As a vegan dietitian, I am often asked about the compatibility of a low FODMAP diet with a plant-based lifestyle. The good news is that it is possible to follow both a low FODMAP and plant-based diet, but it does require some extra attention and planning.
Firstly, let’s break down what FODMAPs are. FODMAPs are a group of short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and can cause digestive symptoms in some people, particularly those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. Common sources of FODMAPs include wheat, onions, garlic, legumes, and certain fruits and vegetables.
A plant-based diet, on the other hand, is centered around whole, plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. These foods are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and have been shown to have numerous health benefits, including reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
So, how can we reconcile the two? The key is to focus on low-FODMAP plant-based foods. Here are some tips to get started:
- Stick to low FODMAP fruits and vegetables: Some fruits and vegetables are naturally low in FODMAPs and can be incorporated into a plant-based diet without causing symptoms. Examples include
VEGETABLES: red capsicum, alfalfa, carrot, rocket, Asian greens, spinach, kale, lettuce, olives, spring onion (green parts only), tomato, bean sprouts
FRUIT: strawberries, grapes, green bananas, mandarin, oranges, kiwi fruit, dragonfruit, papaya
- Choose low FODMAP grains: While wheat and rye contain high levels of FODMAPs, there are plenty of gluten-free grains that are low in FODMAPs and can be enjoyed on a plant-based diet. Some examples include
GRAINS: Quinoa, rice, oats, corn flakes, rice bubbles, polenta, rice noodles, sago, cornstarch, tapioca, sorghum, sprouted pearl barley, gluten-free pasta/bread/flour, nutritional yeast, spelt/oat sourdough.
You can also learn more about low-FODMAP bread here.
- Incorporate low FODMAP protein sources: There are several low FODMAP options, including
PROTEINS: firm tofu, tempeh, canned lentils, brown rice protein powder, soy milk made from soy protein isolate, peanut butter, walnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower butter, FODBOD bars & some mock meats made from mycoprotein and protein isolate
- Avoid high FODMAP flavorings: Onions and garlic are common flavorings in many vegan recipes, but they are high in FODMAPs. Instead, try using herbs and spices such as basil, oregano, cumin, and ginger to add flavor to your meals.
Check out our comprehensive list of low-FODMAP VS High FODMAP foods here.
- Seek guidance from a dietitian: If you’re struggling to incorporate low FODMAP foods into your plant-based diet or are experiencing digestive symptoms, consider working with a dietitian who specializes in digestive health. They can help you navigate the low FODMAP diet while ensuring that you’re meeting your nutrient needs on a plant-based diet.
Here is an example of a full day of low-FODMAP vegan eating:
Do You Have To Go Full Low-Fodmap? – An Argument For A FODMAP Reduced Approach
In my experience, for vegans and plant-based folk, sometimes it is not 100% necessary to go through a whole complete FODMAP elimination diet followed by a structured reintroduction and testing phase.
For more mild symptoms, sometimes simply reducing the overall FODMAP load on a daily basis can be enough to bring symptoms down to a manageable level.
When you only eat plant-based foods, it is easy for your daily FODMAP intake to be quite high in comparison to someone who is eating FODMAP-free animal products as well.
The goal of a FODMAP-reduced diet is to reduce the amount of high-FODMAP foods consumed rather than completely eliminating them.
This could look like:
- Reducing high-FODMAP foods from your diet that are common triggers for IBS-like symptoms such as wheat, onions, garlic, and legumes.
- Choosing more low-FODMAP fruits and vegetables.
- Opting for low FODMAP grain more regularly.
- Experiment with portion sizes: Some high-FODMAP foods may be tolerated in small portions, so it is important to experiment with portion sizes to see what works for you.
- Choose alternative plant-based protein sources: While legumes are a great source of protein for vegans, they can be high in FODMAPs. Consider other plant-based protein sources such as tempeh, firm tofu, nuts, and seeds.
Some easy high-to-low FODMAP swaps could look like this:
Nonetheless, if you trial a FODMAP-reduced diet and see noticeable reductions in symptoms but not a complete resolution, it likely means that your gut symptoms are FODMAP related but you may benefit from doing a strict low FODMAP diet with reintroduction & testing phase.
The Ideal Nutrition Team outlines this process here.
Meeting Protein Needs Whilst Vegan & Low FODMAP
Getting adequate protein as an active, plant-based, or vegan person can already be a bit of a challenge at times. Add in the complexity of doing a low FODMAP diet or having certain FODMAP intolerances and it becomes even more difficult.
But with some planning, it can still be possible to have a high-protein diet.
Low FODMAP & Vegan Protein Sources
Low FODMAP, High Protein Vegan Day Of Eating
Now let’s put all of this together into a day of high protein, vegan, low FODMAP food!
In conclusion, a low FODMAP diet can be compatible with a plant-based lifestyle with some careful planning and attention to low FODMAP plant-based foods. By incorporating a variety of low-FODMAP fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein sources, you can continue to enjoy the health benefits of a plant-based diet while reducing digestive symptoms.
You can even get in a decent amount of protein in the process! Which is particularly helpful for more active vegans & plant-based athletes.