Bowel Health and vegan diet

2019, Responses from: Sara Widdowson

Hi, I am 16 and have been following a vegan diet for 4 years. Sometimes I struggle to know what to eat given my bowel symptoms. I am hoping ask an expert can advise me of a good nutritional plan to follow as a vegan with endometriosis and bowel symptoms – especially bloating (and sometimes constipation). Oh, BTW, my family is very supportive.

Sara Widdowson: Bowel symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and fluctuation between constipation and diahorea are a common struggle for many women with Endometriosis. The gold standard dietary approach for identifying dietary triggers of such symptoms is to implement a FODMAP elimination diet for around 6 weeks with the guidance of a Dietitian. FODMAP foods are fermentable carbohydrate containing foods (read more about FODMAPS and Endometriosis here).

However, many FODMAP containing foods are valuable sources of plant proteins, essential to include for a nutritionally balanced Vegan diet. Foods such as legumes, pulses, high intake of nuts and some soy products would all be considered high FODMAP foods but also help provide Iron, Zinc, protein and Calcium. I would therefore discourage you from undergoing a low FODMAP diet to identify key triggers of some of your bowel symptoms. I would instead recommend focusing on reducing intake of common irritable bowel symptoms such as:

  • Carbonated beverages
  • Caffeine
  • High fat foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Sugar-alcohol sweeteners such as sorbitol and mannitol (check any Vegan protein powders if you are consuming these)
  • Eating quickly or skipping meals

Here are some FODMAP free, Vegan meal ideas you might find helpful:

  • Porridge made with rolled oats and quinoa. Use calcium fortified almond milk to make porridge and top with peanut butter, an unripe banana or blue berries
  • Gluten free Weetbix topped with kiwifruit, chia seeds and coconut yoghurt
  • Smoothie made with calcium fortified almond milk, chia seeds, flaxseed oil, frozen blue berries, oats and frozen unripe banana
Main Meals:
  • Sushi with vegetables and firm tofu
  • Baked kumara with ½ cup canned red kidney beans or brown lentils. Topped with small amount of smashed avocado
  • Rice paper rolls filled with firm tofu or tempeh and carrots, cucumber and basil/mint
  • Handful of almonds
  • Gluten free crackers with peanut butter (1 tbsp.)
  • Kiwifruit or citrus fruit
  • Gluten free toast topped with gluten free yeast spread and tomato

While it is possible to eat a nutritionally complete Vegan diet it does take careful planning, thought and consideration of key nutrients. Having bowel troubles and other factors such as your age, specific medications (such as Zoladex) and physical activity levels can make this more difficult and seeing a Dietitian for support with your specific needs would be beneficial for you.  However here are some other key tips to consider when planning meals:

  • Try and include firm tofu, tempeh or ½ cup tinned red kidney beans or brown lentils twice per day to meet your Iron, protein and Zinc requirements. Most people can build a tolerance to a small amount of legumes so start small and aim to build up.
  • You will need to consider a B12 supplement to prevent deficiency and reduce your risk of pernicious anaemia. B12 is only found in animal products as well as fortified nutritional yeast.
  • An Omega-3 supplement may also be beneficial. Many women with Endometriosis experience reduction in pain symptoms with Omega supplementation, potentially due to this nutrients anti-inflammatory affect. Consider a vegan Omega-3 supplement such as Flaxseed oil.
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