Will becoming vegan help my IBS?

Posted on February 17, 2021

Do you experience IBS symptoms? Are you considering a vegan diet to help improve your conditions? Here’s what you need to know, based on the latest research.

What is a vegan diet?

A vegan diet is a type of plant-based diet that involves eating only foods that are made from plants. It includes all varieties of fruits, vegetables, cereals, grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and products derived from these plant foods.
This type of diet eliminates all food items that are made from animals and animal products. It excludes meat, poultry, fish and seafood, milk and other dairy products, eggs, honey and other animal-derived ingredients and food additives.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects the functioning of your bowel. IBS is characterised by symptoms such as cramps, abdominal pain, bloating and gas, constipation and/or diarrhoea.
The symptoms vary in intensity and duration from person to person, but it is unlikely to cause lasting damage or contribute to the development of serious bowel conditions like cancer or colitis.

The underlying cause of IBS is not well understood, but research shows that certain factors play a major role. It is believed that IBS symptoms can be influenced by your genetic makeup as well as triggered by various environmental factors such as infection, emotional stress, changes of routine, food intolerance, diet and hormonal factors.

What are the advantages of being vegan?

Being vegan comes with an array of health benefits, from a reduced risk of modern-day chronic diseases to increased longevity.
Studies show that a vegan diet based on whole plant foods can help reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), meat and processed meat consumption is associated with numerous cancers, including bowel cancer. Therefore, limiting meat intake is recommended as one of the most effective strategies in reducing your risk.

The increased fibre and polyphenols (beneficial plant compounds) from a vegan diet have also shown to increase the populations of friendly bacteria in your gut, which reduces your risk of serious bowel diseases, such as bowel cancer.

What are the cons of being vegan?

Despite all the scientifically proven benefits, a vegan diet can be challenging if it’s not well planned.  Here are some potential cons:
– Getting adequate nutrients
A varied and balanced vegan diet can provide all the nutrients required for good health. However, it is important to pay attention on certain nutrients such as iron, protein and vitamin B12. Such nutrients are not as readily available in plant foods or not in adequate amounts, so it is useful to speak to a Dietitian or medical professional for guidance and support.

– Managing the amounts of FODMAPs
A vegan diet is made up of only plants, which means that it can contain a higher proportion of fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs) compared to a non-vegan diet. While most people are fine with high intakes of fibre and FODMAPs, it can trigger unpleasant symptoms in people with IBS.  This is especially tricky when it comes to protein. If you follow a vegan diet, you rely on beans and legumes as the main source of protein, and such foods are often high in FODMAPs. As a result, it can lead to bloating, cramps, indigestion and reflux.

Any tips?

The good news is – there are simple tips and tricks to make a vegan diet both low FODMAP and nutritionally complete!
– Carefully rinsing beans and legumes before consuming.
– If you prefer canned beans and legumes, it’s worth draining the ‘bean juice’ and rinsing in clean water a few times.
– Boiling and cooking beans or legumes for an extended period of time.
– Choosing the right kinds of tofu and soy products, as not all of them are low in FODMAPs.
– Pay attention to the portion size!

Is there symptom improvement following the vegan diet?

To date, there’s no evidence to confirm that a vegan diet will lead to improvements in IBS. However, experts believe that going vegan or cutting down animal products will lead you in the right direction. A vegan diet naturally increases your intake of prebiotic fibre (the one that feeds your friendly gut bacteria) and polyphenols (beneficial plant compounds) – the key to a healthy and happy gut. A vegan diet also excludes dairy and dairy products, which are common triggers of IBS. Collectively, this can help to relieve symptoms of IBS and improve your digestive health in the long run.

Vegan low FODMAP foods

It is very much possible to follow a vegan diet and make it low FODMAP. There are plenty of vegan low FODMAP foods and recipes that are fun, delicious and nutritionally adequate. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Protein sources
Firm tofu (100 grams, well-drained) – try this vegan laksa
Tempeh (1 small slice)
Canned Chickpeas (¼ cup, drained, rinsed) – try this roasted red capsicum and chickpea tagine or these falafels
Canned Lentils (½ cup, drained, rinsed

Spinach (2 cups)
Carrot (100 grams)
Cucumber (1/2 cup)
Broccoli (1 cup) – try this noodle and vegetable stir fry
Capsicum (1 capsicum)
Green beans (75 grams)
Squash (½ cup) – try this summer squash pesto pizza but use dairy-free cheese

Strawberries (140 grams) – try these vegan strawberry waffles
Kiwi fruit (2 kiwi fruit)
Grapes (100 grams)
Orange (1 orange)
Pineapple (1 cup)

Milk alternatives
Almond milk (1 cup)
Soy milk made from soy protein (1 cup)
Rice milk (1 cup)
Oat milk (½ cup)

In summary?

A well-planned vegan diet comes with many health benefits, from reducing your risk of chronic diseases to increasing years of life. It also promotes higher intakes of prebiotics and polyphenols, which are essential to a healthy gut. For this reason, a vegan diet is believed to help improve IBS symptoms and digestive health in the long run. With that said, it is important to look out for certain nutrients and plan your meals, especially on a low FODMAP diet. We recommend that you consult a Dietitian for guidance and meeting nutrition requirements.

Written by Thimpika Sachdej (Registered Nutritionist)
Reviewed by Kiarra Martindale (Accredited Practising Dietitian)

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