Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common health condition that affects the large intestine. Between 25 and 35 million U.S. citizens suffer from IBS. In the UK, around 2 in ten people are thought to have the condition. Paying close attention to food can be crucial when it comes to managing IBS, but is it possible to cope with the condition on a vegan diet?
Vegan Diets and IBS
The IBS Network warns that vegan diets can be high in fermentable carbohydrates, which can make symptoms worse for some people with IBS.
Registered dietician Janet Renee writes for Livestrong:“fermentable carbohydrates are the sugars that are easily fermented in your digestive system, which include oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.”
“They are composed of short chains of sugar molecules, making them easy to break down,” she adds. “Once these sugars reach your large intestine, bacteria rapidly ferment them. This can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms in sensitive individuals with GI problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.”
Lactose (found in milk) is a fermentable carbohydrate, so is fructose, which is found in some fruits and vegetables. Bread, pasta, and cereal can contain fructans, which are also fermentable carbohydrates. Galactans, found in some legumes and beans, are fermentable carbohydrates too, as are polyols, found in fruits like apples, pears, and cherries.
Some people’s IBS may not be directly caused by diet. A study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology notes that stress can cause a disturbance in the balance between the brain and the gut. It can cause overactivity in the latter, triggering IBS symptoms.
According to Healthline, it’s estimated that between 40 and 60 percent of IBS sufferers have some form of mental health disorder, like anxiety or depression.
If you’re not sure why you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s always best to speak to a doctor before making lifestyle changes.
If you discover your IBS is connected to diet, here are five tips that may help you manage the condition and avoid animal products at the same time.
5 Tips for Managing IBS on a Vegan Diet
1. Follow a Vegan Low-FODMAP Diet
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. Many experts recommend that IBS sufferers start by following a restrictive diet, eliminating FODMAP foods altogether, and then slowly reintroduce some to see how the body reacts to certain foods.
A vegan low-FODMAP diet is particularly restrictive, but it is easy to follow if you have the right tools and resources. There are plenty of online resources that can help you navigate the diet, as well as books. “Low-Fodmap and Vegan: What to Eat When You Can’t Eat Anything” by Jo Stepaniak takes you through what to eat, what to avoid, and provides over 100 vegan low-FODMAP recipes to try.
2. Try Apple Cider Vinegar
Some believe that drinking apple cider vinegar can help with bloating, one of the more common IBS symptoms. Because it’s naturally acidic, it may help to raise stomach acid levels for those who have low stomach acidity. This could help to prevent both gas and bloating, which can be caused by slow digestion.
In a medically-reviewed article for Healthline, IBS sufferer Scarlett Dixon wrote about her experience with apple cider vinegar. She said, “after just one ‘dose’ of [apple cider vinegar], I noticed a huge difference in how little I felt bloated after meals.”
She continued: “as the weeks went by, I almost forgot what bloating felt like until I forgot to drink it one day — and was shocked at how much of a difference it was making. No longer did I have to go to bed nursing a painful food baby.”
3. Reduce Caffeine and Drink Herbal Tea
Swapping caffeine-packed coffee for herbal tea may help you get your IBS symptoms under control. For those who suffer from stress or anxiety, drinking herbal tea can be a soothing experience. Caffeine, on the other hand, may increase levels of anxiety. Medical experts also believe that herbal teas can help to relax the abdominal muscles and ease cramps.
Anise tea may be beneficial, as anise contains anti-inflammatory properties. Fennel tea may also help; fennel has been used to treat IBS in the past, as it can help to relieve gas and bloating. It may also help to relieve constipation.
4. Avoid Certain Veggies
Vegetables you may want to avoid if you suffer from IBS include cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, as well as brussels sprouts and onions. These can be difficult for the intestine to break down and can cause painful gas. Consider opting for lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, and eggplant instead, as they may be easier to digest.
5. Consider Vegan Probiotics
Taking probiotics may help some people who suffer from IBS. Packed with “good” bacteria, they may help to keep “unfriendly” gut bacteria—which can cause inflammation—under control.
According to clinical psychologist and health coach Barbara Bolen, PhD, the topic is still being researched by scientists, and information is currently limited.
She writes for Very Well Health: “studying the use of probiotics for IBS is complicated because it’s difficult to make comparisons between the known species of bacteria in the human gut microbiome (around a thousand). Furthermore, researchers have yet to identify all the bacteria in the human gut, nor are they certain of what each type does.”
She added that some people may experience worse symptoms with probiotics, but other people’s symptoms may improve. If you fancy giving it a go, it may be worth the risk to find if it works for you. Bolen notes “people don’t experience any serious side effects from taking probiotics.”