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The benefits of eating a diet complete with raw vegetables of all varieties and colors are huge, but many people find themselves getting gas, bloating, or loose stool when trying to digest produce.
Part of the problem is that people dive head first into many of these grain-restrictive diets, into overflowing piles of endless salads and roasted broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. While vegetables are good for you and have many crucial vitamins and minerals, if you have been on a low vegetable-based diet most of your life or suffer from pre-existing digestive symptoms, like IBS, it's easy for you to create gastrointestinal issues that you might never think would happen from eating vegetables.
There are two major reasons why vegetables can be hard on our stomachs: soluble fiber and cellulose, or insoluble fiber. Fiber is healthy, but for some, it can cause issues. Your gut flora easily ferments soluble fiber. This fermentation does produce some gas but usually not enough to cause any significant symptoms. There are some people, however, who are more sensitive to the fermentation process. The most well-known causes for this sensitivity are short chain carbohydrates called FODMAPs, which is short for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are all types of carbohydrates found in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains. FODMAPs can be the reasons many vegetables don’t always sit well with certain people.
Insoluble fiber is not fermentable. Our bodies cannot use it, so essentially, the fiber just goes in our mouths and out the other end. It is primarily used to increase stool bulk and is also found in certain foods to help fill up your stomach for fewer calories. This type of fiber isn’t quite as well known for causing digestive issues as soluble fibers are, but it is known for having laxative-like effects on people. It does that by irritating the gut lining, which makes the gut wall produce mucus as a lubricant and increases peristalsis, moving feces through the digestive tract. It doesn’t sound lovely, but that’s what happens.
The most difficult vegetables to digest are the cruciferous ones, like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. The reason is that these vegetables contain a compound called raffinose. Humans do not have the enzyme to break down this compound, so it passes through the stomach and small intestine undigested and enters the large intestine, where all the unpleasant gas and bloating symptoms can occur. Therefore, we want to stay away from eating these raw if we know they cause us those sorts of issues. Onion and garlic are also notoriously known for being high in FODMAPs. Some of the better vegetables to consume if you have problems digesting include the following:
When you cook vegetables, you help to break down some of those harder to digest fibers, which makes them easier on the digestive system. You don’t have to boil your vegetables down to mush, but steaming and sautéing the veggies will make them more well-done at the end and most likely easier on your body. Also, mashing your vegetables – think mashed carrots, cauliflower or sweet potatoes – can also make them easier to manage because mashing is meant to somewhat mimic chewing and make your body do less work to digest the vegetables. You could also try eating vegetables cooked in soups or blended in juices and smoothies in your NutriBullet!
Carrie Gabriel studied nutrition at California State University-Los Angeles and got her RDN through the Coordinated Dietetics Program there. She works as a dietitian for different corporate wellness companies, creating recipes for cooking demos and content for nutrition seminars.
She created her company, Steps2Nutrition, in 2012 in hopes of working more one on one with busy professionals and their specific nutritional needs. She has an advanced certification in weight management and specializes in gluten and dairy free meal preparation for various clients.
You can find some of Carrie’s healthy and delicious recipes and meal tips on her website, www.steps2nutrition.com, and on her Instagram and Twitter account, @steps2nutrition.