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Why your plant-based diet could be causing GI upset and what to do about it

by Okanagan Nutrition
Written by Third Year UBC Dietetics Students Rachelle Duckworth & Sarah Dalman (see end of article for bio)

Eating a plant-based diet is known to have many health benefits.

It can reduce your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and cancers, as well as help with weight management.

However, whether you’re new to eating a plant-based diet or have been at it for a while, symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain and gas can occur … Why is this?

Although very nutritious, many plant-based foods are high in FODMAPs.

What does FODMAP mean?

FODMAP is an acronym that stands for …

Fermentable

  • The process by which gut bacteria ferment undigested carbohydrate to produce gas

Oligosaccharides

  • Fructans and Galacto-Oligosacchardies (GOS)
  • Found in foods such as wheat, rye, onions, garlic and legumes or pulses

Disaccharides

  • Lactose
  • Found in dairy products like milk, soft cheeses and yogurts

Monosaccharides

  • Fructose
  • Found in honey, apples, high fructose corn syrup

And Polyols

  • Sorbitol and Mannitol (the most common)
  • Found in some fruits and vegetables and used as artificial sweeteners

How are FODMAPs related to IBS or GI upset?

FODMAPs are found naturally in most plant foods. They are a collection of different types of sugar that aren’t absorbed properly by the gut.

Even though FODMAPs are difficult for anyone to digest, they can trigger symptoms in people with GI conditions, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

By consuming low-FODMAP foods, symptoms of pain and bloating may be relieved and/or reduced when compared to a traditional moderate-high FODMAP diet.

High FODMAP plant-based foods:

Fruits
  • Apples, apricots, pears, mangos, watermelon, avocado, cherries, dried fruit, nectarines, peaches, plums
Vegetables
  • Asparagus, artichoke, cauliflower, green peas, mushrooms, sugar snap peas, onion, leek, garlic
Grains
  • Wheat, rye and barley based breads, breakfast cereals, biscuits and snack products
Proteins
  • Most legumes or pulses
Milk Alternatives
  • Soy milk (made from whole soybeans)
Nuts and Seeds
  • Cashews, pistachios

Low FODMAP plant-based foods:

Fruit
  • Bananas (unripe), blueberries, grapefruit, grapes, kiwi, honeydew, strawberries, tomatoes
Vegetables
  • Bean sprouts, bok choy, green beans, bell pepper, tomato, broccoli (heads only), carrot, celery, cucumber, corn, eggplant, lettuce, spinach, squash, sweet potato, potato, zucchini
Grains
  • GF bread, sourdough spelt bread, oats, GF pasta, rice, quinoa, millet, polenta
Proteins
  • Tofu (not Silken), tempeh
Milk Alternatives
  • Soy milk (made from soy protein, almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk
Nuts and Seeds
  • Macadamia nuts, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts

How do I ensure I eat enough protein on a low-FODMAP plant-based diet?

Legumes are a staple source of protein for plant-based eaters, however, they are high in FODMAP.

To ensure adequate protein, high protein grains (quinoa, amaranth), soy products (tofu, tempeh) and nuts and seeds should be consumed while eating a low-FODMAP plant-based diet.

Does this mean I have to avoid all high FODMAP foods … FOREVER?

A low FODMAP diet is not meant to be long-term!

It is a “trial and error” type diet to identify which foods with FODMAP your body can tolerate and in what amounts.

Just because a food is considered high FODMAP doesn’t necessarily mean that you will experience symptoms when you eat it. Everybody is different and everyone has different tolerance to different foods!

It is important to pay attention to how you’re feeling when you eat. That being said, if you do notice symptoms after eating any of the high FODMAP foods listed above, here are some things you can try!

Tip #1

  • Work with a Registered Dietitian who specializes in gut health to help you work out your own personalized FODMAP diet.
  • It is highly recommended that you do not try a short-term elimination diet, like the FODMAP diet, without the supervision of a Registered Dietitian. This will help ensure that you are not missing out on key nutrients in your diet, particularly if you are already following a plant-based diet.

Tip #2

  • Try swapping out a few high FODMAP foods for low FODMAP foods in your every day diet. To ensure that you are still eating a balanced diet, try to make food swaps that are in the same food group.
  • For example, swap out black beans for tofu so that you’re still eating a good source of protein.

Tip #3

  • Slowly reintroduce high FODMAP foods into your diet and pay attention to how your body feels. If you don’t notice any negative symptoms, this might be a good sign that you can start including this food in your diet again.
  • Be aware that some symptoms, such as gas and minor bloating, may return during the reintroduction phase – this is normal and are signs of a healthy gut!
  • Reintroducing high FODMAP foods back into your diet is important to increase the variety or your diet and preventing it from being more restrictive than necessary.
Wanting more information on FODMAPs and what foods contain them? Visit Monash University
Sarah Dalman

My name is Sarah and I am a third-year dietetics student at UBC in Vancouver. I love learning about nutrition and translating that into cooking good, healthy recipes. I also love to bake and am always looking for new ways to incorporate healthy ingredients into baking. In my free time I like to do yoga, go for hikes and go for dinners with my friends.

Rachelle Duckworth

My name is Rachelle and I am a third-year in the UBC Dietetics program in Vancouver, BC. Ever since I was young, I’ve loved food and have always been actively involved in sports. As I grew older I began to develop a passion for creating and sharing healthy meals and getting sweaty in the gym and outdoors. In my spare time, I love to cook and experiment with different recipes, be by the beach or watch

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