With over 7 percent of the UK population turning towards veganism as a means of living more sustainably, more and more of us are becoming aware of the health benefits associated with plant-based diets.
Despite this, making the courageous decision to switch up your diet may not be completely plain sailing in the short term.
During the initial transition period, from meat eater/vegetarian to vegan, some people will complain of bloating and constipation.
This will impact people to varying degrees, but if you do suffer from it, then it shouldn’t last any longer than a few weeks.
Why does the vegan diet occasionally cause constipation?
You’d be excused for wondering why this happens. Veganism is supposed to be the healthier choice, so why is your body punishing you for making the change? The main reason for bloating and constipation in vegans is fibre.
It’s recommended that humans consume 14 grams of fibre per 1000 calories, but those on a plant-based diet may be consuming far more. This is because the two different kinds of fibre are found in a lot of the food consumed as part of a vegan diet.
Fibre, unlike other nutrients in our diets, doesn’t provide us with calories and stays mostly unharmed as it makes its way through the digestive tract.
What’s the problem with eating too much fibre?
The type that causes the most problems is soluble fibre, which attracts water and creates a thick gel that slows down digestion (occasionally causing constipation).
This is usually beneficial, as it provides the digestive system the time it needs to absorb vital vitamins and minerals from the foods we eat.
However, when we begin to consume soluble fibre in larger quantities than our bodies are used to it becomes problematic. Thankfully the bacteria in your gut will gradually adjust to your diet, but at first, it’s important to be mindful of the food that you’re ingesting.
Foods that contain soluble fibre, and as such may cause constipation and bloating in vegans, include:
- Vegetables—especially cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage
How to manage bloating & constipation while on the vegan diet
Knowing the above doesn’t mean you have to completely eradicate the foods from your new diet. While the general advice is to slowly build up your gut’s tolerance to these foods, there are adjustments you can make to speed up this process.
To avoid constipation and bloating when eating large quantities of vegetables, try steaming them before consuming them. If you find your bloating and constipation subsides, give your gut time to recover, and then start reintroducing raw vegetables slowly.
When cooking with beans, most people will soak them overnight, but it’s important to discard the water before cooking them. This will lower the amount of soluble fibre you’re consuming after cooking them. Optionally, you can also add seaweed or a bay leaf to the mix once the beans have softened.
If you’re someone who likes to add flavour to your food with things like onions and garlic, try limiting these and utilising other herbs and spices like rosemary and ginger instead.
Further tips for avoiding bloating/constipation
As well as foods that are high in soluble fibre, you should also try and avoid rich, oily foods that are high in bad fats.
Not only will these foods cause bloating, but large quantities may also contribute to constipation. It’s worth noting that vegans do need a balanced diet, including good fats, so try replacing these foods in your diet with foods such as avocados and nuts.
Food isn’t the only culprit!
Food isn’t the only thing we need to think about when transitioning to a vegan diet, however.
Many nutritionists and health experts will recommend increasing your daily fluid consumption to compensate for the additional liquid needed to keep things moving with your increased fibre consumption. Without implementing these measures, you may become dehydrated, which is a leading cause of constipation.
It’s also best that you try and avoid common diuretics like tea, coffee and alcohol during the transition period as these will exacerbate dehydration instead of helping it.
While adjusting your diet and increasing your water consumption are great ways to control constipation during the transition stages, bloating is a symptom that may be somewhat harder to control.
It could be a sign that something bigger is going on inside your body, but there are a few more things you can try before jumping to conclusions.
Some simple changes may yield the results you were looking for:
One thing that may help is to eat slower. It sounds like common sense, but one of the major causes of bloating comes from swallowing air. By taking the time to sit down with your food and take slow, cautious bites, you are better able to control the air getting into places that it shouldn’t.
Another major cause of bloating is by eating too much in one sitting. To avoid this, try eating smaller meals more regularly so that you are trying to force your digestive tract to adjust so much food at any one time. This may also help with constipation as you aren’t overloading your body with so much soluble fibre at any one time.
The most important thing to remember throughout your transition to a vegan diet is that the constipation and bloating is only temporary. You can ease it with the tips we have provided, and if it persists, remember that your gut may just need more time to adjust.
After this period of discomfort, you should start to reap the rewards of a healthier lifestyle straight away.
You may notice faster hair and nail growth, higher energy levels, and even less bloating. You will also be helping yourself in the long term by lowering your risk of developing heart disease, and improving your kidney function.
It’s important to be kind to yourself during this period, but also to be vigilant. Constipation and bloating can also be signs of other conditions such as irritable bowel disease or an intolerance, so if symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, or you feel like there is something wrong, always see a doctor.