Staying Full and Avoiding Gas: Your WFPB Questions Answered!
Now that you’ve learned the basics of a WFPB diet and stocked your pantry and freezer with all your WFPB staples, you might have some burning questions about WFPB eating that need answering before you’re willing to take the plunge (or you might already have transitioned, but still have some lingering concerns). Fear not - we’re here to help! In this third installment of our WFPB Basics series, we’re tackling two of the most common questions we get about WFPB living:
I’m always hungry, even though I’m still eating meat! How can I possibly get full and stay full without eating meat?
I can’t eat beans without becoming a gas factory! How do I transition without torturing my family, friends and coworkers, and when does the suffering end?
Don’t worry, we’ve been there, and we’ve asked all these same questions! Read on - you’ll thank us later!
I’m Always Hungry: How Do I Stay Full Eating Only Plants?
The leading concern we hear among people considering transitioning to a WFPB diet is a fear of constant hunger. Protein from meat is what fills you up, and if you no longer eat meat, you’ll never feel full, right? Think again!
The secret to getting full and staying full hours after you eat a meal is fiber. Fiber is found only in plants (animal products, such as meat, dairy, and eggs, do not contain any fiber), and comes in two important types:
Soluble Fiber - this type of fiber dissolves in liquid and helps feed the good bacteria in your gut, creating a healthy microbiome (more on that later!). Oats, peas, carrots and barley are great sources of soluble fiber.
Insoluble Fiber - this type of fiber is not absorbed by your body, but instead expands in the stomach and helps push the digestive process along. Whole grains, beans and legumes, and cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower and broccoli, are all high in insoluble fiber.
This “expansion” effect of fiber means that plant foods fill you up faster than the equivalent volume of animal products, and they also keep you full longer - so full, in fact, that you may even eat less at subsequent meals after eating a WFPB meal than after eating an animal product meal! When combined with the fact that whole plant foods have a low calorie density, meaning that a larger WFPB meal is required to hit the same number of calories as a smaller animal product meal, it’s a double whammy - you can eat even more of the foods that make you more full!
There is one important caveat here: refined plant foods, including oils and refined carbohydrates, have had most of their fiber stripped out, so they are metabolized quickly after eating and won’t satisfy you for long - you’ll be hungry again in no time. So, stick to whole plant foods, especially those high in insoluble fiber, and say goodbye to hunger pains for good!
Keeping the Gas Monster at Bay
We’ve all been there. Eat a meal rich in beans or broccoli, and you, along with everyone around you, will suffer the consequences. It’s not surprising - only 5% of Americans get the USDA-recommended 25 grams of fiber per day (and this guideline, which assumes a diet rich in animal products, may still be substantially lower than what our bodies really need), and when you get more fiber than your body is used to, the results can be, well, unpleasant. For many fiber-deficient transitioners to a WFPB diet, the transition process can feel, and smell, like eating 10 bean burritos. Does the pain ever end?
Yes! As you transition to a WFPB diet and eat fewer animal products and processed foods, the composition of the bacteria in your gut (your “microbiome”) will change: whole plant foods feed Prevotella bacteria (the “good” bacteria referenced above), which reduce inflammation and keep gut tissue healthy through the production of a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate. Overtime, eating a WFPB diet with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables also increases the diversity and richness of your gut bacteria, and diverse gut bacteria are correlated with lower rates of obesity and better arterial health.
By contrast, a diet heavy in animal products increases the prevalence of Bacteroides bacteria (“bad” bacteria which are associated with inflammation and metabolic syndrome). If you are (or used to be) a regular meat and dairy eater, it’s likely that you have a high concentration of Bacteroides bacteria, and your microbiome may not be prepared to deal with that much fiber. However, the suffering should be brief - the overall composition of your gut bacteria can change rapidly, with good, fiber-loving bacteria becoming predominant in only five days! Everyone’s body is slightly different, but eventually, you can eat beans and broccoli to your heart’s content.
But what do you do in the interim so you don’t, as the saying goes, “lose friends and alienate people?” Here are several of our well-worn survival tips:
Introduce fiber gradually into your diet! like any other transition, you don’t have to do it all at once. While we always recommend cutting out animal products, oils, and other refined plant products as much as you can, you don’t need to go from eating no beans to having a diet comprised almost solely of beans. Start with a small amount, and then increase you intake gradually (i.e. increase your daily intake of beans or other high-fiber foods by 1 tablespoon per week).
Take note of what it is that you eat that gives you digestive troubles. Sometimes, only certain high-fiber foods cause that initial intestinal distress, so you can still increase your fiber intake from non-problematic foods while slowly introducing the ones that cause more trouble.
Drink, drink, drink! Water, that is. Water helps fiber pass through your system and do all its good work - without it, you could end up with constipation and other uncomfortable side effects!
Eat lots of prebiotic and probiotic foods! Prebiotic foods, like onions and garlic, are superstars at stimulating the growth of good bacteria, while fermented probiotic foods, like sauerkraut and tempeh, inject live bacteria into the gut. This good bacteria helps break down all of the extra fiber, and keeps everything moving along smoothly!
So there you have it - stay full and satisfied, avoid gas and indigestion, and get on the road to living your best life on a WFPB diet! If you want to simplify your transition, check out our weekly online menu, and get delicious WFPB proteins, sauces. In 15 minutes or less, you'll have delicious WFPB dinners the whole family will love!