An IBS nutritionist’s guide to a low FODMAP vegan diet
So you’re vegan and you’ve been told you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Or you’ve been struggling with your IBS symptoms and are curious about the benefits of a plant-based diet. Now what?
You might have heard that veganism and IBS can be a challenge. In fact, I’ve had clients whose health providers have told them they’re going to have to give up eating vegan.
As a vegan FODMAP dietitian that specializes in gut health and plant-based nutrition, I am here to tell you you can absolutely go low FODMAP and manage your IBS on a vegan diet. In fact, there are plenty of vegan low FODMAP foods for you to enjoy and the vegan diet can offer many benefits to your health, too.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that affects the bowel and digestive tract. It is diagnosed by a medical doctor using very specific criteria and after the exclusion of other conditions like celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
Symptoms usually include intense abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or constipation, bloating, excessive gas, and distension.
IBS is a relatively common condition. It affects between 7-15% of the population. It is more common among women and is usually diagnosed before the age of 50.
Although IBS might be common, it often goes undiagnosed. Undiagnosed IBS is problematic because it can negatively influence someone’s quality of life. Undiagnosed IBS might leave someone feeling anxious and frustrated while searching for a cause for their uncomfortable symptoms, but they’ll be unable to utilize effective, targeted therapies.
Given the large amount of online support networks and information out there, I highly recommend that you rely on reputable sources for your IBS information. It is especially important that you do not self-diagnose.
Before making any restrictive dietary changes, get properly tested for IBS by a gastroenterologist. Your gastroenterologist will be able to order tests and perform the proper work-up. Other conditions like celiac disease, IBD, diverticular disease, cancers, pelvic floor disorders, endometriosis, endocrine disorders, and more, are important to consider and must be ruled out.
Breath tests do not diagnose disorders and should not be used to guide dietary restrictions. I don’t recommend you rely on these.
I have completed the “Low FODMAP Diet” course by Monash University, the home of the all-famous FODMAP diet. As a certified IBS nutritionist, I understand what you are going through. I want to support you and ensure that you stay motivated throughout your low FODMAP vegan diet process.
With that, let’s jump right in.
What the heck is a FODMAP?
FODMAP is an acronym that stands for Fermentable Oligo- Di- Mono-saccharides and Polyols. Mouthful, I know.
FODMAPs are tiny carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in our intestines. Because they are poorly absorbed, they pull water into our intestine. They are also readily fermented by the bacteria in our gut. Excess water and fermentation can lead to formation of gas, bloating, and discomfort. Distension of the gut is also what can cause diarrhea, constipation, or a mix of both.
At their core, FODMAPs are not bad for us. I repeat – FODMAPs are not bad for us. In fact, if you don’t have IBS, I recommend you increase your intake of FODMAPs for all their gut health benefits!
Issues arise in IBS because these little carbohydrates are the culprits for painful symptoms. It can help to limit FODMAPs for a while to figure out what’s going on.
The uncomfortable symptoms and stress of irritable bowel syndrome can be managed faster with the help of a FODMAP nutritionist who will guide you through a structured diet process. There are a lot of things you can do quickly to relieve symptoms.
When first diagnosed with IBS, a FODMAP dietitian can customize a low FODMAP diet that will be used for a few weeks until your digestive health is stable. Then, in a step-wise manner, FODMAPs are slowly reintroduced and a long-term IBS diet plan is created.
You should not be eating low-FODMAP forever!
Let me make this clear: the low-FODMAP diet is not meant to be a long term dietary strategy! The idea behind the diet is to give your body a break from these fermentable carbohydrates, allow your gut to calm down and then to reintroduce them in smaller amounts later on.
In fact, as a dietitian, my ultimate goal is to get you as high FODMAP as possible post-elimination so you can maximize your quality of life and enjoy a greater variety of foods.
How to eat vegan on your low FODMAP diet
Following a vegan low FODMAP diet is within reach, and it may help you finally work out the cause of painful IBS symptoms. There’s also strong scientific evidence that many chronic diseases (type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and more) can be prevented and controlled with a healthy vegan diet.
Often, people also have more energy, reduced inflammation, and they feel better overall after removing animal products from their diet. With that said, it is important to look out for certain nutrients and plan your meals, especially on a vegan IBS diet. Consult an expert IBS dietitian for guidance.
Typically, I recommend my clients stay low FODMAP for two to six weeks while their gut recuperates. I call this the elimination phase and it is the first step in the low FODMAP diet journey.
During the elimination phase, you should aim to exclusively eat low FODMAP foods. It can certainly be trickier to eat plant-based as many vegan staples are high in FODMAPs. But rest assured – it can be done and I actually believe that eating a plant-based diet is the healthiest thing you can do for your gut in the long-term.
Vegan high FODMAP foods and low FODMAP alternatives
On a vegan elimination diet plan, the basics don’t change. I still suggest you eat plenty of fruits and veggies, choose whole grains, and enjoy a variety of healthy protein foods.
Remember to watch your portion sizes. A low FODMAP food can quickly become a high FODMAP food when you eat a large quantity! Keep this in mind.
Vegan high FODMAP proteins
Vegan low FODMAP proteins
Red kidney beans
Chickpeas (if using canned, rinse them well to get rid of excess FODMAPs)
Lentils (if using canned, rinse them well to get rid of excess FODMAPs)
Vegan high FODMAP grains
Vegan low FODMAP grains
Breads: whole grain wheat bread, rye bread
Wheat pasta and noodles
Muesli or wheat based cereals
Breads: gluten-free bread, spelt sourdough bread, and oat sourdough bread
Pastas: Gluten-free pasta and quinoa pasta
Plain rice cakes
Vegan high FODMAP dairy alternatives
Vegan low FODMAP dairy alternatives
Soy milk made from soybeans
Soy milk made out of soy protein
High FODMAP fruits
Low FODMAP fruits
Kiwi fruit, green
High FODMAP veggies
Low FODMAP veggies
Green bell pepper
Other healthy modifications to make
As a digestive health IBS nutritionist, these are some of the other frequently asked questions I get from my clients:
Do I need to go gluten free?
The gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes wheat and wheat products. This diet is necessary for those with celiac disease and diagnosed non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).
The gluten-free diet has gained popularity among the IBS community, in part due to perceived symptom improvements on a gluten free diet.
However, gluten and FODMAPs (especially fructans) co-exist in grain and cereal foods. This pattern might explain the benefits that people report on a gluten-free diet. These might be wrongfully attributed to the removal of gluten, when in fact it’s the reduction of FODMAP intake!
A combination of veganism and gluten-free could be unnecessarily restrictive for you. I suggest you work with a dietitian and follow a structured FODMAP reintroduction plan to determine what’s best for you.
How do I get enough fibre on low FODMAP?
Fibre is important for gut health. However, it can also be a culprit for symptoms in IBS.
Fibre can either be consumed through diet (from foods such as fruit, vegetables, breads and cereals), or taken as a supplement (for example bran, psyllium and methylcellulose). FIbre is also divided into two categories: soluble and insoluble.
If you experience constipation (IBS-C), soluble fibers like oats, psyllium, and linseeds can help loosen things up. You should work with a dietitian to slowly increase the amount of fermentable fibers you eat.
Typically, insoluble fibers (like wheat bran) are ineffective and may exacerbate abdominal pain and bloating. If you experience frequent loose stools (IBS-D), try reducing your insoluble fibre intake.
In general though, snack on low FODMAP fruits (raspberries, kiwi, mandarins, strawberries, oranges) and include low FODMAP veggies in your meals (carrots, green beans, corn, potato, eggplant) to increase your fibre intake without flaring up your IBS symptoms. Low FODMAP nuts like macadamias, almonds, and peanuts also have good amounts of fibre that won’t drive your stomach crazy.
Should I stop drinking alcohol?
Alcohol does have gastrointestinal effects. I have many clients who also report poor tolerance to alcohol. Despite this, little is known about whether alcohol causes IBS symptoms and at what level.
If you suspect that alcohol triggers symptoms, adjust your alcohol intake in isolation, allowing for effects to be monitored.
What about caffeine?
Caffeine also has gastrointestinal effects. However, there is virtually no research that suggests manipulating caffeine intake improves IBS symptom control. It is quite individual and you should work with your dietitian to figure out what’s best for you.
If adjusting your caffeine intake, make sure you make this change in isolation, allowing for effects to be monitored.
Other than diet, what else can I do to reduce my symptoms?
There is evidence that exercise reduces IBS symptoms. Exercise reduces stress, leads to better sleep, increases gas clearance, promotes regular bowel movements, and improves your sense of well-being. Overall, being active has many benefits for IBS relief!
Walking is a great option if you’re new to exercise and are looking for something low-impact. Otherwise, I often recommend swimming, biking, organized sports, and bodyweight workouts to my clients.
Is the vegan low FODMAP diet right for you?
While a low FODMAP diet is effective in 75% of people, there is a chance that you might not experience the relief you’re expecting while doing this on your own. IBS is frustrating!
As we discussed, many factors outside of diet can influence IBS symptoms, including stress, anxiety, menstruation (in women), physical activity and other lifestyle factors.
I am a strong believer in the plant-based diet being the best for gut health in the long term and I would love to work with you one-on-one to help you manage your IBS symptoms. Studies show that symptoms are usually better managed when patients have support from their healthcare team, including an expert dietitian.
Looking for a vegan IBS meal plan?
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