Do you feel like you are eating a really healthy diet filled with nutritious fruits and vegetables, yet are experiencing a lot of uncomfortable digestive symptoms? For example, do you feel uncomfortably bloated after meals, needing to loosen up your belt? Or producing some room-clearing flatulence? Are your stools more on the loose side? I see this all the time in my practise and have noticed that one simple change can make a big difference for a lot of my clients.
I don’t know of many people who have the perfect digestion. It’s certainly a rarity amongst my clients when I first see them. And it’s no surprise, really: in our modern lives, we are often stressed, eating on the go or at our desk, not chewing our food properly, grabbing convenience foods due to lack of time, or not eating altogether. I have explained the importance of optimal digestion in a previous blog post, but today I wanted to focus on one simple step to specifically help with bloating and flatulence.
I often see clients who are eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, yet are suffering from severe bloating and flatulence. It is very confusing to them, as they are eating lots of foods that are considered healthy: raw fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, in the form of big breakfast smoothies, salads, raw veggies and hummus, etc. And sometimes, by just making one simple change, their digestion improves dramatically.
Sounds simple but I’ve seen its effectiveness time and time again. Want to know what it is? Then read on!
In recent years, awareness of our microbiome has become very widespread, and we have learnt about how important it is to keep our gut microflora happy, so more people are turning to plant foods in an effort to feed our ‘good gut bugs’ and improve overall health. Yet by making these changes they start to experience digestive discomfort such as bloating, gas and loose stools.
What could be the cause?
Plant material, i.e. fruits and vegetables, contain cellulose, i.e. insoluble fibre. This is what makes up their cell walls, and is what keeps the plant’s structure. Cellulose is also the component of paper. Whilst some animals, such as cows, sheep and horses, can digest and get energy from cellulose, this is not the case for humans. We simply lack the enzyme cellulase to break down cellulose, so it mostly passes undigested through our intestinal tract, and is what increases stool bulk. This fiber can sometimes irritate the gut lining of the stomach, and can cause loose stools in some individuals. The other type of fiber in vegetables is soluble fiber, which is broken down and fermented by our gut flora, which produces gas. And this can cause gas and bloating in people who are more susceptible to the fermentation process. There are some vegetables – such as onions, garlic, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, apples – which will produce more gas in sensitive people. These are called high FODMAP foods and these are thought to be a problem with people with digestive issues such as IBS. Sometimes, if experiencing severe symptoms, eliminating FODMAP rich foods may be necessary whilst we heal the gut of the irritation it has been subjected to, but often, it can be as simple as making the switch from raw fruits and vegetables to cooked ones. Yep, that’s it. I know, right?
Why cooked vegetables?
Raw foods, especially vegetables, are very hard on our digestive tract (because of that cellulose). By cooking these foods well, we are helping break down the cellulose and making it easier for our body to digest it. Because the cooking helps with the breakdown process, the foods will also spend less time fermenting in our digestive tract and therefore produce less gas. I have seen this time and time again – just by changing to cooked vegetables (and sometimes fruits too) the bloating, gas and loose stools become a thing of the past.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the spleen and stomach are responsible for digestion and absorption of foods, and symptoms such as loose stools and bloating after meals are considered a deficiency in spleen qi (qi being the vital force). The best way to replenish the Spleen Qi is to eat well cooked foods and avoid cold foods and drinks. Cold drinks in particular can really put out that ‘digestive fire’ which we need to assimilate our food properly. So think of warm teas instead of ice-cold drinks with meals – and in small amounts so as to not dilute our stomach acid.
How to incorporate more cooked foods into the diet
Breakfast: you could swap out your morning smoothie with a well cooked porridge or some apples cooked in cinnamon and a side of scrambled eggs. Congee is a dish usually given in South East Asia to children, elderly people or when experiencing digestive issues, and can be wonderful for any meal of the day.
For lunch/ dinner you could swap your huge bowl of salad with a soup or stew cooked with warming spices such as cinnamon, thyme, cardamon, fennel and ginger – all great for aiding digestion. Fennel seeds in particular are fantastic for relieving bloating and gas, and I often recommend a fennel seed tea to breastfeeding mothers who have colicky babies.
If you are noticing more digestive distress by eating vegetables, you may want to stick to ones which are easier on the tummy such as pumpkin and other squashes, beetroots, carrots, courgettes, and very well cooked greens (ie. cooked for around an hour).
I love to include many soups into my daily diet, both in summer and in winter to be honest. Especially soups made with bone broth which has its own set of magical healing powers (a blog post about this is coming soon!). Stews are a great no fuss meal for people who don’t enjoy spending too much time in the kitchen. Invest in a slow cooker, and simply throw in some good quality organic meat (gelatinous cuts are best), some onions, root vegetables and greens, let is simmer all day as you’re busy beavering away and voila’ – a beautifully easy to digest meal is ready when you are!
So if you are experiencing digestive distress, why not try making that one simple swap and see how you get on? As we are going into winter, this can be a lot easier as we tend to crave more warming and comforting foods anyways.
I’d love to hear from you if you try this – let me know how you get on. A lot of my clients have noticed an improvement just by making this change, but sometimes digestive problems persist and there may be more at play. If you’re experiencing digestive issues and need more tailored support in getting to the root cause, I’d be honoured to help. If you’re ready to feel empowered and back in control of your health, click here to book a free discovery call and let’s chat about how some simple diet and lifestyle changes can help you flourish.