Hey Love Bees! 🐝
When switching to a plant-based diet, it’s not uncommon to experience changes.
Bowel movements usually become easier and more frequent, energy levels often improve, weight can normalise and conditions such as acne, asthma and eczema may also resolve. 👍🏼
Even those suffering from chronic conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, frequently see significant improvements within a surprisingly short period of time. (Because of this, please consult your doctor before changing your diet, as your medications may need to be adjusted!)
Unfortunately, many people also experience digestive discomfort, as their body (and their gut flora) adapts to a new fibre-rich, nutrient-dense diet.
Today, we’re going to take a look at some simple ways to improve your digestion, when transitioning to a vegan diet!
Increase Legume Consumption Slowly
Protein is high on many people’s minds when switching to a vegan diet – and while it’s true that beans are a fabulous source of protein – increasing your consumption of them suddenly, can lead to digestive discomfort.
This is because legumes (such as beans, peas and lentils) contain complex sugars called oligosaccharides, which cannot be digested in the small intestine and therefore make their way to the colon intact. Here, our good bacteria ferment them, which is great for encouraging a healthy microbiome, but can also result in flatulence!
Because of this, be sure to soak dried beans in water for at least 10 hours, and discard and replace the water before cooking them (this removes up to 80% of the oligosaccharides). Cooking for 1-2 hours with some bay leaves or cumin will also help to reduce them.
Because beans are high in fibre, it’s also wise to increase your legume consumption slowly, as this will allow your body (and the healthy bacteria in your gut) to adjust.
Begin by eating beans, peas and lentils 2-3 times a week, and then gradually increase the quantity – by no more than 1/4 cup each time. You can also up the frequency, until you’re consuming 2-3 servings a day (this can include bean products such as hummus, tofu, tempeh and bean dips too.)
Protein is essential for good health, but thankfully, unless you’re following a very strict fruitarian diet, or you’re massively under-eating, you needn’t worry about becoming protein deficient when switching to a vegan diet.
Choose Whole Foods
As tempting as it may be to opt for vegan meat substitutes and junk food, whole foods (which are minimally processed) are far better for your gut!
One of the main reasons for this is that refined foods are low in fibre – which is essential for healthy digestion!
A fibre-rich diet promotes a healthy gut microbiome and will also add volume to your food, helping you to recognise feelings of satiety. This will prevent over-eating and will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Fibre also bulks out your stools, encouraging them to pass through your digestive system more easily, and helping to prevent constipation.
Another bonus of choosing a diet based around whole plant foods, is that you’ll be consuming fewer additives, preservatives, excess sodium, trans fats and other ingredients, that our bodies are not well-equipped to handle.
Water is used by every single cell and organ in the body, and drinking enough H2O is essential for good health and digestion.
Staying hydrated helps to prevent constipation, and water aids the absorption of nutrients and assists with transporting them around the body.
Too often we don’t consume enough water – especially if we’re eating lots of refined foods, which have had much of their water content removed.
When we’re rushed off our feet we may also forget to drink, until we start feeling thirsty! Unfortunately, by this time we’re already dehydrated – but keeping a bottle of water on your desk (or carrying one with you) can be a great reminder to drink more water throughout the day. Fruit infuser water bottles may also encourage you to drink more!
Not sure how much you should be drinking?
The average person needs to consume around 1ml of water for every kilocalorie (kcal) burnt. For example, if you’re an active female burning 2500kcal a day, then you’d need be drinking at least 2.5l of water a day. (If you’re not sure how many calories you’re burning, you may wish to consult a nutrition coach to help you to work this out!)
Vegan food is delicious – and when food is that good, it can be easy to shovel it down fast!
Unfortunately, eating too quickly can make it harder for your food to be digested. This is because it may not be chewed sufficiently and it’ll have less contact with the amylase-containing saliva in your mouth, which begins the process of breaking down starches.
Eating too quickly can also mask the sensation of satiation, meaning that you don’t realise when you’re full. This can result in over-eating, which can cause bloating and digestive discomfort, as well as weight gain in those who are eating more calories than they need.
When you eat too quickly, you’ll also consume more air with your food, which can cause further bloating and flatulence.
To avoid eating too fast, try to be mindful when you eat. Put your utensils down between bites, and focus on chewing your food well.
This is best done when there are fewer distractions, so avoid watching TV while eating, and if possible, try to schedule your meals for when you won’t be pushed for time.
Chronic stress has a huge impact on our health and well-being, and the digestive system often bears the brunt of it. This is because, when the body enters fight or flight mode, the digestive system is one of the first systems to shut down.
As the body directs the blood flow away from the digestive system, peristalsis may be suppressed. This slows the movement of food through the gut, which can lead to constipation.
Stress can also cause food to pass through the digestive system too quickly, causing diarrhoea and preventing your body from absorbing the nutrients properly. This can lead to dehydration, and over time, malnutrition.
Stress can also trigger acid reflux and can alter your gut microbiome. If you suffer from IBS or IBD stress can also make these conditions worse.
So how can we de-stress?
I know all too well that reducing stress is easier said than done, however, one of the very best ways to help our bodies cope, is to ensure that we get enough rest!
Having a regular nighttime routine, going to bed at a set time each night and ensuring that we get at least 8 hours sleep, can all help.
It’s also important to have a cool, yet comfortable room temperature, and to turn off screens (such as computers, phones and TV’s) at least an hour before you go to bed.
Meditation, yoga practice and other relaxation techniques may also be helpful too.
Being well-rested and relaxed not only improves the function of the digestive system, it also boosts the immune system too.
Having a good nights sleep and reducing stress can also generate impressive results (when combined with a healthy diet and an active lifestyle) for those who are trying to lose weight!
* The information in this article is not intended to replace medical advice. Please be sure to see your doctor if you’re worried about your health.