Sam: I suffer with numerous digestive issues – bloating, constipation, abdominal pain. However, I note that you recommend a plant-based diet. One of the main triggers of my pain are certain vegetable, legumes, nuts and seeds. Protein in the form of white fish and eggs is the easiest on my digestive system. I tried a vegan diet for months and didn’t see any improvement in my reaction to these foods. Do you have any suggestions?
Dr. Chutkan: Sam, first, it’s important to get to the bottom of your GI distress. If you haven’t already, taking a close look at your lifestyle and medical history, and working with a healthcare practitioner that values the food as medicine approach, may be helpful.
Second, while I don’t have a definitive diagnosis for your distress, I can speak to the symptoms you’re experiencing. As you’ve discovered, the foods that are most beneficial for gut health are often the ones that can lead to lots of bloating and gas (at Gutbliss, we call this “good gas“). Artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, celery, green peppers, legumes, and onions – all of these high fiber, nutrient-rich foods contain complex carbohydrates that are fermented in the gut and have been identified as common culprits of gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. But the fermentation process by gut bacteria also yields short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), essential compounds for maintaining a healthy GI tract.
While you may notice digestive symptoms when consuming these foods, we don’t recommend avoiding them altogether. They contain lots of nutrients and beneficial fiber, not to mention the fact that a diverse and colorful diet increases gut bacteria diversity – a primary marker of long-term health. So, eliminating an array of vibrant plant foods from your diet isn’t the best first line of defense (note that some people do experience digestive conditions where complete elimination is necessary, but this is not the norm). Instead of completely avoiding good gas foods, follow these 7 solutions:
Solution #1: Eat small amounts of “good gas” foods and gradually increase your serving size to let your body get acclimated to them.
Solution #2: Add lemon juice to your good gas veggies to stimulate digestive enzymes.
Solution #3: Soak beans overnight before cooking.
Solution #4: Avoid canned beans, which not only tend to cause more gas, but may also contain a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) in the can lining, which has been linked to cancer and other conditions.
Solution #5: Cook beans with a sea vegetable like kombu, which makes the beans more digestible because it contains the enzyme needed to break down raffinose (the undigestible carbohydrate that causes gas when fermented by gut bacteria). You can find kombu at Asian markets or health food stores.
Solution #6: Eat a pinch (about half a teaspoon) of fennel seeds or chew on a stalk of raw fennel at the end of a meal to benefit from its gas-reducing oils. You can also make fennel tea by steeping a teaspoon of crushed seeds or fresh fennel bulbs in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes, or you can add it to salads or cooked dishes.
Solution #7: Boost your GI tract’s population of beneficial bacteria by consuming fermented foods like kefir that contain actively growing essential bacteria and helpful yeast species that result in decreased gas production. If you find that none of these solutions help improve your symptoms, seeking further advice from a healthcare practitioner may be necessary.