On a weekly basis i get asked, “how does my stomach cope with all the fiber in my meals?” and two, “how long does it take for your body to adjust to all the fiber when you eat vegan/plantbased“.
Usually i answer each comment or message separately, but i thought now i will just direct people to this post instead!
As a vegan you tend to eat more fiber rich foods as you eat more vegetables, legumes, grains and fruits which are all fiber rich.
The recommendation is 25-35g of fiber per day. However most people don’t even reach that amount, where as a vegan can easily consume the double amount of fiber in a day. From previous school assignments where i have had to do food diaries and calculate my food intake, i consume around 60-70g fiber per day, which from a nutrition point can be seen as excessive.
You need to eat fiber everyday for regular bowel movements, as well as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and colon cancer (X). Fiber intake has also been seen to lower the amount of LDL cholesterol you have (i.e the so called “bad” cholesterol), as well as can improve blood sugar levels, so for someone with diabetes type 2 it can be extra important to eat fiber rich foods.
It can also help you feel more full as well as many foods with fiber are also seen as healthier. However too much fiber can cause bloating and gas, can inhibit the absorption of certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients, as well as can cause you to under eat as the fiber fills you up too much.
So a moderate fiber intake is key.
When you first start eating plant based/vegan, you may go from very little fiber to alot of fiber which can shock your digestive system and cause bloating, gas and cramps. Also some people are more sensitive to certain fermentable carbohydrates in beans and legumes which can cause even more discomfort.
My best suggestion is to slowly increase your fiber intake. If you have had a diet with very little fiber, such as just eating potatoes, meat and salad/cucumber/tomatoes or alot of dairy products then you may want to begin with just adding half a cup of beans to one of your meals each day. Or switching salad to different vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower that include more fiber.
Overtime you can increase your fiber intake and add more lentils, beans, root vegetables to your meals. Of course after a meal with alot of fiber it is normal to bloat and maybe feel a little gassy. The fermentable carbohydrates in beans will be digested in your large intestine which cause gas and bloating (i.e that is why the saying the more beans you eat the more you fart, which can be true.)
Also water soluble fiber rich foods can absorbed water while being digested which causes bloating and slight water retention, but it also causes you feel more full.
If you have IBS you may have more extreme symptoms from the fiber intake and fermentable carbohydrates, and it can be hard to eat completely plant based or get enough protein unless you eat alot of tofu which usually doesn’t give symptoms if you have IBS.
Your body does adapt over time – just give it time to adapt. And unfortunately that time may be several months, but within a month you should see and feel improvement with how your body digests and copes with fiber rich meals. Of course you shouldn’t go over the tope with fiber, and find how much and what foods work for you and your body.
Maybe you find that certain foods make you bloat and gas more than others.
Also note that bloating is normal for everyone after eating. Unless you eat very tiny portions with little to no fiber or hard digestible proteins, then you will most likely bloat a little after eating, and have some form of food baby at the end of the night. However, if you are also experiencing alot of cramps, pain, extreme bloating that doesn’t go away over night then i would seek professional care incase it is something more than just fiber.
So to summarize, slowly increase your fiber intake. Experiment and see which foods work for you and your body. Maybe some vegetables or beans or legumes don’t work for your stomach, and then you should avoid them. Bloating and gas is normal, however extreme stomach pain and cramps isn’t normal.
Also note, i know that my meals contain alot of fiber, but my body has adapted to that amount of fiber. And yes, i bloat… not after every meal, but usually in the evenings i am a little bloated. And the way i eat isn’t the way everyone else should eat!