Are You a Vegan with Digestion Problems? This Might Be Why

Blue plate with the word “VEGAN” spelled out in Scrabble tiles.
Photo by Vegan Liftz from Pexels

“It just feels like I can’t eat anything,” I told my dad. We were sitting at the kitchen table, my parents and I, as I took tentative bites of the food on my plate. “It’s like one day you feel fine and there are no problems and the next everything you eat is a problem.”

People with sensitive stomachs know a lot about how their digestive system works — or doesn’t. Much more than they’d probably like to. But when it feels like the food you eat attacks you, the focus on what goes into your mouth becomes a priority.

Is a Vegan Diet Good for Digestion?

Many people become vegan in part to feel better and improve their health. “A vegan diet is good for digestion,” they may think. After all, there are tons of people on YouTube and social media spouting its benefits.

And when you’re desperate to feel better you’ll try just about anything.

But what if a vegan diet causes digestive problems? Is it possible the whole food plant-based diet you’re eating is making your digestion worse, not better?

Can you improve your digestive problems by going vegan or are you doomed to give up this way of eating or be uncomfortable for the rest of your life?

Woman holding her stomach in pain.
Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Please note: the information provided in this article is for informational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

A Key Tool to Good Digestive Health for Vegans

Not long after that dinner with my parents, I found something that changed my life and improved my digestion greatly: the low FODMAPS diet. FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides. and polyols”.

These are “…short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that the small intestine absorbs poorly,” according to the article, “FODMAP Diet, What You Need to Know,” by John Hopkins Medicine. “Some people experience digestive distress after eating them.”

People who deal with ongoing digestive problems, a sensitive digestive system, suspect a food intolerance, or have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in particular may want to try a low FODMAP diet to see if it helps.

While this is good news (Yay! Light at the end of the tunnel!) it’s also challenging. Why? Because there are a lot of foods high in FODMAPS that you’ll need to restrict. And as a vegan or vegetarian, your diet may already feel restrictive.

There is a way to make this easier though. I have a couple of suggestions for great resources below. First, let’s look at the most common culprits that may be causing you pain.

If You’re a Vegan or Vegetarian with Poor Digestion, You’re Not Alone

You’re not crazy or weird or imagining things if as a vegan, your digestion is worse than before you switched your eating habits.

Here are the most common FODMAP triggers, courtesy of Jo Stepaniak, MSEd:

  • Cauliflower
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Cashews
  • Agave nectar
  • Apples
  • Beans
  • Avacado
  • Dates
  • Peas
  • Pistachios
  • Wheat
  • Artichokes
  • Mushrooms

Other foods that are staples in many vegan pantries like oat milk, mango, and very ripe bananas are also high in FODMAPS. There are many, many others too. It makes sense that if you’re vegan — particularly if you’re following a whole food plant-based diet, you’d have worse digestion.

Starting your day with a big bowl of whole rolled oats topped with bananas and a drizzle of agave may be the norm. And it’s likely why you’re uncomfortable shortly after breakfast.

Do Vegans or Vegetarians Have Worse Digestion?

Because vegans and vegetarians eat meals that are made up primarily of plant foods the chances of you eating higher FODMAP foods increase. FODMAPs are not found in meat but they are found in some dairy products. Before the meat-eaters crow too loudly though, remember that cholesterol is found in only meat and other animal products and not in plants.

I found this article by Pedram Shojai, “What Can a Low FODMAP Diet Do For Your Gut?” helpful and full of tips and ideas to get you started. But what was missing was that it left out the specific needs of vegans. What do you eat when it feels like you can’t eat anything?

Low FODMAP & Vegan: What’s Left to Eat?

Just about any article you’ll find on beginning a low FODMAP journey suggests that you work with a registered dietician or nutritionist. That’s because it’s restrictive and you may not get getting all the vitamins and nutrients you need.

But what if you don’t have the money for this? Or what if your health insurance doesn’t cover the services of a dietician?

Don’t stress.

I highly recommend buying or borrowing a copy of Low FODMAP and Vegan: What to Eat When You Can’t Eat Anything, by Jo Stepaniak. This is by far the best book I’ve read on the subject and it’s specifically for vegans and vegetarians.

Image of “Low FODMAP and Vegan” book showing a bowl of vegetables and grains.
Photo credit: Better World Books

The author starts with a thorough rundown of why FODMAPs bother some of us so much, some of the research that went into it, and then goes into trouble zones, how to avoid them.

There are lists of foods that are broken down into low, medium, and high-FODMAP loads. And there’s a great selection of tasty recipes that are nutritionally rich and of course, low in FODMAPs.

One important note: the low FODMAP diet isn’t meant to be a way of life. After an initial elimination period, you’ll slowly be adding foods back in, one at a time, to test how your body reacts to them. Having a dietician or nutritionist to work with during this “testing phase” can be very helpful and is recommended.

Again, if this is something you can’t afford, look for a podcast, YouTube video, or articles — preferably by a dietician or nutritionist — covering this topic.

Apps to Help You on Your Low FODMAP Journey

One place worth checking out is Monash University. This organization offers a lot of well-researched information about the low FODMAP diet.

It also offers an app (cost: $9.00) that will help you determine if a food item is low, medium, or high in FODMAPs in a few seconds. Plus, there are 80 recipes and a digital guide to the low FODMAP diet.

If you’re looking for something free but equally effective, you might be interested in Fast FODMAP Look Up & Learn. This app offers a similar research feature to figure out if a food is high FODMAP or not.

It also offers learning games to help you remember for yourself which foods are safe for you to eat. I’ve tried both and thought they were equally helpful. What’s really nice is that you can easily check foods at the grocery store or even in a restaurant quickly if needed.

Hippos lazing on beach
Photo by Antony Trivet from Pexels

Vegan with Digestion Issues? Prepare for Relief

If you choose to follow a low FODMAP diet as a vegan or vegetarian be warned: it is challenging. But it’s also got some pretty great benefits. Imagine: no more distended belly or painful bloating after a meal. A regular number of trips to the bathroom. And of course, the whole no longer “worrying about being a hypochondriac” thing.

If you’re eating a mostly or fully whole foods plant-based diet you’re likely to see even bigger and more positive results. That’s because you’re often eating many more problematic (high FODMAP) foods in greater quantities.

For me, this way of eating has been life-changing. Yes, I sometimes still chafe at the restrictiveness. Meals at restaurants or at a friend’s home are usually nerve-wracking. But overall, I’m much happier — and healthier — when I stick to a lower FODMAP way of eating.

Joy Choquette writes in the areas of health and wellness, self-help, and writing here on Medium. She’s been published in many national magazines, regional newspapers, and has written website content for clients on four continents. Learn more by visiting her website, www.joychoquette.com.

--

--

--

Ghostwriter by day, suspense novelist by night. I write about health and wellness, self-improvement, professional development, and of course, writing.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

[PDF] Download Korean Home Cooking: Classic and Modern Recipes News_Release by :Sohui Kim

Warm Flaxmeal Cereal and Fried Egg White

Warm Flaxmeal Cereal and Fried Egg White

Is Vegetarian Eating the More Expensive Option?

Who Woke Up One Day and Discovered the Recipe for Marshmallows?

Returning Food Service Design Solutions Business — Start My Food Service Business on the Right Foot…

Silver Lake Farmers Market gives L.A. locals a reason to go outside during ongoing lockdown

Cultural essence

Jordan Buendia of Rococo Steak: “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef”

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Joy Choquette

Joy Choquette

Ghostwriter by day, suspense novelist by night. I write about health and wellness, self-improvement, professional development, and of course, writing.

More from Medium

My Experience With Freshly Meals

Comfortable in One’s Own Skin

Tired of staying indoors? These lifestyle habits can boost your morning mood

A​m I Eating Because I’m Bored?