Is Veganuary good for your gut? Should you do it if you have a gut condition?

Veganuary. Are you doing it? 

Do you already do Meat-free Mondays? These are certainly great ways to get more plant-based foods into your diet, provided you don’t opt for the heavily processed vegan products.

We understand that some people have environmental or ethical concerns about eating animal products, but not all vegan products are kind to the environment either. For example, large amounts of water are  needed to produce things like almond milk or the huge number of air miles clocked up by every avocado you eat. But ultimately this is a personal choice, and we respect that. 

However, from our clinical experience, we have seen that Veganuary and vegan diets can be problematic for many people who have gut conditions, particularly Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

The American Gut Project and 30 plant-based foods a week

But we don’t believe it needs to be an all or nothing approach: You don’t need to follow a vegan diet to reap the benefits of plant-based foods.

It’s quite simple, you just need to include more of them in your diet. ‘The American Gut Project’ research has shown that eating more than 30 different types of plant-based food per week is associated with more diversity in the gut microbiota (bacteria mainly, and diversity is a good thing), and in general the more the merrier!

Eating plant-based foods doesn’t just mean eating fruits and vegetables, it also means eating cereals and legumes/pulses and there is a huge variety of these foods to enjoy.

Vegan Diets, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Coeliac

If you have Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis or coeliac disease then a vegan diet isn’t clinically recommended. This is because purely plant-based diets tend to be very high in fibre which can worsen diarrhoea, or cause blockages in the bowel if you have a narrowing due to Crohn’s disease. 

On top of that there is also a risk of significant nutritional deficiencies- particularly:

  • Vitamin D
  • Iron
  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium 
  • Omega 3

In fact, a number of studies have shown that a Mediterranean-style diet is beneficial in terms of disease activity and overall health in patients with IBD*. 

If you have IBS, the high fibre content of vegan diets can worsen unpleasant gut symptoms like bloating, wind and cramping. On the other hand such as those listed here cause little or no bloating foods:

  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • hard cheeses 
  • lean red meat, cause little or no bloating

 

Research has also shown that vegan diets are not superior to Mediterranean-style diets, i.e. one that contains fish and lean meat (1-2 times per week), along with plenty of plant-based foods including fruit, vegetables and vegetable oils, in terms of overall health.

So, do we suggest you do Veganuary? Not really

We think that a Mediterranean style pattern of eating (let’s not call it a diet, it’s more a way of life) is more balanced, less bloating, richer in the full range of vitamins you need, a LOT easier if you have any underlying gut condition and yet still beneficial for your overall health.

BUT, a Mediterranean style diet does not involve eating meat or fish every day and it is a good idea to have a few vegetarian style days each week. Remember to ‘eat the rainbow’ and include lots of colourful fruit and veg with every meal and snack. 

9 Ways to ensure you’re eating a diverse, nutritious diet rich in plant-based foods

  1. Prepare foods from their natural state i.e. don’t opt for processed plant-based foods 
  2. Eat the rainbow – lots of colour and diversity
  3. Buy seasonal vegetables, salads and fruits 
  4. Aim for 20 or more different plant-based foods in a week (or 30 if you’re going for an ‘A’ grade)
  5. Don’t cut out grains, such as wheat from your diet – this is rich in fibre
  6. Have some meat-free days every week
  7. Add extra grains/ seeds to your diet where you can – seeds such as chia, pumpkin, sunflower or linseeds can be added to breakfast cereals and salads and are an easy-win
  8. Eat some nuts each day
  9. Use plant-based oils in your cooking

 

Learn more about plant-based diets and gut conditions in our blog post; Does an exclusively plant-based diet make sense if you have a gut condition?

References

*Chicco et al, Inflamm Bowel Disease journal January 2021, Tian et al, Adv Nutr Dec 2021

©The Gut Experts 2022

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