It’s time to talk toilet once more. Anyone would think I’m obsessed, but the truth is that many people suffer with vegan constipation and it’s something I’m asked about a lot, so here we are again!
I think one of the worst things about this painful and somewhat embarrassing condition is the fact that, as vegans, we are expected to be in the bathroom more often than not. However, for some – especially those who are just transitioning over to a diet free from animal products – this isn’t always the case.
Why is that?
That’s what we’re looking to find out!
Not getting enough water
Drinking plenty of water is one of those things we all know about, but plenty of us still fall short.
It doesn’t help that there are conflicting studies stating how much we should be drinking each day. However, if you’re eating a whole food, plant-based diet and still suffering from constipation, your water intake is a good place to start. (1)
Constipation is directly related to dehydration in the colon, so it makes sense to address the root cause and give our bodies plenty of fluid. Taking on board lots of water will help your food pass through your intestine as well as promote the general well-being of your gut too. (2)
While experts recommend around eight glasses of water per day (125 ounces for men, 91 ounces for women), it’s important to listen to your body as well. If you’re feeling thirsty, take a drink. (3)
Vegans may need to take in more water than non-vegans as our fiber intake is usually far greater. Soluble fiber needs water to work it’s magic and insoluble fiber retains the water from your intestine, so you’re likely going to need more fluid to help pass this good stuff through your system. (4)
Fruit juices and herbal teas can help hydrate the body too, but they can also hold a lot of sugars. Common diuretics such as tea, coffee and alcohol should be avoided when suffering from constipation as these will exacerbate the dehydration, not help it.
Sticking to water is the best policy, by far.
Not getting the right amount of fat
Eliminating animal products will automatically remove a large amount of fat from your diet. This is a good thing, as the fats associated with meat and dairy are generally not very good for us, but we still need a certain amount of “good” fats.
The oils found in ground flax seeds and avocados, for example, are perfect for lubricating our digestive systems and keeping them in good working order. Taking all fats away can lead to problems, so make sure you’re getting enough on a daily basis.
However, it’s also important to recognize that too much fat can put a strain on our bodies – whether it’s good fat or bad fat.
It’s impossible to give a definitive amount for you to follow as we’re all different, but if you aim for around 25 to 35 per cent of your overall calories from good fats you’ll be in good shape. (5)
Not enough fiber
Not enough fiber? On a vegan diet? Yep, unfortunately, this can still be a problem.
Thanks to the increase in processed vegan junk foods on our shelves, many well-meaning people are ditching animal products but aren’t hitting the fresh produces aisles as much as they should be.
If you want to do the right thing by our animal friends and your own body, it’s absolutely vital you get wise to the fact that vegan junk food is still junk food.
Try to buy more fresh produce and cook from scratch. Sure, it’s more work, but it’s well worth the effort. Cooking up batches of your favorite dishes at the weekend and freezing them for quick and easy meals is a great way to keep the healthy vibe going throughout the working week.
A little planning can go a long way.
Eating lots of fruits and vegetables for constipation relief is definitely the way to go. However, remember to take things slow if you are just starting out on your whole food- plant-based journey.
This leads us nicely to…
Too much fiber can also cause vegan constipation
Yep, you can get too much of a good thing…at least at first.
Some people who are new to eating wholly plant-based find that, when they transition to a vegan diet, constipation can be an issue. This can be confusing. After all, vegan bowel movements are supposed to be frequent and one of the key benefits of ditching animal products, right?
Well, yes, but these things don’t necessarily happen overnight for everyone. Think about it. You’ve had years and years of eating meat, dairy and all that processed junk, then suddenly you change things up drastically – your body may not be able to cope.
Inside our digestive tracts are billions of bacteria, commonly referred to as gut flora. These microorganisms are communities in and of themselves, and are integral to our health.
When we eat a Standard American Diet (ie. one that is packed with processed foods) we are effectively denying our bodies of the good bacteria we need to digest our food properly. Poor gut health has been directly linked to obesity, and it can leave you as one constipated vegan too! (6)
As we mentioned above, this is especially true when we first make the change. Vegetarian constipation occurs because the bacteria that live in our guts simply cannot break down the amount of fiber we throw at it when we begin eating more plant-based foods, thus causing our systems to back up.
In short, if you’re eating lots of fruit and vegetables, but constipation persists, your gut flora may be struggling to keep up.
So, what can we do to help our guts? Well, we can make our transition a little slower than simply creating a cut-off day. Try and increase your intake of dietary fiber over a period of weeks, maybe even months, if you want your body to adjust naturally.
Introduce plant-based meals gradually. If you are used to eating animal products and/or processed foods at every meal, try and switch up a couple of meals a week at first and see how your body reacts. If all is well, add more plants to your diet the following week.
This slow change will help eliminate gas, bloating and constipation – all of which are common side effects of a vegan diet when you try and change things up too fast.
If you really want to boost your gut flora and promote great digestive health, a probiotic supplement can help. Check out our favorite vegan probiotics for more information.
READ NEXT: BEST VEGAN DIGESTIVE ENZYMES REVIEWS
Grains may be causing you grief
For some, grains can be the cause for constipation, and not just when they’re on a vegan diet. Many common grains – wheat, barley, rye, oats, triticale – contain gluten which is a kind of glue-like protein that can cause digestive problems.
At the serious end of the scale is celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder which is thought to affect around one per cent of the global population. However, some health experts believe that as many as 2,500,000 Americans are unaware that they are living with this chronic complaint, putting them at risk of serious long-term health issues. (7)
For others, gluten intolerance may be a problem they need to address. New research is shedding light on the difference between gluten intolerance and celiac disease.
For years, it was believed that gluten was a very black and white affair – you either had celiac disease or you didn’t. Now, however, scientists have found that there is a spectrum of sensitivity to this particular protein, which means you can be intolerant to the effects of gluten without having full-blown celiac disease. (8)
While gluten intolerance is entirely different to celiac disease, it can still cause problems when it comes to digestive health. Therefore, it’s well worth considering a little experimentation with eliminating gluten from your diet.
Going without certainly won’t do you any harm, but it’s still wise to talk things through with your health care provider.
That’s five reasons I can think of that may cause you to experience constipation on a vegan diet. If you address each of these and take your transition at the right pace, there’s no reason why your vegan digestion should suffer.
Good luck, and don’t forget to let me know how you get on in the comments below ?
Save This To Pinterest!
About The Author:
Lisa Williams is a committed vegan, passionate animal welfare advocate, and keen follower of too many v-friendly food blogs to mention. She started happyhappyvegan.com back in 2016 because she felt there was a need for more straightforward information on plant-based living.
Back then, too many sites seem to either concentrate solely on recipes or be too intimidating or inaccessible for the v-curious, and she wanted to change that. The landscape is certainly a whole lot different now!
- Alexandra Phelan | How Much Water Should I Drink? | https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/how-much-water-should-i-drink-10390100.html
- Debra Fulghum Bruce, PhD | How Drinking Fluids Can Help You Manage Constipation | https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/water-a-fluid-way-to-manage-constipation
- Hrefna Palsdottir, MS | Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day: Fact or Fiction? | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-glasses-of-water-per-day
- Sandi Busch | Does Fiber Increase Water Needs? | https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/fiber-increase-water-needs-9140.html
- Cleveland Clinic | Fat and Calories | https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4182-fat-and-calories
- Peter J Turnbaugh, Fredrik Bäckhed, Lucinda Fulton, Jeffrey I Gordon | Diet-induced obesity is linked to marked but reversible alterations in the mouse distal gut microbiome | https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18407065/
- WebMD, Melinda Ratini, DO, MS | Celiac Disease | https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/celiac-disease/celiac-disease
- Melanie Uhde, Mary Ajamian, Giacomo Caio, Roberto De Giorgio, Alyssa Indart, Peter H Green, Elizabeth C Verna, Umberto Volta, Armin Alaedini | Intestinal cell damage and systemic immune activation in individuals reporting sensitivity to wheat in the absence of coeliac disease | https://gut.bmj.com/content/65/12/1930.full