Recently a client asked, “I know fiber is a good thing, but why do I get a lot of gas and bloating when I eat beans, vegetables and fruit? When I eat junky food like burgers and cookies, this doesn’t happen as much. How do I eat healthy without side effects?” This is the type of question that often comes up in our Happy Gut Workshop Class. We address real life questions and provide a range of solutions to common, and not so common, digestive concerns.
Healthy foods can cause small amounts of gas but they shouldn’t cause pain, severe bloating or problematic amounts of gas. These foods supply fiber which is food for the bacteria in the colon. If the bacteria are too numerous (overgrowth) or are in the wrong location (like inside the small intestine instead of the colon) then they will feed on the fiber and produce gas as a waste product. The problem is not the presence of the fiber but of the number of bacteria and where they live. This is a condition called SIBO – small intestine bacterial overgrowth and is often present with many digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, food sensitivities, gallbladder dysfunction, Crohn’s disease, or GERD (reflux).
The truth is that we need some bacteria in our colon – a balanced mixture of species that perform a variety of helpful functions. They help you digest your food, boost your immune system and brain function, make vitamins and fatty acids, and protect you from certain toxins.
The bacteria in large numbers can steal iron and vitamin B12 from you; prevent proper fat digestion; damage the lining of the small intestine or lead to problems with brain function; contribute to development of food allergies and they can enter the bloodstream leading the way to bigger immune problems like chronic fatigue syndrome. A physician can help you diagnose and treat this condition if necessary.
So, coming back to our junk food / healthy food conundrum, how can you eat healthy and still have comfortable digestion?
Add in fibrous foods gradually over a period of weeks.
You need to allow the numbers of fiber loving bacteria in your gut to multiply over time to help digest the fiber. Add in ½ cup vegetables to your daily diet, raw or cooked, every 4-7 days, until you get to a desired amount. An ideal amount of raw and cooked vegetables for an adult is about 4-6 cups per day.
With beans, start with 1 tablespoon per day. Use this amount for 1-4 weeks and then increase to 2 tablespoons as desired. Sprinkle them on top of salads, add to a stir fry, mix it into stews, casseroles or mixed vegetable dishes. Adults may consume ½ cup -2 ½ cups of beans per day depending on the amount of protein, carbohydrate and calories needed per day. A vegan diet may require about 2 or more cups per day while a diet containing animal proteins may only need ½-1 cup per day.
Drink 8+ cups of water per day (64 oz or more)
If you are increasing fiber, you want to make sure you are also drinking plenty of water and herbal teas. Otherwise, the added fiber could stop you up and that would be more uncomfortable. Have 2 cups of water upon rising first thing in the morning, two cups prior to lunch, 3 cups in the afternoon and 1 cup in the evening. Add in a squeeze of citrus or add in fresh fruit for flavor.
Soak your beans and grains before cooking.
When using dried beans or dried grains like millet, quinoa, or brown rice, give them a rinse and then cover them with water and let them soak in a glass jar or bowl for 6-12 hours. Small grains like rice (6-7 hours) need less soaking time than larger dried beans like chickpeas (12+ hours). This provides time for the enzymes inside the food to begin to act on the phytates, sugars and proteins in the seed and help break them down.
Add Beano drops to your meal.
Beano is a liquid enzyme supplement you add to your food at the beginning of the meal. A few drops helps with better digestion of these fibers.
Avoid bean flours unless they are sprouted.
Most bean flours (like chickpea flour) are not likely soaked or sprouted before milling into flour. This is likely a source of undigested fibers and carbohydrates that will be hard to tolerate. Bean flour made into muffins or pasta could be harder to digest than properly cooked beans.
Use plenty of digestive herbs and spices.
Herbs like basil, cilantro and fennel leaves or spices like ginger root, fennel seeds, cumin, coriander can be helpful in improving flavor and digestibility of plant foods. Use them in sauces, rubs, marinades or toppings with your meals.
Consider the use of herbal teas.
Herbal teas like lemon balm, ginger, chamomile, peppermint and fennel are also helpful to drink with a meal or afterward to help ease digestion. Drink ½-1 cup of tea with a meal or after.
Rest assured that your body will acclimate to higher amounts of the fiber-containing healthy foods that provide so many nutrition benefits. Adding these foods in gradually over time and consuming them along with herbal teas and cooking spices can make them delicious and beneficial!
If you would like more information about digestive concerns, join us for our 4-week virtual Happy Gut Workshop series starting September 10 with 48 hour playback access so you can watch or rewatch at your convenience. We’ll discuss common conditions, the role of nutrients, stress, diet, probiotics, supplements, and guide you through self-help treatments to help you feel your best. Attend one session for the entire four week series, click here to review workshops details and sign up today!