When transitioning from another diet to veganism, you might find that some changes take place in your body. Some say their skin got better, others say their nails and hair grow quicker. But this article focuses on the gut – yes, let’s talk shit.
Talking about poo is still quite taboo, but on the other hand gut health is extremely important. That’s why I decided to devote this article to the gut, and along the way I’ll try to answer the question “Does a vegan diet contribute to a healthy gut?”. This article will also feature some personal experiences and anecdotes from friends. I’ll dive in headfirst with a story of my own.
It started with antibiotics
Lots of antibiotics, to be honest. I used to have urinary tract infections all the time, and the only thing that helped were antibiotics. Of course I was taking cranberry supplements as well, but that didn’t help much. The summer of 2016 was a very stressful summer for me – I was starting my Masters in Dutch literature and my boyfriend was moving to the UK for 8 months leaving me behind in the Netherlands. On top of that I had a job that required me to work night shifts. I recall it was a very hot summer. We weren’t allowed to drink water on our shifts until one of my supervisors had to be taken to the hospital with a renal pelvic infection. During that period, I had four UTI’s. I had to take heavy courses of antibiotics. I’m still convinced that this was the final straw. All my life I’d been taking antibiotics but with periods in which my gut could recover. However, with these four courses of antibiotics my gut didn’t get the chance to recover. Thankfully, the UTI’s didn’t come back (haven’t still—knock wood!!) but my gut health was very poor. I would be bloated all the time, had lots of cramps and unfortunately I had diarrhea quite a lot.
I would be bloated all the time, had lots of cramps and unfortunately I had diarrhea quite a lot.
But then, everything got better
During early Spring, 2017 I decided I wanted to give veganism a go. I was vegetarian already, I hated the smell and taste of eggs, my stomach got upset every time I had something with milk… So I figured, why not?
I won’t lie to you. At first, my body wasn’t reacting as I hoped it would. This is embarrassing for me to admit but I was feeling gassy a lot and my gut was rumbling almost constantly. I was hungry more often. It took me a while to realize that I had to eat more in order to consume more calories. And one day, I suddenly noticed my gut felt… normal. Not bloated, no cramps, and no diarrhea! I used to be nauseous quite a lot but even that feeling had completely gone. Unfortunately, being more gassy is still part of reality, but I’ll take that if it means that I’m relieved from the pains my gut was causing.
Unfortunately, being more gassy is still part of reality, but I’ll take that if it means that I’m relieved from my pain.
Was it the vegan diet?
I can’t tell for sure if it was because of the vegan diet that my gut health improved. I mean, it had been almost a year since I finished my last course of antibiotics, so maybe my gut finally recovered by itself. But now every time I accidentally eat something with dairy in it, my stomach and intestines get so upset and I can lock myself up on the toilet again.
After eating spicy food, I’m allowed to go to the bathroom before my omni boyfriend. Everything goes faster when you’re vegan.Eline, @deplantaardigehippie
What happens to the gut when going vegan?
I asked some of my friends how their intestines reacted to going vegan. One friend with IBS commented that nothing had really changed. Jokingly, she added “It just doesn’t do anything at all. I still shit five times a day every day.” My friend Eline once told me that she has dibs on the toilet whenever she and her fiancé have spicy food. “After eating spicy food, I’m allowed to go to the bathroom before my omni boyfriend. Everything goes faster when you’re vegan”. Another friend of mine noticed that in the beginning, the farts were the worst part. “Especially in the beginning the farts were quite extreme. As they say in Dutch, the sparrows almost fell off the roof.” My own experience? Well, I can relate. Everything goes quicker, and I think I’m more gassy than before I went vegan. But what makes our bowel movements go quicker, what makes us more gassy?
Especially in the beginning the farts were quite extreme. As they say in Dutch, the sparrows almost fell off the roof.Pien, @Rebelliouskitchen
A healthy diet is a healthy gut
A very small study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition Research found that people who followed a vegetarian diet loaded with fruits and vegetables for 12 weeks reported less constipation. Alternatively, people who follow a high-fat diet rich in animal products may have a different, not so happy, experience.
A healthy vegan diet is usually abundant in fiber, which means less straining and better formed stools. Ironically, fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate, meaning the gut can’t digest it. So how are foods high in fiber able to help our gut?
In Why is Fiber Good for You? The Crunchy Truth, Kris Gunnars explains that there are two broad categories: soluble fiber (dissolves in water and can be metabolized by the “good bacteria” in your gut) and insoluble fiber (does not dissolve in water). The good bacteria that live in your gut thrive on fiber: “Human cells don’t have the enzymes to digest fiber, so it reaches the large intestine relatively unchanged. However, intestinal bacteria do have the enzymes to digest many of these fibers” (Gunnars 2018). By eating foods high in fiber, you are basically giving the good bacteria something to eat. In return, they take care of the gut in ways that the human body can’t do on its own. And the farts? They are the by-product of the digestion of fiber.
You can be a vegan and eat very healthy, or eat junk food every day. I’m not here to judge, but the latter might eventually result in a not-so-happy gut. For me, it’s all about balance. Of course I want fries with my vegan double cheeseburger on International Double Cheeseburger Day. And I’m the first to try out new vegan junk food, because it’s usually so damn good! But in between I try to maintain a healthy diet, and that is really reflected by my bowel movements. On days that I eat shitloads of greasy food I can count on my intestines not being so happy (add alcohol to that and my whole gut will be upset for two days!). But on days that I eat normal to small portions of healthy food and drink lots of green tea and water, my gut health is absolutely fine. It’s up to you to find the balance. Literally every body is different, your gut might tolerate some foods better than others. At the end of the day just do what makes you happy, if that’s shoving a vegan hot dog in your face (yes please!) or having a salad for dinner (yum!).
Photos by Olliss, Romina Farías and Frank Flores on Unsplash