I’d like to think my digestive concerns are temporary and will dissipate once I get back into the swing of things, but in case they are here to stay, I want to take care of myself in the best way I can.
Coming into researching every minute detail of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) has definitely opened my mind to the real struggles that almost twenty percent of people face on a regular basis. I admire those who have persevered for years with chronic symptoms and can still see the glass as half full. Hopefully I too, if things remain stagnant, can adapt to a changing situation and do so with optimism.
Many different factors can play into triggering IBS symptoms like constipation, excessive gas, and/or diarrhea. But one lifestyle change I have found is effective for a vast majority of people with IBS symptoms is paying attention to FODMAPs.
Which, if you have never dealt with IBS, you also have never heard of FODMAPs prior to me mentioning it. If you have IBS, certain carbohydrates known as FODMAPs could be triggering your symptoms. When food is chewed and swallowed, it moves into the stomach, travels to the small intestine, and then moves on to the large intestine. During its journey, enzymes in the intestines break down the food so it can be digested.
The word “FODMAP” is an acronym that stands for fermentable oligosaccharides (fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides, also known as GOS), disaccharides (lactose), monosaccharides (fructose), and polyols(polydextrose, isomalt, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol).
Unlike many other carbohydrates, FODMAPs are difficult to digest and aren’t as quickly broken down. This means they stay in the digestive tract longer, pulling too much or too little water into the intestines or getting fermented by the gut’s natural bacteria. For many people with IBS, this process can trigger symptoms, such as gas, bloating, cramping, constipation, and/or diarrhea. That’s why following a low-FODMAP eating plan often helps people with IBS feel better.
So what has high and low FODMAPs? Luckily, if you’re following a plant-based diet, one major food group of concern is already out of sight: dairy, specifically lactose. Other high FODMAP foods include many types of beans, cashews, certain forms of soy, apples, dried fruit, cauliflower, asparagus, anything with gluten, and any fruits with pits, such as mangoes, peaches, and cherries.
This is just a mere sampling of foods to either avoid outright extremely moderate. Admittedly, that’s very intimidating. Especially when you’re someone who considers their diet already quite healthy, and having already undergone my vegan transition, thinking of having to adjust my diet even more is not ideal.
But, luckily, many foods ARE low in FODMAPs that I love. Most nuts, vegetables, gluten-free products, maple syrup, potatoes, berries, grapes, pineapple and more are all good to go. Even tofu, chickpeas, edamame, and lentils are all gut-friendly.
I will link here a really awesome resource I’ve found that is an extensive shopping list for low-FODMAP vegans. Yes, there is more than just me (yay!). Searching for blogs and diving onto Pinterest for ideas are also great tools for making a slow transition toward non-inflammatory foods.
And even then, chances are that you’ll still have trial and error. Looking at FODMAPs isn’t the sole indicator of what’s good or not. We’re all individuals, and certain foods are bound to affect us differently. If you’re willing to make the effort to experiment with how you react to certain foods, you can learn more about your body and how to help it be its best self.
Just like I would recommend for those wanting to become entirely plant-based, changing your lifestyle isn’t meant to be an overnight 180. Take it slowly at whatever pace you feel comfortable with. Maybe you want to go about it in a elimination-style change to really pinpoint the trigger foods. Maybe you just want to see how being gluten-free feels, after finishing that one box of cereal first. Whatever your scenario might be, I get it. I’m there. Even if I find certain foods make me gassy and bloated, but I just love the heck out of that food (can we talk about black beans?!), then I’ll most likely still have it, at least in moderation.
Nobody is measuring perfection, nor should you in the first place. Even with the information I’ve found and shared, I cannot tell you how to live your life. Only you are the best judge of that. I just want people out there to know that you don’t have to sit back idly and take on unbearable symptoms if there are natural options out there. Don’t give up. Finding ties to discussing mental illness, talking about IBS or digestive problems isn’t an easy discussion either. But someone has to. Your health matters. Don’t let fear or embarrassment silence you. Not just for yourself, but for everybody else out there walking the same journey, one FODMAP at a time.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie