Tracking your reactions to food and adjusting your eating plan to accommodate food intolerances can help you design a vegetarian diet that will meet your nutritional needs without aggravating the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. You may need to find substitutions for some high-fiber vegetables, fruits, dairy products or grains that cause painful gas, abdominal cramps or diarrhea. However, a vegetarian diet offers alternatives for most of the foods you need to stay healthy.
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a chronic gastrointestinal condition that causes increased bowel sensitivity and motility. Certain foods may make you nauseous, cause diarrhea or constipation, or make you feel bloated and gassy. Although there are no universal food intolerances associated with IBS, certain foods have been identified as common triggers. You may find that whole wheat, rye, barley or dairy products prompt IBS symptoms. High-fiber foods such as vegetables, whole grains and legumes may prevent intestinal muscle spasms by keeping your bowel slightly distended. However, some people with IBS report bowel spasms and altered bowel patterns after eating these foods.
If you limit your consumption of animal products, such as egg yolks, cheese and full-fat milk, a vegetarian diet may help you control your cholesterol while promoting your digestive health. Because fatty foods often trigger IBS symptoms, basing your diet on low-fat proteins may help you avoid flare-ups. Vegetarian diets emphasize high-fiber foods, which may help control irregular bowel movements.
If you can’t tolerate milk products, the probiotic bacteria in yogurt or kefir may enable you to digest dairy foods more easily. Soy milk, soy yogurt, soft tofu and other soy products may be easier for you to tolerate than dairy products. If the insoluble fiber in vegetables, whole wheat and brown rice causes bowel spasms, pain, gas or constipation, you may find that the soluble fiber in whole grain oats, apples and legumes is less irritating to your digestive tract. Rich in protein and iron, legumes are a nutritious addition to a vegetarian diet, but they may cause gas and bloating in people with IBS. Eat small portions of legumes to avoid flatulence or replace them with other proteins that you can tolerate.
Eating smaller meals may help you process high-fiber complex carbohydrates more easily. The National Digestive Disorders Information Clearinghouse recommends that you drink 6 to 8 glasses of water per day, especially if you are constipated. Meals that are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates such as fruit, pasta, whole-grain bread and rice may reduce cramping and diarrhea. You may need to limit your intake of certain fruits if you have an intolerance for the fructose in these foods.
Loma Linda University School of Public Health provides a pyramid for vegetarian nutrition that can serve as a visual model for meal planning. The pyramid recommends that vegetarians eat 5 to 12 servings of grains; 1 to 3 servings of legumes, nuts or other proteins; 6 to 9 servings of vegetables; 3 to 4 servings of fruits and up to 2 servings of fats each day. Using what you know about your reactions to foods, you can design your own pyramid with these general proportions as your guide. Consult your health care provider or dietitian to develop a vegetarian eating plan that’s tailored to your symptoms and nutritional needs.