From the time you were a child, you have had the message drilled into you: Eat your vegetables. They’re good for you. And while there’s no denying the truth of that statement, it’s a little more complicated than you might think.
Consuming too many vegetables can cause a host of digestive issues, including occasional bloating, constipation and bowel irritation. But that doesn’t mean you should give them up. The trick is to understand exactly what is happening within your body and then take steps to help your digestive system process the vegetables you consume.
Why Do Vegetables Cause Digestive Problems?
It all comes down to fiber. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is the kind that can be absorbed by your gut bacteria. In most cases, it helps maintain a healthy ecosystem in your intestines and keeps your body functioning normally. But some people can have sensitivities to soluble fiber sources, which may result in intestinal distress.
The foods that most commonly cause this issue contain short chain carbohydrates collectively known as FODMAPs: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. Common examples of these foods include broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. These foods are more difficult for your body to absorb, so they are likely to move along to your large intestine, where they can cause the intestinal walls to swell, leaving you feeling bloated. FODMAPs sensitivity is believed to contribute to gastrointestinal disorders.
The other type of fiber is insoluble fiber. It cannot be absorbed by your body. Instead, it pushes through your entire digestive system, pulling in water and bulking up your stool. This makes it popular among those suffering from constipation, but it can also be hard on your intestines, especially if they’re already irritated. Vegetables high in insoluble fiber include zucchini, broccoli, leafy greens and root vegetables.
How Can I Help My Body Digest Vegetables More Easily?
The simple answer to vegetable-induced digestive distress may seem to be cutting vegetables from your diet, or at least cutting back on them, but then you would be depriving yourself of the many nutrients they contain. A better solution is to think more carefully about the types of vegetables you consume and how they’re prepared. Try following some of the steps below.
Choose vegetables low in FODMAPs
FODMAPs are the most common culprit when it comes to vegetable-induced digestive problems, and you may experience relief just by removing these from your diet. Try removing these vegetables as a group or one at a time, to see if that improves your symptoms. Garlic and onion are two of the worst offenders, and you may experience relief just by eliminating these two ingredients from your diet.
Other vegetables to consider cutting back on include:
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc.)
- Shelled peas, including sugar snap peas
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Cook the Vegetables
When it comes to vegetables high in insoluble fiber, you may prefer to cook them first. This makes these tough fibers a little gentler on your digestive system, because they are already partially broken down before you consume them. The cooking method doesn’t matter — steam, roast, boil or sauté them. The effect will be the same. In the case of soft vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, mashing them may also help to minimize digestive distress. Mashing them mimics chewing and gives your body less work to do in order to properly digest these foods.
The digestion process begins in your mouth, where your body produces enzymes to begin the chemical breakdown of food. Chewing assists these enzymes by breaking the food down into smaller pieces. The better digested the food is by the time it reaches your intestines, the more likely its nutrients will be readily absorbed. Undigested and malabsorbed food can remain in your gut for a long time, and it can even cause tears in your intestinal walls, which can lead to a host of health problems. By always chewing your food thoroughly, you can minimize the potential of this occurring and help your body to get the most out of food.
Heal Your Gut
If you’re suffering from digestive problems, chances are that there is something out of whack in your gut. In addition to cutting out harmful foods, you should also take some proactive steps to heal your gut and promote the growth of healthy bacteria. One of the simplest ways to do this is by adding a daily probiotic. These are strains of good bacteria that help your body to digest food and fight off infection. We recommend Enzymedica’s Pro-Bio for a basic probiotic. Or if you are looking for more comprehensive digestive support, try Enzymedica’s Digest Gold + PROBIOTICS. In addition to probiotics, it contains a range of enzymes that help your body to break down foods.
Another part of healing your gut is just taking good care of yourself. Make sure you’re getting plenty of rest and try to keep your stress levels low. When you look after yourself, your body is able to function at an optimal level.
Try fermented vegetables
Fermented vegetables (like sauerkraut and kim chi) are a viable alternative to traditional vegetables, especially for those who suffer from digestive issues. The fermentation process that these foods undergo is similar to how your body digests food, so they are essentially pre-digested before you consume them. This makes them much easier for your body to handle. Fermented vegetables are also a good source of probiotics, which, as mentioned above, are a great way of promoting a healthy gut.
If you’ve tried everything else and you’re still experiencing digestive discomfort from eating too many vegetables, you may want to cut back on the amount you’re eating. For at least a few weeks, stick to smaller servings of vegetables and try to select vegetables that are easier for your body to digest. Then, once you’ve given your body time to heal, you can try reintroducing other vegetables and increasing portion sizes slowly. See how your body reacts and then decide how you want to proceed from there.