3 plant-based foods to be careful with

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
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14 January 2020

Which foods should you be careful with in a plant-based diet?

Plant-based diets hold a host of health benefits, as well as being environmentally friendly. However, there are a few foods to be wary of, especially if you have recently switched from a diet high in processed foods, red meats and high-fat dairy products. Foods which can cause issues include:

1. Legumes and pulses
2. Brassicas
3. Fermented foods.

Read on to find out more about these foods, how to consume them safely, and get some tips on transitioning to a plant-based diet.

1. Legumes and pulses

Legumes and pulses are great additions to your plant-based diet. They are cheap to buy, low in fat, and provide a source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Legumes include foods such as fresh peas, fresh beans and soybeans, and pulses include chickpeas, lentils and dried beans and peas.

Although legumes and pulses provide many health benefits, if they are not prepared and cooked properly, they can be harsh on our digestive system. This is because beans contain indigestible carbohydrates. In order to make them easier to digest, they must be rinsed and soaked before cooking, and they must be cooked for a sufficient amount of time. Cooking times can vary depending on the type of pulse, so to ensure they're cooked properly, follow a recipe or the instructions on the packet.

In addition, if you suddenly introduce a high number of legumes and pulses into your diet, you may be more likely to experience unwanted symptoms such as a sore stomach and increased wind, as your body adapts to the new food. However, if you increase your intake of these foods gradually, you are less likely to suffer these side effects.

Typically, pulses can be bought either tinned or dried. In this instance, tinned pulses are often the best option to go for. This is because they have been well soaked and cooked in the production process, making them a lot easier for your body to break down. Organic versions are available, which are still cheap to buy, and are a great time saver if you need to make a speedy lunch, dinner or snack!

2. Brassicas

The Brassica family includes cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, kale and cauliflower. Brassica vegetables are highly nutritious, with many types providing a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K1 and folate. They're also a perfect addition to a plant-based diet, as they are versatile and can be added to many different dishes including salads, stews, soups and many others.

If you often suffer from digestive issues, however, these vegetables may cause a few upsets, especially if eaten in large amounts. Many brassicas are high in FODMAP carbohydrates. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols, which are short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols that are poorly absorbed by the body, which can result in abdominal pain, bloating and gas.

If you're experiencing gut trouble after eating these foods, it may be advisable to reduce your portion sizes, or introduce them into your diet gradually as discussed previously. Also, warm foods are always easier for your body to digest so, if you're struggling with a cold kale salad, try adding kale, or other brassica vegetables, to a warm stew or pasta dish instead.

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3. Fermented foods

There are many different types of fermented foods eaten around the world, including kefir, tempeh, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut and yoghurt. Fermentation is a natural process through which yeast and bacteria convert carbohydrates, such as starch and sugar, into alcohol or acids. This fermentation process promotes the growth of good bacteria known as probiotics, which may be beneficial for digestive1 and immune function,2 as well as heart health.3

Probiotics are often associated with their ability to improve digestive function, as they can help to restore the balance of friendly bacteria in the gut, which may alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). One study found that consuming 125g of yoghurt-like fermented milk daily improved symptoms in adults suffering from IBS, including less bloating and increased stool frequency in those with constipation.4

However, if these foods are suddenly introduced into the diet in large amounts, they can initially cause an increase in gas and bloating. Symptoms can often be worse if the fermented food is also high fibre, such as sauerkraut and kimchi. Moreover, some fermented products may have added fat, sugar and salt, so it is very important to check the label to ensure you are making a healthy choice.

To avoid these unwanted symptoms, try eating fermented foods regularly, in small portions and bitesize pieces, instead of eating a large portion in one go. This ensures that your gut is not overloaded, and allows your body to breakdown the food more efficiently. If you're a fan of tofu, try using a fermented tofu to make our yummy marinated tofu stir fry, or our healthy pizza with tofu "mozzarella"!

Eating tips!

Below are some helpful tips which you can follow to reduce your chance of suffering any digestive issues when introducing new plant-based foods into your diet:

  • Sit upright when eating and chew food properly - this allows the digestion process to begin properly
  • Ensure you are relaxed during meal times, and don't rush! Reducing stress can also allow foods to digest more efficiently
  • Heat up your food! Warm foods are easier for your body to digest, and a lot less harsh on your gut – try swapping a cold salad for a warm and soothing curry containing your favourite vegetables, chickpeas, and healthy wholegrains such as short grain brown rice
  • Eat a rainbow! Make sure you are including lots of variety in your diet, and not overloading on a certain food.

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22529959 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24780623 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21660519 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17635382 

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