26 Aug 2016
Getting Adequate Nutrient Intake while being a FODMAP Friendly Vegan
While it is certainly not impossible, getting enough nutrients while being a FODMAP-friendly vegan can be difficult due to the somewhat restrictive nature of both diets. This is especially true during the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet. No need to fret though! Below, I have provided a few (hopefully helpful) tips for ensuring you’re getting enough of the vitamins and minerals vegans or vegetarians following the low FODMAP diet are most likely to struggle with. It’s important to have regular blood tests to ensure you are functioning at your best.
Calcium is a vital mineral that helps us maintain strong bones, teeth, and ensures proper muscle and heart functioning. When calcium intake decreases, our bodies become more at risk of developing osteoporosis, that is, low bone density. Normal dairy products like milk, yoghurt, cheese and ice-cream, often recommended as a good source of calcium, are non-vegan, high FODMAP foods, as they contain lactose (a high FODMAP sugar). While, lactose-free products are permitted on the low FODMAP diet, they are not vegan-friendly. Herein lays the conundrum! Thankfully, non-dairy calcium sources do exist, and include fortified almond and soy milks (made from soy protein), tofu and tempeh, almonds, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, even vegetables like bok choy, kale, spinach, and broccoli. While it is best to get your calcium from food sources (as studies have linked high levels of calcium intake to toxic effects and heart disease), calcium supplements are always an option. Make sure you go for one that also contains vitamin D3, as this will help with absorption. Oxalates found in rhubarb, beet, and some greens can reduce calcium absorption, which is why it’s important to steam/cook foods that contain these “antinutrients”. Phytate Sodium also decreases calcium absorption. Examples of foods high in “phytates” as they are more commonly known include 100% wheat bran, pinto beans, navy beans and peas … thankfully all high FODMAP foods that you should be avoiding anyway. Smoking also interferes with calcium absorption, in addition to a host of other nutrients & adverse health effects.
Despite being a go-to for many vegetarians and vegans, Iron supplements aren’t always an option for everyone, as they can be harsh on the stomach, cause constipation, and be the last thing you need while dealing with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)! It is possible to get and maintain your iron to a healthy level through a little planning and ensuring your low FODMAP vegan diet includes plenty of iron-rich foods. Iron is needed to produce haemoglobin, which transports the oxygen in our blood around our body. Iron is also necessary in the maintenance of a healthy immune system. When our bodies aren’t receiving enough iron, we produce fewer healthy red blood cells, which can lead to lethargy as the body is less able to transport oxygen to where it needs it most. As vegans, our iron supply comes from non-haem iron (found in grains, veggies, and some fruit), which is unfortunately the type of iron that is harder for the body to absorb. When considering iron absorption, it is also important to note that eating calcium rich foods (or taking calcium supplements) with iron-rich foods can interfere with absorption. This really only applies to large servings of calcium (e.g., 300ml milk and supplements), but it’s still worthwhile noting. Similar to calcium, foods high in oxalates also reduce iron absorption. Phytates found in nuts, seeds, pulses, and whole grains can also reduce iron absorption by a significant amount, which is why it’s so important to soak these prior to consumption. FODMAP-friendly vegan sources of iron include tempeh and tofu, lentils, chickpeas (see the shopping list for FODMAP friendly serving sizes), potato, whole grains like oats, millet, quinoa, sesame seeds, and greens such as spinach, kale, bok choy, and broccoli. If you are able to tolerate iron supplements, look for ones that include Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), as this will increase iron absorption. You can also increase absorption by taking your iron supplement with a FODMAP friendly fruit high in vitamin C such as kiwi fruit, oranges, mandarins, berries, strawberries, rock melon etc. Avoid drinking tea or coffee with meals or straight after taking your supplement, as these drinks contain tannins that can reduce iron absorption.
Unfortunately, some studies have found that vegans tend to suffer greater levels of zinc deficiency when compared to our omnivorous counterparts. Zinc absorption from plant-based foods is lower than that obtained from animal-based products. As a result, some experts suggest vegans need to consume an additional 50% more zinc in our diets. It is important we ensure we are getting sufficient zinc into our bodies, as this vital mineral is essential for over 300 physiological processes! Low FODMAP vegan sources of zinc included pumpkin and hemp seeds, cooked lentils or chickpeas, wholegrains, and dark, leafy vegetables. You can enhance your absorption of zinc by toasting nuts and seeds, including FODMAP-friendly fermented foods (like miso, fermented veggies, tamari sauce, tempeh) into your diet, enjoying some FODMAP friendly servings of sprouted legumes and seeds, and soaking grains and lentils prior to cooking.
Adequately known as the “sunshine vitamin”, Vitamin D is created when our skin absorbs the UV rays from the sun. Low levels of vitamin D have actually been associated with IBS (!!!), although we are still unsure whether IBS produces the deficiency, or whether the deficiency can lead to symptoms of IBS. Vegans and vegetarians tend to struggle with vitamin D (especially during winter), as it is predominantly found in animal products, including egg yolks, liver, saltwater fish, and fortified milks and cheeses. You can find some store-brought plant-based milks and yoghurts that are fortified with vitamin D, although most natural varieties (and certainly home-made) are not. Mushrooms are also vegan-friendly sources of vitamin D. However, with the exception of ½ cup canned Champignons and 1 cup of the Shimeji variety, mushrooms are a high FODMAP vegetable and, in fact, are one of the worst offenders for IBS symptoms. Just to be sure I’m getting enough Vitamin D, during winter I invest in a good vitamin D3 supplement.
As Vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal products, it is important for vegans to be aware of our intake, as low levels can cause a number of health complications, most notably low mood and lethargy. Some dairy-free milks are fortified with B12, however my favourite vegan source comes in the form of nutritional yeast. While nutritional yeast is yet to be tested by the researchers at Monash, vegemite, also a yeast-based product, has been tested and has received the green light. Thus, I recommend people to experiment with small servings of nutritional yeast to assess their symptoms.
In conclusion ….
So there you have it! While I’m a big proponent of obtaining your nutrients from wholefoods, in certain circumstances supplements may be warranted when adhering to a FODMAP-friendly vegan diet, even if only temporarily. I would advise you to consult with an appropriately qualified doctor, nutritionist and/or dietician before commencing any supplement routine, as excess levels of certain nutrients can lead to toxicity effects. I would also advise you to start reading labels when selecting supplements, as some are not vegan-friendly, and use gelatin-based capsules (animal product), or contain high FODMAP ingredients such as inulin.