However, if you don’t feel favorably toward veggies due to the gastrointestinal problems they can cause, you’re not alone. As registered dietitian Elaina Efird, RD discusses in a TikTok, vegetables (and other high-fiber foods) can feel uncomfortable on the gut for some people. While this is especially a common struggle for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), she says, people with a sensitive stomach often can't digest vegetables as easily as others, too. It may even feel like the “bane of your existence,” as it has for many of Efird’s clients.
@elainaefird Try doing cooked veggies and avoid doing them in huge amounts at one time #dietitian #foryou #veggies #vegetables #fyp #ibstok #nutrition ♬ original sound - Elaina Efird RD, CEDRD, CSSD
But how do you know that side of broccoli, for example, is the reason behind uh, hours spent in the bathroom? And does that mean you can’t eat vegetables again?
Signs that you can't digest vegetables easily (or that they're hard on your gut)
According to Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN, the co-host of the Nail Your Nutrition podcast and CEO of Bucket List Tummy, the main symptom is gastrointestinal issues (which can show up in various ways). Some examples she lists include:
In other words, if you feel bloated, gassy, or even nauseous after eating vegetables, it may be because your stomach is struggling to digest them. Be mindful of how you feel while and after eating to test this theory out.
Running to the bathroom (or not being able to go)
Interestingly, both constipation and diarrhea are additional signs to look out for. Schlichter says constipation is more likely “if one is not drinking enough water to counteract the fiber intake.”
Lastly, it’s important to note that symptoms like these—as well as fatty stools, stomach pain, and vomiting—are also signs of nutrient malabsorption, which Schlichter says can occur if the veggies you eat aren’t making your gut happy.
What to do if your stomach can't digest vegetables easily
First, Efird shares that it's totally fair to avoid vegetables if needed. (Seriously.) “If you’re someone who’s really struggling to eat vegetables because every time you do, you end up on the toilet, then maybe vegetables aren’t healthy for you,” Efird says. “It’s not worth it for you to try to force yourself to eat vegetables when you’re finding yourself on the toilet for an hour after just because vegetables are the stereotypically ‘healthy’ choice.”
“If you’re someone who’s really struggling to eat vegetables because every time you do, you end up on the toilet, then maybe vegetables aren’t healthy for you,” Efird says. “It’s not worth it for you to try to force yourself to eat vegetables when you’re finding yourself on the toilet for an hour after just because vegetables are the stereotypically ‘healthy’ choice.”
But as a lifelong fanatic of peas (it’s a hot take, I know!), I understand the desire to eat veggies or to want some of their nutrients. If this is how you feel, you can have them in a more comfortable way by:
Changing how you cook the vegetables
Cook the veggies longer or add specific ingredients to them. “Cooking the vegetables to a softer state and breaking down the plant fiber is one way to mitigate some of these symptoms,” Schlichter says. “Furthermore, consider adding butter or oil to the vegetables, as fats can increase fat-soluble vitamin absorption.”
Additionally, some people experience reduced symptoms by adding in bitters or digestive enzymes, Schlichter adds, which you can buy at vitamin shops and similar stores.
Drinking more water
Digestion is yet another situation in which hydration is key. “Fluids can help things pass through the digestive system quicker,” Schlichter explains. She advises drinking more water, especially if you already struggle to do that. (FYI, according to Harvard Medical School, an average of four to six cups a day is best.)
Paying attention to how much fiber you’re eating
Watching your fiber intake is another option Schlichter mentions. In other words, if you just ate a fiber bar, you may want to skip out on cauliflower that night.
On that note, consider looking at what else is in the veggie (or high-fiber food) you’re eating. “Beware of some of the additives in certain products, like inulin, sugar alcohols, and artificial sweeteners, which can also cause gastrointestinal upset and digestive difficulties in some people who are sensitive,” Schlichter says. (Side note: If you’re concerned that steps like these may trigger disordered eating for you, good for you for acknowledging that! Working with a dietitian who’s well-versed in eating disorders can help you navigate that in a less harmful way.)
Along this same vein, it can help to know which veggies are the worst for your gut. Schlichter says cruciferous vegetables (aka the leafy ones) as well as raw ones, like broccoli and cauliflower, are more likely to give you problems. On the other hand, some options that are lower in fiber include canned or well-cooked carrots, green beans, and vegetable juice.
If the tips above aren’t doing it for you, you may want to reach out to your doctor for more specialized care. “Give it a one to two week timespan to give your digestive system time to adjust, and then if symptoms have not improved, see a medical provider,” Schlichter adds.
While veggies are typically full of great vitamins, they can be hard on your stomach—which makes them not the healthiest choice for everyone. If popping a multivitamin ends up being the best choice for you, that’s okay! Health isn’t one-size-fits-all.
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