Digestive Health Tips for Vegetarians

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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

These include:

  • Tofu (not silken)
  • Tempeh
  • 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,

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