30 Aug 5 top tips for navigating the low FODMAP diet as a vegan
Following the low FODMAP diet is hard enough – trying to do it when you’re vegan takes it to a whole new level. Apart from lactose (a sugar found in milk), most high FODMAP foods are plant-derived and so it can be really tricky to ensure that you’re getting what you need from your diet. This is exactly why it’s recommended to work with a FODMAP trained dietitian through the process of elimination and the re-challenge stages.
I wanted to address some of the main issues that might come up and take a look at the bits that are particularly important for vegans.
Who is a low FODMAP diet suitable for?
The low FODMAP diet was developed by Monash University to help people manage the gastrointestinal symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome. You can read more about the diet on their site, my previous blog or my article for NHD Magazine (p31 if you wanted to geek out in a bit more detail!).
In a nutshell, it involves a period of eliminating foods which are high in fermentable carbohydrates and certain sugar alcohols. These are things which have been found to worsen symptoms in many people who have IBS or other functional gut disorders.
This elimination period is followed by a period of re-challenging each individual FODMAP to determine which affects you most. The end result should be a diet tailored to your own individual tolerance level – as individual tolerance levels can vary over time, this can be adjusted in the future.
NB: A low FODMAP diet won’t ‘cure’ IBS – unfortunately there is no cure for IBS – but for many people it can help them to find a way to self-manage their symptoms.
It sounds pretty intense –what are the alternatives?
A low FODMAP diet doesn’t work for everyone; it has been shown to be helpful in reducing symptoms of bloating and pain in many people, though for others it might not work. For example, it’s been shown to be more effective at improving overall symptoms in people who have diarrhoea-predominant IBS than those with constipation-predominant IBS.
It’s restrictive nature also means that it is not be suitable for everyone. This includes people with a history of eating disorders or disordered eating and it is to be avoided during pregnancy – always discuss with your GP and ideally a dietitian before starting a diet like this.
It’s also expensive, difficult if you can’t cook, have limited access to cooking facilities or difficulty making your own food. This is why it’s maybe not so helpful that it’s touted by some health professionals as the only viable option to help manage IBS symptoms.
If you have a diagnosis of IBS but following such a restrictive diet isn’t the best option for you – or doesn’t look likely to improve your symptoms, there are lots of alternatives – you can speak to your GP and ask to be referred to an NHS dietitian, work with a private dietitian or try out some of the self-help options listed on the NHS website.
The Vegan Bit
What does a vegan diet look like? A vegan diet involves avoiding all animal products, this includes meat, fish, dairy, honey and gelatine (found in lots of things!). Some vegans also avoid animal products like leather and wool …but obvs I’m just looking at the food bits here.
As I mentioned earlier, FODMAPs are mostly plant-derived and so when you’re completing the elimination phase of the diet, you would generally be looking at cutting out a lot of vegan staples like lentils and chickpeas (yep, most shop-bought hummus is high-FODMAP in the amounts you’d usually eat, sorry!).
Definitely going to give it a go? Read on…
If you’re going to go ahead and trial the low FODMAP diet as a vegan, as always it’s recommend to work with a FODMAP trained registered dietitian. However, I’m totally aware that this might not be possible for everyone and so here’s some tips that could come in handy along the way:
- Bonus general tip: For anyone following a low FODMAP diet; this will all take lots of time and planning. Choose a time where you’re not heading away on holiday or having lots of meals out or a stressful work period to minimise any disruptions and make sure you have the best chance of completing it fully.
Please also note that it’s not recommended to stay on the restrictive phase of a low FODMAP diet for a long period of time as not only is it likely to impact on your life – where you can eat as well as what you can eat, but it’s super hard to get what you need in terms of nutrition and there’s mounting evidence that avoiding some of these foods for a prolonged period can negatively affect your gut bacteria.
2. As with all vegan meals, you’re going to need to pay attention to filling in the gaps from what’s been excluded from your diet. This includes finding suitable sources of vitamin B12, fibre, calcium and protein amongst others and keeping an eye on how much fruit and veg you’re able to get in. Check this blog post of mine on vegan diets to get the lowdown.
One rule of thumb that could help when building your balanced low FODMAP vegan meals, try basing them around 3 food groups: say – carbs; fats and protein. Then you can add in whatever veggies, fruit and calcium sources that you like. It’s not a solid rule, and not all meals will look like this – but a framework that can help when you’re putting together meal ideas.
I’ve outlined a few simple options of how this could look below:
- Breakfast: porridge made with: rolled oats, fortified almond milk, blueberries
- Lunch: homemade hummus ( fab recipe from A Little Bit Yummy here) salad sandwich on spelt sourdough or gluten free bread, fortified coconut yoghurt, small banana
- Evening meal: Quorn mince, quinoa pasta, tinned tomato or passata sauce made with garlic infused oil, olives and chopped parsley
The recommendations to get your five+ a day still count with low FODMAP. Check out the MONASH FODMAP app or site for recipes and, find out which other fruit and veg fit in and to tailor your portion sizes to make sure they’re low FODMAP.
3. You’re definitely going to need to plan ahead. New to meal planning? Have a look at my blog post on vegan meal planning here. Head’s up that you can also download my meal planning template for free when you sign up to my newsletter.
At a very basic level, there’s some things you’ll have to look closely at:
Do you eat lunch at work? What options does the canteen have?
How are any sauces they serve made? You’ll need to take a close look at ingredients
Take a lunchbox? What can go in it? When is best for you to make it?
Eating out can be really tricky as well. It can be helpful to check out the websites of places you’re visiting in advance and see if you can swap things in or out. You’d be surprised how helpful some places can be. I know this isn’t ideal for most people ..but remember that the elimination phase doesn’t last forever!
4. Most of us aren’t getting enough calcium from our diets in the first place and vegan diets can be mega-low; especially if you’re not having fortified plant milks. Plus, you guessed it, a vegan low FODMAP diet can impact this further. Make sure that any dairy alternatives you’re having are fortified with vitamins and minerals and try to get 2-3 servings per day (a serving is usually around one small yoghurt pot, a 200ml glass of plant milk). Ideas for low FODMAP plant milks and yoghurts:
- Coconut milk
- Almond Milk
- Coconut yoghurt
- Rice milk
- Soy protein milk (NB not from soya beans!)
Remember to check the label for high FODMAP sweeteners.
5. Fibre – changes to gut health
The elimination stage of a low FODMAP diet can be low in fibre and prebiotics. Prebiotics are essentially food sources for the bacteria that live in our gut. Keeping them fed can have a pretty positive effect on gut health.
Again, this is why it’s super-important to do the re-challenge phase; to re-introduce these prebiotics. A lower fibre intake may also worsen symptoms associated with constipation-predominant IBS.
You can keep up your fibre intake during the elimination phase by snacking on low FODMAP nuts like almonds and peanuts and fruit like passionfruit, strawberries and oranges. You can also have low FODMAP veg with the skin on- like potatoes, corn and aubergine – plus add in small portions of canned lentils or chickpeas (rinse well first!) to stews, salads and sauces.
For cereals you can add in extra oat bran or rice bran – bear in mind that additional wheat bran is best avoided as it can worsen symptoms for people with IBS.
NB as with all fibre increases – it’s best to do this gradually to minimise any adverse effects on your gut, particularly if you’re not used to having these things in your every day diet!
Overall – a low FODMAP diet is a tricky and super-restrictive diet – doing it it as a vegan is possible, but it will take lots of time and planning.
Although it isn’t a cure for IBS, it can be a helpful way for some people to find ways to manage their symptoms. If it isn’t suitable for you, or doesn’t work for you (or if you simply don’t want to try it!) there are plenty of other less restrictive things that can be done to help you manage your symptoms. Speak to your GP or dietitian to find out more.