The Back story
A few weeks ago, my friend asked “can you eat too many vegetables?” I knew there must be some symptom that prompted the question.
“Ever since the New Year, I’ve been on this vegetable kick, and my digestive system has been having a really hard time.”
It eventually became clear that she was eating a huge amount of raw kale, greens, broccoli, and other light vegetables from the brassica family.
“You’re having a lot of bloating and diarrhea, aren’t you?” She looked around to see if anyone was listening and then admitted….”YES”.
What’s prompting her symptoms
My friend is a very active, fit 30-something with a high-energy job and personality. Her active, energetic personality indicated a Vata and Pitta personality (what’s vata and pitta? Click here).
All of her movement (both for exercise and in her work life) activates vata, which is ruled by air, space, and movement. Meanwhile, a big bowl of raw kale has the same qualities (How so? Think about how much raw kale shrinks when you cook it. There’s so much space and air between the leaves! )
This air/wind in the raw greens creates air in the digestive system, leading to gas and bloating. Meanwhile, all of the fiber in those raw greens also act to increase movement in our digestive system, promoting diarrhea.
Why popular health media has it wrong
You know how every article tells us we need to eat more greens? They say we need to be downing kale smoothies and raw salads at every meal.
While these greens are packed with vitamin K, iron, fiber, and other important vitamins and minerals, not everyone should be trying to get more and more of them, particularly when they’re raw.
What happened when I went a week without eating kale
Inspired by my conversation with my friend, I decided to go a week without eating kale. I know that a huge amount of raw greens isn’t good for my body, but I usually have kale at least once per day in cooked form.
For one week, I decided to try going kale free, just to see what happened.
Amazingly enough, my body didn’t break down. My health or vitality or energy didn’t fade.
Instead, I got rid of a persistent bloat that had been bothering me for months. I felt satisfied from my meals, and frankly, just the reduction in bloating increased my quality of life and mood.
How to tell you need to eat less raw greens
Do you think cutting out raw greens might be good for you? Here are some indications that a kale-free week might work well for you:
- You frequently deal with bloating followed by diarrhea
- You do high-intensity cardio/exercise workout for 45-60 minutes per day
- You have an active lifestyle – you’re on your feet at work all day, commute by walking or bike, and travel between client meetings.
- You live in a big city or loud urban location.
- You have frequent plane travel.
If any of these sound like you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t eat any greens. But there are some better ways to get your fix.
How to make your kale and greens easier to digest
- Cook your greens! Cooking your kale, spinach, or arugula will reduce their air-y properties. It breaks down some of the fiber and harder-to-digest compounds in the kale, helping your digestive system.
- Oil them up. Add some olive oil to those cooked greens (or heavily dress your raw salad) to also help your digestive system process the greens and be nicer for your digestive system (bonus: it’ll also help you absorb some of the healthy phytochemicals in the greens!).
- Eat them seated. No more smoothies on the go! Take a seat, eat, chew, and help your body digest these more difficult compounds.
- Combine them wisely. In addition to oil, add some grains, sweet potato, or a small piece of meat to your meal. It’s grounding for your body and will help counterbalance the airy quality of the greens.
The larger health message
Even if your body feels awesome with raw greens like kale – there’s a message here that applies to everyone.
That message is that one size does not fit all. The nutrition advice you read in health blogs or articles may not be the advice that applies to your body’s specific needs. So read the articles, give it a try, and if it doesn’t feel good – stop doing it!
If you could use a little more guidance on figuring out what nutrition habits will help you feel your best, set up a complimentary coaching session with me. I’ll help you discover the unique combination of foods that will help you feel great.
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,
Samantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human. Sam is a performance coach and yoga instructor who helps people eat, move, and live with intention. Learn more here.