Question: Monique, I have been a vegetarian for many years, and am trying to make the conversion to being vegan. However, I am finding that when I eliminate dairy and eggs, which means I am eating a lot of soy products and other legumes, I get a lot of gas. Any suggestions? Colette
Answer: Whenever you make dietary changes, your body needs time to adjust. Even though you have been a vegetarian for many years, you may have switched to eating beans, legumes and soy foods a little too quickly. When this occurs, your digestive system has not yet developed enough the important beneficial bacteria and enzymes needed to breakdown and assimilate the sugars in these foods. During this period of adjustment, you may need to help your body with digestive aids.
I suggest that you begin by eating more of the easier to digest soy products, and cut back on the foods that are harder to assimilate. Fermented soy foods, like tempeh and miso, cause the least amount of gas and flatulence. The next easiest to digest are tofu and soymilk. Whole beans, soy flour and textured soy protein (also known as TVP) are the most likely to produce these unpleasant side-effects. Temporarily reduce your intake of these harder to digest foods to a level that does not result in that gassy feeling. Once your digestion improves, you can start increasing your consumption of these foods. However, you will need to be patient because this process can take several weeks.
If you do not want to cut back on soy foods and legumes, or do not want to wait this long to get relief, you may want to consider taking non-dairy acidophilus supplements. Acidophilus is the general name for cultures of the living beneficial bacterium that protects the intestine and improves digestion. It comes in dried form (capsules and tablets) or liquid form, and is available at most health food stores and nutrition centers. (Always check the expiration date to ensure freshness because acidophilus needs to be viable to be effective, and store it in the refrigerator.) Take one to two capsules (or one tablespoon of the liquid culture) before you eat or with your meals, unless the directions state otherwise. To learn more about acidophilus, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acidophilus.
Another option is to take digestive enzymes like papaya tablets, "Beano" (may contain animal-derived gelatin) or "Say Yes to Beans" (from Nature's Plus); or drink teas made with ginger, mint or fennel seeds.
For more information about these, read my Q&A . . .
"Relieving gas and flatulence?"
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Monique N. Gilbert, BSc. has offered guidance in health, nutrition, fitness and stress management since 1989. Through her writings, Monique motivates and teaches how to improve your well-being, vitality and longevity with balanced nutrition, physical activity and healthy stress-free living.