I’m a registered Dietician specialising in Gastrointestinal health for nearly 10 years, and have forged a career helping thousands of people manage their digestive symptoms; using dietary and lifestyle interventions, supporting them and educating them on how to take ownership over their symptoms and gut health to improve their digestive health issues and quality of life. Our digestive health is something that, in spite of the silence that surrounds it, can sometimes feel crucial to be making ourselves feel better and often finding enjoyment in our lives – be it in relationships, in jobs, in hobbies and in the freedom to make spontaneous decisions with loved ones.

Vegan on Female First

Vegan on Female First

If you suffer with IBS or other digestive health issues then you’re certainly not alone, though you’d be forgiven for thinking so; a recent survey commissioned by IMODIUM® has highlighted the culture of embarrassment, silence and misinformation surrounding symptoms of gut ill-health. And, despite 25% of digestive health sufferers experiencing symptoms at least once a week, 36% do not seek treatment. If you’re a practising vegan, maintaining a healthy balanced diet, and a diet that maintains a healthy gut, can feel like an uphill struggle - I hope the below tips help support you in managing your condition, without compromising your ethics or dietary choices!

I find it difficult to talk about IBS without mentioning a low FODMAP diet! A low FODMAP diet is becoming more and more popular in treating symptoms of IBS, because of its success and the fact that it has good clinical evidence to back up its use to help those suffering with IBS. FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides and Polyols. These are dietary carbohydrates found in abundance in a normal healthy diet but for those with a sensitive gut they can exacerbate symptoms of bloating, wind, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Following a low FODMAP diet has helped many manage their digestive symptoms but it is fiddly (I recommend you get support from a registered dietitian to follow and even more challenging if you are vegan). Here are some tips to help you manage your IBS that include keeping an eye on the FODMAP content of what you are eating:

Juicing is very popular, perhaps especially as part of a vegan lifestyle. I would approach juicing with caution if you suffer from IBS as large volumes of fruit juice will likely exacerbate symptoms. Limit to 100mls of fruit juice at a time or the equivalent of 1 portion (80g) of fruit. You can bulk it up by adding spinach, kale or carrots and a suitable plant milk or water.

Drink plenty of fluids; most of us don’t drink enough, which is especially problematic if you suffer from constipation or the feeling of a sluggish gut.  You need to be aiming for at least 8 glasses of fluid a day, if you suffer from constipation you will likely benefit from upping this to 10 cups a day i.e. at least 2l. Any non-caffeinated fluid counts, you can try herbal or fruit teas, squash or cordial or, of course, water has a multitude of benefits! Often it’s a case of getting into the habit, so either have a large bottle of water with you that you aim to fill up a few times a day or set a reminder on your phone every hour or so to remind you to have another glass! If you are worried about needing to pass urine overnight you can aim to have the majority of your fluid before mid-afternoon and then taper it down later in the day.  Caffeine can sometimes worsen diarrhoea and other abdominal symptoms, so it’s wise to limit it to 3 cups per day if you have IBS.

Linseeds can be a really helpful addition to your diet if you suffer from IBS symptoms such as wind, bloating, abdominal pain and constipation. You need to aim for 1 tablespoon a day; they are great sprinkled on porridge, salads, yoghurt or soups.  It is important that you have a large glass of non-caffeinated fluid alongside these to help them do their job.

Don’t skimp on carbohydrates, which can be tempting due to the misinformation out there on carbohydrates and IBS. Regular meals containing carbohydrates send important regulatory signals to the gut, so you should incorporate a range of low FODMAP carbohydrates such as potatoes, quinoa, buckwheat, rice and oats.

It is important to get enough calcium which can at times be challenging on a vegan diet, especially when you are trying to manage your IBS symptoms.  Foods that provide calcium and aren’t high in symptom exacerbating FODMAPs include: firm tofu that has been made with calcium sulphate or calcium chloride, calcium-enriched orange juice (stick to 100mls per sitting), calcium fortified plant milks, sesame seeds or tahini or kale.

Tofu is a useful go-to-food if you are vegan, however, be mindful of what type you are eating. You may find that choosing firm tofu over silken tofu will help decrease symptoms associated with excess gas such as wind, bloating and abdominal distension. This is because silken tofu contains fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs) which increase the amount of gas produced in the gut, firm tofu (taking care to discard the water) is lower in these fermentable carbohydrates and won’t lead to the same symptoms

Beans and pulses are important source of protein in the vegan diet but some types can significantly worsen IBS symptoms due to their FODMAP content. Choosing moderate portions of the following (1/4 cup): Butter  beans, Chickpeas, Green lentils, Red lentils, Lima beans are likely to be better tolerated by your gut compared to other varieties.

Like beans, there are some types of nuts that are less symptom provoking than others, this is because they contain less fermentable carbohydrates. Macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts, and almonds are all good choices, but be careful to limit your portion size to a handful per sitting.  Consider avoiding pistachios and cashews as they are high in symptom-inducing FODMAPs.

Take care when choosing a plant based milk. You may find that nut milks such as almond, hazelnut and hemp milks are less likely to cause symptoms of IBS as they are lower in FODMAPs than coconut milk (limit to 100mls) and soya milk (limit to 60mls).

Don’t overdo the fruit! If following a low FODMAP diet to tackle your IBS symptoms you need to keep an eye on the amount of fruit you are eating. Many fruits are suitable for a low FODMAP diet such as most berries (apart from blackberries), melon (apart from watermelon), grapes, kiwi fruit, oranges, and pineapple. However you need to make sure to only have one portion per sitting, any more can flood your gut with excess fructose and exacerbate symptoms. One portion is around 80g; the equivalent of 1 medium fruit or 2 small fruits.  

All above tips for managing IBS on a vegan diet are the expert opinion of Lucy Whigham, Gastrointestinal Health Dietitian.

Brought to you by Johnson and Johnson.

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