Probably one of the most common questions that I get goes something like this “How can I customize the IBS diets for my vegetarian or vegan diet”?
I’ll start out with this disclaimer: I respect everyone’s decision to pick whichever diet that they feel is consistent with their needs and beliefs.
However, I also don’t believe that vegetarian or vegan diets are ideal for human health. In fact, it’s impossible to meet your needs without supplementation. I’ve seen a lot of ‘recovered’ vegans in my practice, so I have personally witnessed the adverse effects of long-term nutrient depletion. Please don’t take offense – it’s my take on the scientific evidence, but I respect your take as well!
OK. deep breath. If you’re still here – great – you can still get some improvement of your digestive woes if you are vegetarian or vegan.
Here are the best places to start:
1. Consume low-FODMAP protein foods
- Tofu (not silken)
- Small lentils, up to ½ cup cooked
- Drained, rinsed, canned chickpeas (up to ½ cup)
- Edamame (1/2 cups shelled)
- Rice protein powder (check for extra problematic ingredients like gums, emulsifiers, and sugar alcohols)
- Up to 2 Tbsp peanut or nut butter
2. Avoid high-FODMAP protein sources such as large beans:
- Kidney beans
- Baked beans
- Black beans
- Butter beans
- Cannellini beans
- Lima beans
- Navy beans
- Pinto beans
- Soy milk made with whole soybeans (made with soy protein is OK)
- Commercial hummus
3. Focus on low-FODMAP fruits and vegetables
- Avoid garlic and onion, unless it’s infused oil
- Limit serving size of avocado to 1/8 per meal
- Limit fruit to ½ piece per serving
- Some common high-FODMAP vegetables include cabbage, Brussels sprouts, green beans, sweet potato, and zucchini/courgette
- Limit nuts and seeds to just 2 Tbsp (30ml) per meal
- Avoid lactose such as in milk, cream, yogurt, and soft cheese. Hard cheese and lactose-free dairy products are fine. You may also do OK with goat or sheep’s milk and cheese/yogurt.
- Avoid sugar alcohols such as in bars and protein powders. Also check gum and other beverages (‘sugar-free’ is a red flag)
- Avoid fructose such as in soda and other sweetened foods and beverages. This includes high-fructose corn syrup.
4. Remember Non-Diet Tricks
There are a variety of other techniques that can improve IBS symptoms! These include:
- Space meals and snacks at least 3 hours apart
- Don't eat within 2 hours of going to sleep
- Meditate daily for at least 10 minutes
- Improve on your sleep quality, duration, and timing
- Exercise most days, but not right before bed
5. Consider Nutrient Status
Also, remember that nutrient status is important for healthy digestion. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, I strongly recommend working with a nutrition professional. You can get help with repleting often lacking nutrients such as omega-3 fats, vitamin B-12, zinc, choline, and iron.
In fact, some of the nutrients that are often lacking in meat-free diets are the very nutrients most needed to heal/repair the gut and to produce stomach acid. These include glycine, zinc, iron, and essential fatty acids. So, again, consider smart, quality supplementation as an important step in your recovery.
A few supplements that may help include:
- A high-quality vitamin and mineral (i.e. methylated B's, chelated minerals, and 'less common' nutrients such as choline and K2)
- A quality probiotic. Start with a lacto/bifido combo with 10+ strains at 25-50 billion CFU/day
- Fermented cod liver oil or, at a minimum, high quality fish oil at 1-3 grams/day. Vegan omega-3 products are also available (from algae)
- Soothing and repairing supplements such as marshmallow root, peppermint oil, L-glutamine, aloe, and slippery elm
- Digestive enzymes (there are plant-based only compounds available)
That’s a lot for now! This isn’t the full low-FODMAP protocol, but sometimes it’s just some simple swaps that make all of the difference. I recently had a vegetarian client just take out garlic and onion from her diet – IBS gone.
I’d love to hear our comments by reply to this post, or at my FREE online support community! It’s on Facebook at RecoveryFromIBS.com . There, you can get a free one-week meal plan, support, tips, and special insider offers!
Wishing you all the best,