By Heather McClees
Adopting a plant-based diet full of healthy foods is one of the most well-researched ways to improve and support your long-term health. But what do you do when you switch to a vegan diet and your digestion takes a huge plummet south?
Our first suggestion is to stop worrying — there are some simple reasons this can happen, and you don’t need to let these reactions deter you from eating a plant-based diet. Digestion is a complex process that is different for every single person out there, and there is a list of great tips you can keep in mind when eating vegan that might help your digestion more than you might think.
Take a look at our top five tips that you can use to improve your digestion, reduce bloating, and help you feel fabulous while eating the plant-based foods you love!
1. Eat Light to HeavyBloated on a Vegan Diet – Here’s Why and How to Improve Your Digestion
Eating a large breakfast and a smaller evening meal is recommended by some health professionals, but the truth is, that method simply doesn’t work for everyone. Our digestive process requires a great deal of energy when we eat heavy meals, so if we start our day off with a large meal — or even just a complex meal — our bodies have to work hard to break them down. This can lead to fatigue, bloating, sluggishness, and even stomach pain during the day.
If you experience these side effects, then rethink the order of your meals, and even try waiting an hour or two to eat anything in the morning after you get up. This tip will also allow your body to become hungry naturally, which is a great way to get in touch with your natural hunger levels. Start out with a light meal and eat a slightly larger lunch, and then have sizeable dinner while listening to your body’s natural hunger levels. Eating light to heavy will not hurt your health, but it may very well improve your digestion fairly quickly.
So, what should you eat first? Try having a bowl of some fruit!
Fruit is very easy to digest on an empty stomach and gives our body prime nutrition for our first meal during the day. Fruit is also high in natural enzymes that can help with digestion first thing during the day. So experiment with having a small bowl of fruit first, and then later move onto something more filling such as oatmeal or breakfast quinoa with a smoothie. Then you can have a more complex meal such as a veggie bowl for lunch or dinner.
2. Take a Quality Probiotic Supplement and Digestive EnzymesBloated on a Vegan Diet – Here’s Why and How to Improve Your Digestion
When you first begin eating more plant-based foods, your body is going through many beneficial changes, but it will also be getting rid of old wastes from animal products. This process can leave you feeling bloated and sluggish when you first begin.
The foods you eat can also make a big difference in how your body responds to adopting a new dietary course, so first and foremost, eat whole plant-based foods instead of processed vegan foods. Additionally, take a daily probiotic supplement that contains acidophilus and Bifidus strains of bacteria. These two strains of probiotic cultures can both help combat gas, bloating, and irregularity. Make sure the product is dairy-free and vegan, since many probiotics are made with dairy during the culturing process. See What to Look for in a Probiotic for more tips! You can also eat probiotic-rich foods for even more support, such as plant-based probiotic-rich options.
Also, consider taking a vegan digestive enzyme supplement after consulting your health care provider. Digestive enzymes are different than probiotics. Probiotics are strains of beneficial bacteria that help digestion, reduce gas and bloating by balancing gut bacteria, and can help your body fight off unhealthy strains of bacteria. But digestive enzymes actually help you digest your food more easily and break them down more quickly so you’re less likely to be bloated. Look for digestive enzymes with a wide range of enzymes, such as advanced enzymes or multi-spectrum enzymes for the most benefits.
How to take them: Take a probiotic daily on an empty stomach when you first get up and take a digestive enzyme or two with each meal. You should notice a huge difference, but be sure to buy a quality, plant-based brand so you get the best results.
3. Be Aware of Healthy, But Difficult-to-Digest FoodsBloated on a Vegan Diet – Here’s Why and How to Improve Your Digestion
Whole plant-based foods are full of nutrition, but some of the healthiest foods on the planet can be difficult for those new to plant-based eating to digest, and even for people who have been eating healthy for years. Some people’s bodies are just more sensitive to certain types of foods than others.
Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and cabbage, garlic, onion, and beans tend to cause digestive upset in some people. They contain certain carbohydrates that break down and ferment in the gut, which is beneficial for health but can be very uncomfortable for you! So don’t rush into these foods at first, and eat more of your vegetables steamed, rather than raw, at first.
Garlic and onions add a lot of flavor to meals and are full of nutrients, but they’re also two common foods that lead to digestive distress and can wreak havoc on a sensitive tummy. If you have a history of digestive upsets such as gastritis or ulcers, garlic and onions may also aggravate it. Instead of spicy foods including garlic and onions, opt for herbs such as oregano, thyme, and rosemary, and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger to see if this helps you out.
When it comes to beans, try to eat smaller servings of small legumes like red split lentils or split peas over large types of beans, and be sure to cook them really well. In fact, try to eat smaller meals that are simple throughout the day for better digestion. A good example of a simple meal is roasted sweet potatoes, steamed zucchini, and a red lentil soup seasoned with herbs and spices. You can also experiment with eating fewer nuts which can be difficult to digest for many people since they are richer in fat than fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
4. Eat Lighter and Take it Easy With FatsBloated on a Vegan Diet – Here’s Why and How to Improve Your Digestion
There’s no need to fear healthy plant fats, but the truth is, fat takes longer to digest than any other macronutrient. When you eat fat with a meal, it slows down the digestion and breaking down of nutrients of all other foods you eat with that meal, which can cause a lot of gas and cause you to be bloated. So experiment with eating lower-fat meals made from fruits, veggies, healthy starches like sweet potatoes and squash, and whole grains instead of higher-fat meals.
You can also experiment with eating an oil-free diet for better digestion. Oil is a dense, processed form of fat that can strain an already sensitive system, so check labels on products you buy and choose those without added oil. Try these 5 Oil-Free Dairy-Free Salad Dressings instead of one with oil, for example!
5. Prioritize Whole Foods Over Processed FoodBloated on a Vegan Diet – Here’s Why and How to Improve Your Digestion
Whole foods are always going to be healthier for your body than processed food, and this is especially true when it comes to digestion. While you don’t need to obsess about every single thing you eat on a vegan diet, you will greatly benefit by skipping the processed vegan foods whenever possible and eating real, simple foods.
For instance, instead of tubs of processed vegan ice cream, enjoy ice cream made at home from frozen fruits like banana and berries that you can make in your blender or food processor. Instead of boxed cereal or granola, make a bowl of oatmeal with berries, flaxseed, cinnamon, and chia seeds. Or, instead of a pre-made vegan burger with all kinds of added oil and processed protein, make your own veggie burgers at home.
When you eat real food, you skip a lot of problematic ingredients that are often found in products and make things much easier on your system. Not only will you feel more energized and lighter as a result of better digestion from eating real foods, but you’ll also naturally take in more nutrients.
All in all, don’t give up if you have digestive struggles on a plant-based diet because there are multiple tips you can use to improve things quickly. Want more tips on digestion? Check out this article on How to Deal With Digestive Difficulties on a Plant-Based Diet.
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Lead Image Source: Hippie Macro Glow Bowl With Turmeric Tahini Dressing