By now, you know there are loads of benefits that go along with adopting a plant-based diet, from better health to helping protect the environment (1, 2).
For some people, though, the health benefits gained from incorporating more veggies and plant proteins is overshadowed by fear of gaining something else—more gas and bloating. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it can be downright embarrassing, too.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. The idea that vegans or vegetarians and gas are synonymous is a myth that’s easily debunked when you see what causes gas and how you can prevent it in excess when you start eating a plant-based diet.
As embarrassing as it may be, gas is a part of life for everyone—whether they admit it or not! In fact, the average person passes gas more than 10 times every day (3). It’s a completely normal part of the digestive process. Bloating and gas often go hand in hand, since bloating is caused by a buildup of gas that doesn’t get released through burping or flatulence (4).
However, gas or bloating that is painful, ongoing, or interferes with your daily tasks isn’t normal. It could indicate a more serious digestive problem, so consult a doctor if you experience these symptoms.
Plants and Digestion – The Basics
Plant-based diets are typically much higher in fiber than the typical omnivore diet.
There are two types of fiber—soluble and insoluble (5). While soluble fiber dissolves in water and can be absorbed by the body, insoluble fiber—the kind often found in whole grains, brown rice, and veggies like broccoli and cauliflower—can’t. (That’s part of the reason it helps you feel fuller when you eat it.)
Because our bodies don’t make the enzymes necessary to break down certain fibers, they’re passed to the large intestine instead, where bacteria break them down via fermentation—and can produce gas and bloating. This is especially true when you start eating more fiber than usual all at once.
Gas and Greens—What to Expect
For starters, let’s be clear that not ALL greens or plant-based proteins cause gas or bloating. The gas potential of various foods depends on the amount and type of fiber and each person’s individual health.
It’s fairly common to be a little gassier than usual when you start eating a plant-based diet, but that doesn’t mean you’re intolerant or need to give up on greens.
Think back to the last time you tried something new for your health. More than likely, your body went through an adjustment phase. For example, if you started lifting weights, you may have noticed soreness in your muscles the day after your first few workouts. Or, after deciding to drink more water, you may have noticed you made way more trips to the bathroom than normal.
For many people, the same is true for starting a plant-based diet. Often, introducing more fiber than your body is used to handling to your diet all at once can cause some (temporary) gas and bloating.
Top Gas-Producing Foods
When it comes to plants and gas, these are some of the most well-known foods for producing gassy side-effects because of their high fiber and/or starches (6):
- Brussels sprouts
- Milk and milk products
- Whole-grain foods
Also, it’s not just greens that can cause major gas and bloating. Carbonated drinks, chewing gum, and hard candy, which cause you to swallow excess air, can also lead to a buildup of gas in the stomach. Artificial sweeteners are also a common culprit here.
Low Gas-Producing Foods
Now for the good news—these foods are not only super healthy, but they’re also considered the least likely to cause gas and bloating (7):
- Bell peppers
- Kale, spinach, bok choy, and other leafy greens
- Green beans
- Yogurt, kefir, and fermented foods
- Brown or white rice
- Cheddar, Swiss, and mozzarella cheese
Again, keep in mind that everyone has a different tolerance level for foods, but as a general rule, these lists can give you a good starting point.
What About Protein?
If you’ve noticed a lack of meat on the “most gassy foods” list, there’s a reason for that. Because they don’t contain the types of fiber and carbs plants have that can’t be digested, animal proteins are less likely to cause gas. This doesn’t apply to overeating animal meat, though—polishing off a couple burgers or a massive steak in one sitting could very well lead to improper digestion and a buildup of gas.
Many vegetarians turn to protein powders to help supplement their protein intake. In milk-based protein powders like whey or casein, excess gas and bloating can occur thanks to the presence of lactose (milk sugar). And because 75% of the population is lactose intolerant, it’s a pretty common side effect (8).
While whole-food plant proteins like soy, beans and lentils can be major gas-producers due to high fiber content, plant-based protein powders like these rice and pea powders are unlikely to cause gas or bloating, since most of the starch and fiber content has been removed, making them a better choice if you want to avoid gas. Though many are “clean”, you should always review the added ingredients in plant protein powders to make sure there’s nothing in there you might be intolerant or allergic to (and may therefore cause gas/bloating).
Keeping Gas and Bloating at Bay
There are a number of things you can do to minimize gas and bloating as you incorporate more plants into your diet. Here are seven tried and true methods:
1. Chew slowly.
Gulping down your food means you’ll swallow air in addition to food, which causes gas to build up in the stomach. Also, chewing kick starts the digestive process; the enzymes in saliva help break down carbs and starch so they spend less time sitting in your stomach.
2. Incorporate high-fiber foods and plants gradually.
When you’re fairly new to eating lots of fiber, a sudden onset of high-fiber, plant-based foods can shock the gut, since it’s not used to these nutrients. Because your gut will acclimate to your new diet over time, gradually increasing more plants will help reduce gas and bloating.
3. Cook your veggies.
Baking, steaming, sautéing, or grilling your veggies as opposed to eating them raw helps to pre-digest some of the biggest gas-producing ingredients in your veggies—starch and fiber. It also helps make the nutrients more absorbable, so opt for cooked veggies over raw when possible.
4. Soak legumes and grains before cooking
Soaking or sprouting your legumes and grains is a great way to reap their health benefits (9, 10). Sprouted grains make it easier for the body to absorb nutrients. And like cooking, it also helps to pre-digest the starches and carbs, reducing the gas potential.
5. Try a digestive enzyme or digestive enzyme blend.
Digestive enzyme blends are supplements that contain digestive enzymes that make it easier to help your body digest food (11). They can be particularly beneficial to people who are lactose intolerant and eat high-fiber diets, as they can help break down fiber and reduce gas.
6. Limit high-gas foods.
In addition to eating more of the foods on the low gas-producing foods list, reduce the amount of cruciferous and allium veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, onions, and leeks you eat—these foods in particular are well-known to produce greater amounts of gas.
7. Don’t overeat.
Overindulging on any food can put you at higher risk of improper digestion and the discomfort caused by gas and bloating. Instead, eat smaller meals throughout the day and stop when you’re full.
Adopting a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a gassier existence. By gradually incorporating more plants into your diet and following these tips to reduce gas and bloating, you’ll find that the gassy stage will pass (no pun intended) and you’ll be on your way to a healthier way of life.
Written By: Jill Overmyer
Reviewed and Edited By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian