it, the easier it becomes.
Introduce fibre slowly
Usually, once you start eating a vegan diet, the abundance of food that suddenly becomes available to you is amazing and exciting. You may want to eat all the vegetables/legumes/grains you’ve never tried before. You may also want to experiment with different recipes to see what the whole hype is about.
It goes without saying that if you eat a whole food, vegan diet, you will naturally increase the amount of fibre you’re eating.
If you’ve been eating the standard western diet (that is particularly low in fibre), a whole foods vegan diet may contain far too much fibre for your body to handle immediately.
If you enjoy eating beans and legumes, stick with eating smaller beans (black-eyed beans, haricot beans and black beans) and lentils because they are slightly easier to digest. Over time and as your body becomes more familiar with fibre, you can introduce the bigger beans like kidney beans, butter beans e.t.c.
A way to incorporate larger beans into your vegan diet immediately is by utilizing recipes that involve mashing or blending the beans. Recipes such as bean patties, bean burgers or falafels.
When you blend the beans, you break down the amount of fibre in them and make it easier for your body to digest it.
Try not to eat beans and too many cruciferous vegetables together (I am guilty of this). Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower on their own can cause bloating, so eating them alongside beans that have very high amounts of fibre is asking for serious trouble.
Give your body enough time to digest your food
The standard way of eating is to eat three meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you’re eating a whole foods vegan diet, you may find that you don’t need to eat as often. Especially if you’re eating enough food at each meal.
If all of your meals are high in fibre, your body may need a longer amount of time to digest it before you are hungry again. I would suggest waiting until you get real hunger cues before you eat your next meal so that you don’t overload your stomach with too much food.
You should also try not to eat too close to bedtime. Your body needs a good few hours to digest food properly. If you eat too close to bedtime, your body won’t digest the food properly and you will wake up with a bloated stomach.
Separate raw foods from cooked foods
You may find that you bloat more if you eat raw foods like fruits at the same time as cooked foods. This doesn’t hold true for everyone, but it is something you can try doing if you have really bad bloating.
Basically, eat your fruits first and then wait at least an hour before eating your cooked meal.
As a final note, please be aware that bloating after eating is very normal. Everyone’s stomach expands once food gets into it. Bloating is only a problem if it causes severe pain, and leaves your stomach distended for abnormally long periods.
If none of these tips helps you, consider taking a digestive enzyme that supplies probiotics and prebiotics and also provides enzymes that help break down difficult-to-digest carbohydrates like those found in beans. If you still don’t get an improvement, I would highly suggest you see a medical professional to rule out any serious digestive issues.