Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common health condition that affects the large intestine. Between 25 and 35 million Americans suffer from it, and in the UK, two in 10 are thought to have the condition. Paying close attention to food can be crucial when it comes to managing IBS, but is it possible to keep it under control on a vegan diet?
Can you eat a vegan diet with IBS?
The IBS Network, the UK’s national IBS charity, warns that vegan diets can be high in fermentable carbohydrates, which can make symptoms worse for some people with IBS. Often referred to as FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), these carbohydrates are sugars that are fermented easily within the digestive system.
“They are composed of short chains of sugar molecules, making them easy to break down,” registered dietician Janet Renee writes for Livestrong. “Once these sugars reach your large intestine, bacteria rapidly ferment them. This can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms in sensitive individuals with GI problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.”
For this reason, many people with IBS are advised to follow the low FODMAP diet for a short time period to figure out what foods are causing their symptoms to flare up. While restrictive, it is possible to follow a vegan version of this diet (more on that later).
But some people’s IBS may not even be directly caused by diet at all. A study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology notes that stress may cause a disturbance in the balance between the brain and the gut. It can cause overactivity in the latter, triggering IBS symptoms. It’s estimated that around 60 percent of IBS sufferers have some form of mental health disorder, like anxiety or depression.
If you’re not sure why you’re experiencing IBS symptoms, it’s always best to speak to a doctor before making lifestyle changes. If you discover your IBS is connected to diet, here are five tips that may help you manage the condition and avoid animal products at the same time. But again, seek the advice of a medical professional if you’re concerned.
Can you be vegan with IBS? 5 tips for managing on a plant-based diet
Follow a Vegan Low-FODMAP Diet
As mentioned earlier, many experts recommend that IBS sufferers start by following a restrictive diet, eliminating FODMAP foods altogether. They then ask patients to slowly reintroduce some of these foods to see how their body reacts.
A vegan low-FODMAP diet is restrictive, but it is possible to follow if you have the right tools and resources.
There are plenty of online resources that can help you navigate the diet, as well as books. Low-Fodmap and Vegan: What to Eat When You Can’t Eat Anything by Jo Stepaniak takes you through what to eat, what to avoid, and provides over 100 vegan low-FODMAP recipes to try.
You can find more information on how to follow a vegan low FODMAP diet here.
Try Apple Cider Vinegar
Some believe that drinking apple cider vinegar can help with bloating, which is one of the most common IBS symptoms.
Because it’s naturally acidic, apple cider vinegar may help to raise stomach acid levels for those who have low stomach acidity. This could help to prevent both gas and bloating, which can be caused by slow digestion. Apple cider vinegar is also antimicrobial, so it may help to excess kill stomach or intestinal bacteria (which may cause bloating for some people).
It’s important to note here that most of the claims around apple cider vinegar are based on people’s own personal experiences, but they are not backed up by scientific evidence.
Apple cider vinegar has a number of different uses, find out more about those here.
Reduce Caffeine and Drink Herbal Tea
Swapping caffeine-packed coffee for herbal tea may help you get your IBS symptoms under control. For those who suffer from stress or anxiety, drinking herbal tea can be a soothing experience. Caffeine, on the other hand, may increase levels of anxiety. Experts also believe that herbal teas can help to relax the abdominal muscles and ease cramps.
Avoid Certain Veggies
Vegetables you may want to avoid if you suffer from IBS include cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower and cabbage, as well as brussels sprouts and onions. These can be difficult for the intestine to break down and can cause painful gas. Again, following a low FODMAP diet may help you to figure out which foods are causing your symptoms.
Interestingly, broccoli is allowed on the low FODMAP diet, despite being a cruciferous vegetable (but only in small amounts, and you’ll want to aim for the head, not the stalk, which is higher in FODMAPS). You could also opt for low FODMAP foods like lettuce, carrots, avocado, cucumbers, and eggplant instead.
Consider Vegan Probiotics
Taking probiotics may help some people who suffer from IBS, because they’re packed with “good” bacteria. But the topic is still being researched by scientists, and information is currently limited.
Clinical psychologist and health coach Barbara Bolen, PhD, writes for Very Well Health: “Studying the use of probiotics for IBS is complicated because it’s difficult to make comparisons between the known species of bacteria in the human gut microbiome (around a thousand). Furthermore, researchers have yet to identify all the bacteria in the human gut, nor are they certain of what each type does.”
She added that some people may experience worse symptoms with probiotics, but other people’s symptoms may improve. If you fancy giving it a go, it may be worth the risk to find if it works for you. Bolen adds: “people don’t experience any serious side effects from taking probiotics.”
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