“I’ve been following along and tried a plant-based diet for three days got totally bloated and gassy with lots of diarrhea. I’m not sure beans will work for me.”
We get this question a lot and we’re always sorry to hear of someone having discomfort with a plant-based diet — but DON’T GIVE UP when you’re making the change to a plant-based diet!
It’s all about the fiber
Your discomfort is most likely due to a drastic increase in your fiber consumption. We usually get 15-20 grams of fiber in a standard American diet, and a plant-based diet can have as high as 70 grams. There’s suddenly a LOT more fiber.
Fiber is food for bacteria in your gut, particularly your large intestine. In a very simplistic way, when you first change your diet, you may not have the optimal bacterial community adapted to your new diet. And the bacteria you do have to ferment fiber may be producing gas in amounts that is new to your gastrointestinal system and may cause bloating, discomfort, and gassiness. This does usually get better as your bacterial community changes. In our experience, this may take a few weeks, though this is highly variable.
Try this to help
We have sometimes found it to be helpful for individuals with complaints of bloating due to a quick and dramatic change to a whole-foods, plant-based diet to first of all, start slowly. Gradually add plant foods to your diet. Second, consider taking probiotic supplements for a month or so. Perhaps this helps speed up the process of bacterial adaptation. Alternatively, there are common over the counter digestive enzyme medications available to help reduce gas, like Beano.
Some people do have an ongoing intolerance of beans and some raw vegetables. This might manifest as bloating and gassiness that does not improve with time. Although this occurs less frequently than many people assume, if this is the case, you may want to avoid those foods as best you can. However, we would encourage you to continue to try to integrate these foods cautiously in small amounts into your diet every now and then as you get more used to a high-fiber, plant-based diet. Keeping a food diary can help you track your symptoms.
In the case of beans, here are some cooking techniques to try to reduce the gassiness factor:
- Discard the water you use to soak your beans (if you soak your beans overnight)
- Cook beans thoroughly, until they are soft
- Cook them with a bay leaf, fennel seeds or Kombu (a seaweed)
- If you are eating canned beans, make sure you rinse them first
If there is persistent abdominal discomfort, pain, constipation, bloating, etc., you should see a doctor.
We hope this helps!