The Low Fodmap Vegan diet can feel a little overwhelming at first. Add in any other type of food restriction or dietary need on top of that, and it can feel next to impossible. Many of my patients come to see me for exactly that reason. I’m here to tell you that it is 100% doable.
In recent years, many of my clients have adopted a plant-based diet (i.e. many plants but some animal products) or have gone completely vegan. Let’s dive into what exactly a vegan diet is, the benefits of it, and how to conquer the low FODMAP diet while also being vegan.
First, let’s clarify who a low FODMAP diet is right for. It’s well studied in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and shown to provide symptom relief. IBS is a chronic condition that affects the intestines and can greatly impact the quality of life. Symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and change in bowel habits. The Low FODMAP diet works by reducing the number of fermentable carbohydrates that reach the large intestine and cause digestive issues. It is an elimination diet, and is not meant to be followed long term.
What is a Vegan Diet?
A vegan diet does not contain any animal products. This includes meat, fish, and poultry as well as eggs and dairy. Some things that you might not consider but also need to avoid with veganism are honey, butter, anything made from gelatin, certain protein powders and supplements like omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish, and vitamin D derived from animals. Veganism is not just the avoidance of animal products in food, but also clothing, beauty products, and any other sources.
Curious why someone would follow a vegan diet? Besides just the health benefits, there is a multitude of reasons. Some people do it for ethical reasons, specifically for animal welfare or environmental reasons. Other people follow a vegan diet for their cultural/religious beliefs.
Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet
As with any diet, there can be healthy and not so healthy components. Someone following a vegan diet could very well consume a diet high in processed foods like potato chips, french fries, and Oreos. Another person can have a well-rounded diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. The bottom line: it’s all about how you approach it to reap the maximum health benefits.
There are various studies out there proving the benefits of a vegan diet for cardiovascular health. These studies show a lower risk for cardiovascular events, improvements in blood pressure, and lower cholesterol. Other studies have looked at links between veganism and weight loss, blood sugar control, and type 2 diabetes (1-3).
Important Nutrients on a Vegan Diet
- Protein: It isn’t as difficult as you would think to get protein on a vegan diet. Great sources include nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and even some vegetables. The biggest bang for your buck will often come from tofu, tempeh, and soy milk.
- Vitamin B12: This is a vitamin that is essential, but can’t be made in the body so you need to consume it through food. It is mainly found in animal products, but vegans can find it in fortified foods, like plant-based milk, or through a dietary supplement.
- Vitamin D: This is also known as the Sunshine Vitamin because we can get it through sunlight! You can also get it through some food, but they’re not vegan-friendly. The best sources are fortified products like cereal and plant-based milk, but you can also get a form of vitamin D through mushrooms. Most mushrooms are out during the elimination phase of the Low FODMAP diet.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These are polyunsaturated fats. Most people think of fatty fish like salmon, but nuts and seeds are an amazing source of omega-3s. Sources include walnuts, chia seeds, hemp, and flax seeds.
- Iron: While animal products provide a good source of iron, you can absolutely get this nutrient through a plant-based diet. Beans, leafy greens, and nuts are all good sources. Be sure to pair with foods high in vitamin C for maximum absorption.
- Calcium: We typically think of dairy products as our best source of calcium, but we can get it from an array of plant foods. These include dark leafy greens, chia seeds, and calcium-fortified plant milk. Low FODMAP leafy green sources include bok choy, collard greens, and kale (one cup serving). Calcium-fortified plant milk includes almond, macadamia, rice, and quinoa milk. Coconut, soy, and oat milk may also be good sources, but their FODMAP content depends on form and portion size.
Tips for Following the Low FODMAP Diet as a Vegan
- Utilize Low FODMAP serving sizes. This is not a black and white diet. While there are plenty of lists showing how you can “eat this, but not that”, the Low FODMAP diet has become more nuanced, which is a good thing. With more testing, we know that portion sizes are really important when it comes to FODMAP content. This takes less food off the table completely.
- If things like beans and legumes made up a big part of your diet before, think about how you can still include them in small amounts. This may be a sprinkle of chickpeas on a salad, homemade hummus, or a tablespoon of black beans on a taco. Chickpeas have a more generous serving size during the elimination phase, so play around with them in different meals.
- Add in low FODMAP nuts and seeds. My favorites are pumpkin seeds, macadamia nuts, and chia seeds. Try them in things like oatmeal, salads, energy bites, or granola bars, or sprinkled on top of soup.
- Firm tofu, tempeh, soy milk (made from soy protein) are all allowed. These provide the most bang for your buck in terms of protein, so try including these frequently if you like them.
- Imitation meats (like the Impossible Beef or the Beyond Burger) depend on what they’re made from or seasoned with. They typically are made with some type of soy or pea protein and may contain natural flavors. This is very confusing because some types of soy and pea protein are ok, while others are not. The same goes for natural flavors. Until these products have been lab-tested, I’d recommend either consuming in small amounts and testing for tolerance, or waiting until the reintroduction phase to trial them.
Helpful Low FODMAP/Vegan Resources
There are many, many resources for following both a low FODMAP and vegan diet. Remember, the low FODMAP diet should be short-term to figure out possible food triggers. These resources can help get you started on the diet as well as living with some of your intolerances while still following a vegan diet.
- Spoonful app (has both a Low FODMAP and Vegan scanning option)
- Low FODMAP for Vegans Facebook Group
- Desiree Nielson’s Blog
- FODMAP Everyday Recipes
- The Food Treatment Clinic Blog
- Hyunju Kim, Laura E. Caulfield, Vanessa Garcia‐Larsen, et al. “Plant-Based Diets Are Associated With a Lower Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cardiocascular Disease Mortality, and All-Cause Mortality in a General Population of MIddle-Aged Adults.” ahajournals.org. Journal of the American Heart Association, August 7, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.119.012865.
- Yuni Choi, Nicole Larson, Lyn M. Steffen, et al. “Plant-Centered Diet and Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease During Young to Middle Adulthood.” ahajournals.org. Journal of the American Heart Association, August 4, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.120.020718.
- Andrea J. Glenn, Kenneth Lo, David J. A. Jenkins, et al. “Relationship Between a Plant-Based Dietary Portfolio and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Findings From the Women’s Health Initiative Prospective Cohort Study.” ahajournals.org. Journal of the American Heart Association, August 4, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.121.021515.