Friday, 12 April, 2019
There’s been a lot of chatter about vegan diets and gut health on social media lately. Here are some tips about keeping your gut happy from Vegan Society Dietitian Heather Russell.
Research has linked diets containing plenty of roughage with lower risks of heart and blood vessel disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. A fibre-rich diet is filling and it can help with digestion and preventing constipation.
For UK adults, the daily fibre target is set at 30g. Unfortunately, data from the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey suggest that the average intake is only 19g.
One of the major differences between plant foods and animal products is that the latter don’t provide fibre. This is one of many reasons why the UK’s Eatwell Guide recommends a shift towards more plant-based diets. Hitting and exceeding your 5-a-day target, choosing wholegrain options and eating legumes (beans, peas and lentils) are healthy habits for everyone.
No, not the type that give you a bad tummy! I’m talking about the ‘friendly’ bacteria that live in our gut. Evidence is emerging that these bugs influence multiple aspects of our health, so it’s important to keep them happy. They seem to really appreciate us eating certain plant-based foods. Some types of fibre are classed as prebiotic, which basically means that they are food for our ‘friendly’ bacteria. Leeks, asparagus, onions, wheat, oats, beans, peas and lentils provide prebiotic fibre.
I receive quite a few queries about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which isn’t surprising since 10-20% of the population is thought to be affected. Lifestyle management can be helpful in a number of ways. The NHS website provides some general tips here.
If basic advice isn’t helping, your doctor can refer you a dietitian. It may be appropriate for you try a low FODMAP diet, followed by reintroduction of higher FODMAP foods to tolerance. This should be carried out with support from a FODMAP-trained dietitian. Dietitian Ginny Messina provides some vegan-friendly information about this approach here:
Did you know that IBS is a common misdiagnosis in people later diagnosed with coeliac disease? So, if you’ve been diagnosed with IBS, make sure that screening was carried out to rule out coeliac disease.
Switching to a vegan diet
As with any dietary change, it’s a good idea to take the transition to a vegan diet step by step. This gives your gut time to adjust to the likely increase in fibre. It’s also important to wash that extra fibre down with plenty of fluid to keep your bowels moving.
If you’re concerned about your diet, it may be helpful to compare what you’re eating to our guidelines using our free resources, including the VNutrition app. Talk to your doctor about your concerns, who can refer you to a dietitian if necessary.