Maybe this scenario sounds familiar to you: You’ve decided to take the plunge, you’re noshing on delicious plants until your heart’s content. Then you notice a side effect you weren’t expecting. Suddenly you’re passing gas like it’s your job and it’s embarrassing AF. What can you do to combat this new music your body is suddenly making? Relax! I’ve got your back! In this post, we’re talking all things flatulence. What’s normal, what causes it and how to take the ‘wind’ out of your sails.
Let’s start with one important thing you need to know. Gas is a normal and healthy part of digestion. Let that sink in for a moment. As much as it may be embarrassing when it strikes at the wrong moment, it’s completely normal. In fact, the average person lets go of a rump ripper about 14 times a day. That normal range extends up to 22 booty blasts in the course of a day. The embarrassment factor often makes people feel they have a ‘problem’ even when they are well within the average range.
Gas is just air that has accumulated in the digestive tract. The two main causes are swallowed air and fermentation of food in the digestive system. It normally travels through and passes as you go about your day, but sometimes it can get trapped or cause bloating and pain. In these cases, it can be quite uncomfortable. If this is you, hang in there, I’ve got some tips for reducing gas later in this post.
Let’s Talk Fibre
Any time you make large changes to your diet, you’re likely to experience some minor discomfort while your body adjusts. Moving to a plant-based diet is no different, and that is largely due to all the fibre. Today, less than 5% of the population consumes the recommended amount of fibre. The suggested daily intake ranges from 25-40 grams per day, and the average Canadian doesn’t even consume half of that.
Why is that? It has to do with the amount of animal products people typically consume. You see, fibre comes from plants. It is found in fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds. You know what doesn’t contain fibre? Animal products. You won’t find any fibre in meat, eggs or dairy products. And there are only minuscule amounts in processed convenience foods. Since animal products and processed foods are very calorie dense, they crowd out the fibre-rich foods we should be eating more of.
Fibre is an important part of a healthy diet. It acts as a prebiotic, feeding healthy gut bacteria, it helps keep the bowels moving regularly (which helps with gas), and it helps fill us up and keep us feeling satisfied. There are tons of other benefits to a high-fibre diet, but we’re talking flatulence here, so it’s time to move on.
When you move to a plant-based diet, you are suddenly increasing your fibre intake. This is a great thing for your health, but your digestive system will need to catch up to the new demand. Your gut is not yet full of the good bacteria that can help with all that fibre. This can cause some gas, bloating and digestive upset.
When you eat meat and animal products, that demands a certain kind of gut bacteria. That bacteria can handle breaking down the animal products, but it’s also linked to inflammation of the bowels and production of carcinogenic compounds.
Moving to a fibre-rich plant-based diet will have a positive effect on your gut bacteria. Those meat loving bacteria die off and your gut bacteria starts to become more diverse. Beneficial fibre-loving bacteria begin to populate, reducing inflammation and producing beneficial by-products.
The point is, this adjustment can take some time (up to a few weeks). So, if you’re suddenly experiencing excess gas, bloating and general digestive discomfort, this is just your gut microbiome changing over. Stick with it and the symptoms will fade as those beneficial gut bacteria populate.
Tips to Reduce Gas
What You Eat:
Soak your beans – Soaking your dried beans overnight can help reduce the amount of gas you’ll produce. Make sure to discard the soaking water and give them a good rinse before cooking them in fresh water.
Add baking soda – Adding some baking soda to the soaking water with your beans helps to reduce the raffinose content. Raffinose is a type of sugar contained in beans that can cause an increase in gas production. It only takes a small amount, about 1/16 tsp per 4 cups of water. Just be sure to rinse well after soaking.
Cook beans well – Make sure you are cooking your beans fully. They should be nice and soft when you are done. Adding a bay leaf or some seaweed to the cooking water can also help to reduce the amount of gas they produce.
Start with lentils – Lentils and split peas seem to produce less gas than beans do. Try starting with lentils and working your way up to beans.
Start with cooked veggies – Cooked veggies are easier to digest than raw ones. Try starting with mostly cooked veggies and then slowly work up to more raw foods as your tummy starts handling the fibre better.
Fermented foods – Adding fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi and non-dairy yogurt can aid in digestion and help ease symptoms.
Try some tropical fruit – Pineapple and papaya contain helpful enzymes that can aid in digestion. Only while eaten fresh though, the enzymes are lost in dried versions.
How You Eat:
Eat slowly – Take your time with your food. Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. This helps in two ways. First, it will reduce the amount of air you swallow. Second, it begins the digestive process. Digestion starts in the mouth, folks. Chew your food well, this will make it much easier on your stomach.
Drink lots of fluid – Make sure you’re getting enough fluid throughout the day. Especially while transitioning to a higher fibre diet. This will help to keep you from getting constipated from the added fibre.
Eat small meals more frequently – If you’re having trouble digesting large meals, take some of the pressure off your digestive system by eating smaller portions for a while.
Go slow – If adding more fibre to your diet is causing a lot of discomfort, try adding it slowly. Increase fibre intake by about 5 grams per week to slowly work up to the recommended amounts. This will allow your gut to slowly adjust.
Get moving – This will help reduce trapped gas and bloating, allowing excess air to be passed. It doesn’t have to be anything special. Go for a walk, play a round of golf, work in the garden. Just anything that will get you up off the couch and moving your body.
Things to Avoid:
Eliminate dairy – If you’re still consuming some dairy in your diet, this can be a huge trigger. Dairy products can cause gas, bloating and digestive upset in humans due to the sugar, lactose. Most people are actually lactose intolerant to some extent. Ranging anywhere from a slight increase in flatulence to massive digestive upset. So, if you haven’t already, eliminate dairy products from your diet.
Avoid carbonated beverages – These allow more air into the digestive tract, increasing the amount of gas that needs to pass.
Reduce excess air intake – Swallowing air is one of the causes of gas. Things like chewing gum, smoking and drinking through a straw can increase the amount of air you swallow.
If It Doesn’t Improve
If you’ve been using the tips above and are still experiencing serious discomfort after a month or so, it might be time to do some investigating. You may have a food intolerance that is causing the symptoms. Try keeping a food diary to note how you feel after eating specific foods. You may be able to pinpoint the culprit that way.
Certain medications can also cause digestive trouble. Many popular drugs have digestive side effects, such as cramping and bloating. Check the info sheet that came with your prescription to see if this is what could be causing the problem.
Antibiotics can also cause some serious digestive hiccups, as they don’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria. So, they tend to wipe out the good gut bacteria you need for smooth digestion.
There are also some digestive disorders that present with bloating and upset stomach. If you haven’t been able to pinpoint the cause, it would be wise to visit your doctor to ensure nothing else is going on.
The Bottom Line
While it can be embarrassing, the odd heinie hiccup is not a problem. It’s actually a good sign that you’re ingesting ample fibre and that things are moving through your digestive system as they should. For the majority of people, digestive discomfort and excessive flatulence resolves after a few weeks, once your gut has re-populated with beneficial bacteria. In the meantime, try the tips above to help you get through the transition.
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