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For many January = Veganuary. But should you do Veganuary with IBS?

If you’re interested in a vegan diet you might wonder whether going vegan could help improve your Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms. 

For anyone who is unfamiliar with Veganuary, it’s a chance to experiment with avoiding all animal products for the month of January. There is often lots of advice online during the run up to Veganuary. Look for tips on swapping meat, eggs, fish and dairy for plant based alternatives. 

close up of a white bowl with a colourful salad including butternut squash, raddish, quinoa, beetroot, avocado

How does a vegan diet affect your digestion if you have IBS?

There are many causes of IBS, and therefore each person with IBS will have a different set of trigger foods, situations and resulting symptoms. Some people could be ok on a vegan diet, and even feel better.  However, many people with IBS find a healthy vegan diet contains meals which are too high in FODMAPs. 

The low FODMAP diet is a tried and trusted diet intervention for IBS which removes fermentable starches from the diet, and then carefully brings them back in to identify possible triggers. You can read my Beginners Guide to the low FODMAP diet for an overview of the diet. 

Benefits of a vegan diet for IBS

Firstly whenever we change our diet and eat more mindfully we can often see improvements. Perhaps you cut out those afternoon biscuits, or stop eating so much ice cream. For some people it can really help you feel healthier when you pay more attention to your diet. 

Secondly changing to a vegan diet is often for animal welfare and environmental reasons. This alignment of your diet with your values could bring you a lot of peace and help you feel like you’re making a difference (always helpful to feel active in the very real threat of climate change)

A vegan diet is going to need a big intake of plant based foods, and if you don’t currently eat enough fibre, your IBS symptoms might reduce as you increase your fibre levels.

Problems with Veganuary with IBS

  • Protein – this is my biggest concern those who eat a vegan diet when you have IBS. Vegan diets rely on protein from nuts, seeds, beans & pulses, tofu and soy. Several of these can be trigger foods for IBS. They might be fine for you, but it’s hard to get enough protein, without also eating a lot of carbs. For example, beans are normally around 1 part protein, to 3 parts starch (which is why they are excellent sources of fibre). This does mean that when you’re eating a lot of beans to get the protein targets you might also be eating quite a bit of carbohydrates which can affect blood sugar balancing, weight maintenance and energy levels.
  • Cost – Vegan products can be more expensive, although to be fair if you cook your own meals vegan food can be very cost effective. 
  • Lack of omega 3, and reduced availability of iron, calcium, iodine and vitamin A. (see below more more about these nutrients)

How to get enough protein on a vegan diet during Veganuary

The minimum target for protein intake is normally set around 0.8g of protein for every kg of body weight you have. For most people this is a minimum of 50g of protein per day. You should eat more if you do vigorous exercise or want to focus on building muscle. 

To help meet your targets, aim for protein at every meal and snack. When we eat enough protein we tend to have less need for snacks between meals. The protein that makes up our bodies is  obtained directly from the foods that we eat. Protein is a constituent of every cell in the body, and next to water makes up the greatest proportion of body weight. It makes up hair, nails, ligaments, tendons, glands, organs, muscles, body fluids, enzymes and hormones.

Dietary protein is broken down into its ‘building blocks’ amino acids, which the body can then use as it needs.  

Typical advice about vegan protein would suggest eating things like beans and pulses. Here are some examples of higher protein vegan foods. 

  • 100g cup lentils – 9-11g 
  • 100g pinto / kidney / black beans – 7-9g 
  • 100g edamame beans – 13g
  • 100g quinoa – 4.3g 
  • 100g spinach – 2.8g 
  • 100g green peas – 6.7g 
  • 100g firm tofu – 12.6g 

Also there is a small amount of protein in grains such as brown rice, oats, and bread and you can snack on nuts, seeds. 

However many of these portions are a recipe for bloating, gas and diarrhoea if you have IBS! 

flat lay of vegetables in a circle against a pale wood board.

Tips for more digestible foods for IBS during Veganuary

Start introducing your fibre very slowly, don’t change from eating almost no plants so only beans, vegetables and fruits. Aiming to bring up your fibre intake by around 1g per day is a good slow approach. 

Aim to eat tinned beans and pulses because these have been soaked in water. When you rinse the beans before adding to your meal you’ll be washing away some of the higher FODMAP content. 

Avoid diet foods with artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, sorbitol or maltitol as these can trigger diarrhoea, or bloating. 

Key nutrients to watch out for on a vegan diet

  • The essential fatty acid omega 3 is just that ‘essential’ which means we can’t make it and need it from our diet. It helps with brain function, skin health, hormone production and the health of every cell in our body. Omega 3 is typically found in oily fish, so it’s not just vegans who need to watch out for this, it’s anyone who doesn’t regularly consume mackerel, sardines, herring or anchovies.This includes many non-vegans! I suggest a vegan Omega 3 supplement if you’re not going to eat any oily fish, but speak to a nutritional therapist if you’re on any medication or have any health conditions to check if it’s suitable for you. 
  • Iron intake can be low if you don’t eat any animal products. Consuming lots of green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds can provide you with some iron. If you’re only doing Veganuary for a month you probably don’t need to worry, but longer term you may want to keep an eye on your iron levels. Vitamin A can support iron absorption, and things that reduce iron absorption include high calcium, tannins in tea, and gut dysbiosis. 
  • Calcium is important for bones, teeth, cardiovascular health and muscles. Concentrate on eating green leafy vegetables, almonds, tofu in calcium solution
  • Iodine is important for our thyroid health, and typically found in white fish, seafood and dairy. You can eat seaweed for some iodine, think sushi, or add some seaweed to your soups, stir fry dishes and stews. 
  • Vitamin A mainly comes from animal foods, although you can eat a precursor to vitamin A, betacarotene found in orange vegetables such as sweet potato, carrot, orange peppers, orange melon. Not everyone will have a full capacity to convert betacarotene to vitamin A, although this may be ok for you. 

So, whether or not to do Veganuary with IBS is a tricky decision, and very individual.

If you would like some help with navigating a vegan diet and IBS then please get in touch to talk about us working together. You can contact me on info@goodnessme-nutrition.com

Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritional Therapist.

I help people with IBS and SIBO get control of unpredictable gut symptoms to find long term relief from painful and embarrassing IBS without restrictive dieting.

I can help you to:

  • understand your digestion better, so you recognise your triggers
  • eat a well balanced diet, with tasty meals that are simple to prepare
  • develop better digestion and more energy

Find more about my 3 month 1:1 Gut Reset programme

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