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Bloating is a common problem for vegan newbies. It’s not because veganism is unhealthy, it’s mostly due to the increase in fiber that comes with eating a diet based on plants.
Regardless, bloating’s not fun. It doesn’t feel good to hold it all in, and can be embarrassing if your stomach starts letting everyone within earshot know that something’s not right.
Read to learn more about bloating and how to minimize or avoid it on a vegan diet.
Table of Contents
- What is Bloating?
- Bloating, Distension, and Diet Culture
- Is Bloating Normal?
- Why Can the Vegan Diet Cause Bloating?
- How Long Does Bloating Last When Going Vegan?
- Tips for Minimizing or Eliminating Bloat
- 1. Make the Switch to a Vegan Diet Slowly
- 2. Add Fiber Slowly
- 3. Spread Fiber Throughout the Day
- 4. Introduce Beans Slowly
- 5. Increase Your Water Intake
- 6. Chew Your Food Thoroughly
- 7. Try a Probiotic Supplement and Digestive Enzymes
- 8. Move Often, As in Every Day
- 9. Blend Some of Your Meals
- 10. Cook Your Veggies
- Natural Remedies for Bloating
- Get the Tools I Use in the Kitchen
- Vegan Bloat Conclusion
What is Bloating?
Bloating is a complaint I often hear from clients when they start eating a vegan diet.
The idea of eating a vegan diet seems so healthy. The foods are delicious. They’re losing weight. Their energy level is through the roof. They’re sleeping well.
But they’re either bloated or farting up a storm.
Will it ever go away? Or is the life of a vegan? Especially for a vegan with fitness goals!
Bloating is a feeling of fullness, stretching, or increased pressure in the belly. The abdomen is commonly bloated with gas, but too much liquid or food can cause this sensation as well.
Bloating might result in a distended stomach, that may be hard to the touch. But distension doesn’t always accompany bloating. You can feel bloated without any stomach distension. Or you can have a full stomach from eating too much food, but not feel bloated.
Bloating may be accompanied by some pain or discomfort, or other symptoms such as flatulence, burping, belching, or tummy rumbling.
Bloating, Distension, and Diet Culture
When I’m talking about bloating in this article, and with clients, I’m talking about the uncomfortable, sometimes painful feeling. Not stomach distension.
And for good reason.
Diet culture has gotten many of us obsessed with the “flat stomach” look. Your stomach can distend for any number of reasons. Often without pain or discomfort. But some still see this as problematic because their stomach doesn’t have the flat look.
There’s way too much pressure for having a flat stomach. Tips and tricks for a flatter stomach or revealing your abs are all over social media and magazines. But these have little to do with actual health.
Most people don’t have flat stomachs. This is completely normal!
Women, in particular, are likely to have distended stomachs throughout the month, for reasons that have nothing to do with their health or diet.
And the models you see on social media and online are professionals whose only job is their outward appearance, their photos are professionally shot, edited, and photoshopped.
Not that desiring or working toward a flat stomach is a bad thing! If that’s what you want, work for it.
But this article will focus on tips that will help you handle uncomfortable or painful bloating associated with adopting or eating a vegan diet.
Is Bloating Normal?
Your body creates gas all the time. It’s not just a vegan issue.
You create gas as your body digests food, and after bacteria in your gut breaks down undigested fiber.
This gas is released by “passing gas” as my mom used to call it. My wife and I try to be super polite with our boys, so we call them bubbles. Now my three-year-old likes to call it farting, which is honestly the cutest thing ever.
But sometimes we just don’t feel like we’re in a position to let those stinky little bubbles out, so the gas becomes trapped within your digestive system.
If it’s trapped for too long, or if too much gas is produced too quickly, you’ll feel bloated.
The amount of gas you produce varies depending on what you eat, how much fiber you consume, and your specific gut microbiota. This will be key, and we’ll discuss it in a few!
Why Can the Vegan Diet Cause Bloating?
Changes to your diet can definitely lead to changes in digestion. Most people eat the same 15 or fewer meals, and your body is very good at processing those familiar foods.
If you change your diet too dramatically, your body is going to need time to catch up.
Bloating is a common issue or complaint among those who are new to veganism. Even veteran vegans may experience bloating or gassiness from time to time.
While it’s 100% normal to be bloated from time to time, it’s not a ton of fun to have to deal with excessive gas and bloating.
Let’s talk about the primary reasons vegan may experience bloating, and then we’ll cover tips for reducing or eliminating bloating altogether.
Increased Fiber Intake and Bloating
Changing your diet from one that is low in fiber and rich in refined sugars and starches to one that is high in fiber and whole plant foods is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health.
Fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes (beans) are loaded with fiber, along with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that are necessary for optimal health.
So what is fiber? Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate made up of large chains of sugar molecules called starches, or polysaccharides and oligosaccharides.
There are two kinds of fiber: insoluble and soluble.
Soluble fiber is found in foods like oats, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. It attracts water and forms a gel in your intestines. This slows digestion and helps move foods along. (1)
Insoluble fiber is found primarily in whole grains and vegetables. It adds bulk and helps food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines. (1)
Even though we can’t digest fiber, the bacteria in our gut can. This is their food! And it’s critically important to your gut health!
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended you eat 25 to 35 grams of fiber from whole food sources, not supplements. But most people don’t eat anywhere near that! 90 percent of women and 97 percent of men fall short when it comes to eating fiber. (2)
A diet that is high in fiber keeps your digestive tract running smoothly, creates short-chain fatty acids that keep your intestinal cells healthy, and contributes to a healthier microbiome in your gut.
Fiber fills you up, you get full with fewer calories, and you stay satiated for longer. All of which are huge for anyone with a weight loss goal!
But fiber can lead to bloating. Fiber physically takes up space in the GI tract, and the digestion of fiber by gut bacteria creates gas.
FODMAPs and Bloating
FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols) are a group of carbohydrates that are highly fermentable. They stay in your digestive system for longer feeding your gut bacteria, swelling with water, and causing bubbles.
- Fermentable – fermented by bacteria in the gut
- Oligosaccharides – “oligo” means “few” and “saccharide” means sugar. A few individual sugars joined together in a chain.
- Disaccharides – “di” means two. Double sugar molecule.
- Monosaccharides – “mono” means single. Single sugar molecule.
- And Polyols – sugar alcohols
All of this can lead to gas and bloating.
Common FODMAPs include legumes (beans, lentils, peas, soy), vegetables, some fruits (like apples, pears, and mangoes), grains, dairy, and some sweeteners (honey, agave, sugar alcohols, high fructose corn syrup).
You can see why adopting a vegan diet could lead to some digestive distress!
These are not “bad” foods! In fact, these foods are staples of the longest living, healthiest groups of people on the planet.
At the beginning of a vegan diet, these foods may give you some digestive distress. But your system will adapt.
Now, you may have heard of low FODMAP or FODMAP elimination diets. Unless you have a very specific condition and your doctor or dietitian has recommended removing FODMAPs, these diets are only intended to be short-term.
After a period of time, it’s imperative you move through the reintroduction phase to truly determine what food sensitivities you may have. (3)
It’s important to note that not everyone struggles with FODMAPs. In fact, most don’t. FODMAPs primarily affect those afflicted with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative or microscopic colitis. (4)
But how fast you introduce these foods can make a huge difference in how much distress you feel at the beginning of your new vegan diet.
Swallowing Air and Bloating
Your stomach wants food and water in it. It doesn’t want a bunch of swallowed air.
Chewing gum, drinking through a straw, and eating too quickly can increase the amount of air that you swallow.
Drinking carbonated beverages can do it, too.
Burping is how our bodies try and get rid of swallowed air, but sometimes that air makes its way into your GI (gastrointestinal) tract. This can lead to bloating.
This is where chewing gum kind of becomes a double-whammy. The sugar-free movement took hold, so a lot of gums use sugar alcohols instead of sugar as their sweetener.
And sugar alcohols are a FODMAP.
My grandma used to always tell me to take smaller bites and chew more slowly. “30 bites” she used to say. Turns out, she was right. Old people usually are. They know stuff.
Taking smaller bites, chewing thoroughly, eating slowly, avoiding straws, not chewing gum, and skipping carbonated beverages may help with bloating if you’re struggling.
How Long Does Bloating Last When Going Vegan?
Bloating is natural, but it sucks too.
So is this something that you are going to have to suffer through for the rest of your life just to eat a healthier and more compassionate diet?
Thankfully, vegan bloating is a temporary issue. While everyone is going to experience some bloating from time to time, no matter what diet you follow, bloating associated with eating a vegan diet typically lasts between two and four weeks for most people.
Much of this will depend on how to transition to eating a vegan diet.
If you go all in, eliminating all animal foods and replacing them with whole plant foods with no transition period, your body is going to be ill-equipped to handle the increase in fiber and new foods you’re eating.
There are a few things you can do to get rid of the problem far more quickly if several weeks seem like an eternity to deal with bloating and gassiness.
Tips for Minimizing or Eliminating Bloat
Worry not! Eating a vegan diet is still amazingly healthy, and making the transition doesn’t have to be all bloat and gas.
Follow these tips and you’ll be right as rain.
1. Make the Switch to a Vegan Diet Slowly
Personally, I want everyone to adopt a vegan diet today. Not tomorrow, and not gradually over time. Today. Yesterday would be even better.
But that’s not the best way to begin. It’s not even the way I began.
Take your time. Your body is used to the foods you have been eating and if you try and change that too quickly, your body isn’t going to be super happy with you.
One of the biggest reasons for the adjustment period is that you don’t have the right kind of bacteria in your gut to handle the new plant foods you’re now eating. They’ll colonize your gut and help you digest these foods, but it takes a couple of weeks.
Making small changes to your diet over time can really help you avoid bloating.
2. Add Fiber Slowly
According to the CDC, only 1 in 10 people eat enough fiber. The current recommendation is 35 grams of fiber each day. The average person eats around 10 grams.
You want to increase your fiber intake gradually.
Start by switching out refined grains for whole grains. White bread for whole wheat. White rice for brown.
Add more fruits and veggies to your meals.
Once you can handle those changes, add beans to a meal or two each week.
Allow your body to adapt to each new addition, then gradually add additional high-fiber foods to more meals.
3. Spread Fiber Throughout the Day
It’s not unusual to include a lot of high-fiber foods, such as eggs and fruit, in one meal, such as breakfast.
That huge fiber load can be really hard for your body to handle all at once. Especially since you don’t have the good gut bacteria to process it all.
Instead, aim to include some high-fiber foods at each meal, such as beans, berries, or hearty veggies. It will be much easier for your body to handle five to ten grams of fiber three or four times a day than trying to handle 20 grams of fiber all at once
4. Introduce Beans Slowly
This is also a good time to discuss beans and lentils.
Beans and lentils are great sources of protein for vegans, and they provide necessary soluble fiber.
As a vegan athlete myself, I eat a ton of beans.
When I first went vegan I had the idea that I needed to replace all animal products with high-protein plant foods. I knew beans and lentils had a good amount of protein, so I replaced beef and chicken meals with them.
And I wanted to get the same amount of protein. I was trying to replace 30 grams worth of beef protein with beans. Eating a can and a half of beans when you’re not used to eating them is not a good idea.
My family paid the price. I didn’t get bloated because I let all the gas out. Luckily for me, I was at home. My family wasn’t super entertained, though.
Go slower than I did when adding beans to your diet.
Every day, add a quarter cup of beans to one of your meals. You don’t want to go crazy, but you need to let your body adjust by colonizing the right kind of bacteria in your gut. Beans need to become a regular food for you.
When you can easily handle a quarter cup of beans, bump up to half a cup, then a full cup, and so on.
Want some more tips for specifically digesting beans and lentils better? Read my Top 6 Tips here.
5. Increase Your Water Intake
Water is important for digestion. It helps break down food so your body can absorb nutrients, but it also helps fiber move through your body. If you don’t drink enough water, your new higher fiber intake can lead to constipation.
Constipation can lead to stomach distension, but it can really cause bloating. If your intestines are full of poop, gas won’t be able to get out.
And any gas that does get out will be extremely smelly.
Oh, and if you don’t have enough water in your system your body may pull water from the stool in your intestines, making it even harder to pass.
I can’t really overstate this here. Fiber needs water.
How much water you need varies from person to person. But a good guide is that you should need to urinate every couple of hours, and your urine should be pale in color.
And remember that water is found in foods as well. Since you’re already trying to eat more plant foods, choose fruits that are high in water content like berries, oranges, cantaloupe, and watermelon.
6. Chew Your Food Thoroughly
Digestion starts in your mouth.
It’s important to chew your food properly so that enzymes already in your saliva can break down the proteins.
Your stomach has a limited amount of acids and enzymes. That means if you don’t chew properly, you’re not giving yourself enough time to digest your food before it goes into your small intestine.
This is important for everyone, but especially for vegans.
Plants’ cell walls are tough to break down. They take a lot of grinding to break down. And most people don’t understand that there are digestive enzymes in your saliva that help break foods down.
Your teeth, tongue, and saliva all help break food down, making it easier for your stomach to do its job. Smaller pieces of food mean that there is more surface area for stomach acid to work on.
The easier it is for your stomach to break down food, the less stress it has on your intestinal tract, and the less gas you will have.
7. Try a Probiotic Supplement and Digestive Enzymes
Part of your bloating struggle is not having the right bacteria in your gut to handle all of the fiber you’re eating.
A high-quality vegan probiotic that includes Acidophilus and Bifidus strains of bacteria can boost the number of good bugs in your gut.
This can help with gas and bloating.
I change the brand of probiotics I take on a regular basis because I don’t want my gut to get too used to any one strain.
Digestive enzymes also keep digestion moving smoothly and quickly by helping your body metabolize fats and carbs.
My preferred digestive enzyme brand is the Organika Full Spectrum Plant Enzymes.
I drink these with apple cider vinegar and lemon water in the morning.
8. Move Often, As in Every Day
Excess gas and bloating can be reduced by mild physical activity, according to studies.
Yet another reason a brisk walk after dinner is a great habit to start!
Just keep in mind that you’ll likely relieve your bloating by farting (for lack of a better term, here). A group exercise or yoga class may not be the best idea here, but a nice outdoor walk will put you in the right environment to let loose.
9. Blend Some of Your Meals
Like chewing, blending can help break down whole plant foods before they even go in your mouth. This can make foods much easier for your stomach to process.
No one wants to blend all of their meals, but protein shakes, juices, and smoothies are amazing and healthy when added to a vegan diet.
Just be careful with how fast you drink them! If you drink them too fast you can swallow excess air, and dump a whole bunch of food into your stomach and gut too quickly for your body to handle.
Enjoy your smoothies and juices!
Sip your juices slowly and chew your smoothies. Chewing your smoothies will slow you down, and actually make them taste even better. You’ll also be mixing more saliva with your drinks, which will help start the digestion process.
10. Cook Your Veggies
I love vegetables! Eat them all the time. They’re incredibly healthy and should be a bigger part of everyone’s diet.
But certain veggies are known gas producers. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and collard greens have very high flatulence factors because they’re high in a specific sugar called raffinose.
We lack the necessary enzyme needed to break down raffinose, so it ferments in the lower intestine, causing gas.
Cooking cruciferous veggies can cut down on their raffinose content. This has been shown to reduce gas and bloating.
Cooked foods are also easier to digest in general.
You’ve probably seen some of your favorite influencers talk about the amazing health benefits of raw diets. The pros and cons of a raw vegan diet are outside the scope of this article.
Just keep in mind that people eating and talking about the health benefits of raw diets have usually been eating this way for a long time. Their bodies have adapted are used to processing a lot of raw food. I don’t recommend starting this way.
Cooking will help you avoid some. the gassiness associated with adopting a vegan diet.
Steam, roast, stir-fry, or sauté your vegetables until they are heated through and fork soft, but not mushy.
Steaming is my favorite method. High heat cooking like broiling and sauteing can break down nutrients, and water-soluble vitamins end up getting dumped down the drain when you boil.
Or boil your veggies for 10 minutes, then let them cool to help further break down their sugars. Sautee them with ginger, garlic, onion, and cumin for an Indian flair vegan dish!
If all else fails, sometimes I’ll take this alpha-galactosidase, all-natural supplement. It’s basically a vegan version of Beano.
Natural Remedies for Bloating
Even if you incorporate all of the tips I mentioned, you still may find yourself bloated at some point. This is why I also love natural herbal support for digestion.
Ginger, fennel, and peppermint are three herbs that are known for helping with gas and bloating.
You can find vegan capsules of these natural remedies online or at your local vegan grocery store.
Or you can go all-natural and chew fresh, pickled, or dried ginger, drink a ginger shot, or sip it as a tea throughout the day.
I add ginger to pretty much everything. Besides helping with digestion, it has anti-inflammatory properties and helps keep your respiratory system healthy. Add it to smoothies, stir-fried veggies, and tofu.
Chew a few organic fennel seeds after a meal.
Or try a peppermint tea or a few drops of food-grade peppermint oil after meals.
Drinking apple cider vinegar before breakfast in the morning and before going to bed at night can also help. Try 2 tablespoons diluted in water twice a day.
Or use ACV as part of a low-calorie, delicious salad dressing.
Not only can ACV help with bloating, but it can also actually help with weight loss! Read more about that here.
Get the Tools I Use in the Kitchen
Heads up: this page includes affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products or equipment I have personally vetted.
Vegan Bloat Conclusion
Bloating is incredibly natural, and sometimes it’s just a part of life. Especially when eating a vegan diet high in fiber.
If you’re moving from a typical American diet that is very low in fiber, your body is going to need some time to adjust.
Bloating should subside on its own within two to four weeks.
The ideal approach to prevent vegan bloating is to take your time and go slowly when moving from a typical diet to a plant-based one.
Drinking more water, chewing your food more thoroughly, and spreading fiber throughout the day can really help reduce bloating in the beginning. I also recommend natural remedies like drinking peppermint tea, adding ginger to your meals, and doing light exercise after eating.
On days that bloating is particularly uncomfortable or painful, consider taking a probiotic supplement and digestive enzymes as well.
Stomach discomfort is not something you’ll have to live with on a vegan diet! Follow these tips and enjoy all the health benefits of whole plant foods.
If you need any help with starting a vegan diet, let me know. I’m here to help!
What other tips have you found to help avoid bloating?
- “Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber.” National Library of Medicine Publication Date. Accessed December 31, 2021 from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002136.htm
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition.
- Tuck, C et al. “Fermentable short chain carbohydrate (FODMAP) content of common plant-based foods and processed foods suitable for vegetarian- and vegan-based eating patterns.” Journal of human nutrition and dietetics : the official journal of the British Dietetic Association vol. 31,3 (2018): 422-435. doi:10.1111/jhn.12546
- Leech, J., MSC Nutrition & Dietetics. “Low FODMAP Diet: The D.I.Y Beginner’s Guide (Plus PDFs).” Diet v.s. Disease. Accessed December 31, 2021 from https://www.dietvsdisease.org/diy-low-fodmap-diet