Vegan FODMAP

When, a couple of weeks back, my husband announced that he was going on the low FODMAP diet to help with his digestive health, I have to admit that my initial reaction was panic. Although I was supportive of his decision and pleased that he was taking positive action to improve his wellbeing, I was also aware of how restrictive the diet could be, especially when approached from a vegan perspective. In fact, when it had been recommended to me by my GP a year or so ago it had been my husband who had said that he wasn’t happy with me pursuing it if it meant cutting anything further from my diet. To be honest, once I looked at the list of foods that I’d need to cut out – avocados, cashews, apples, dates, falafel, beans, mango, mange tout, rye bread, crumpets, garlic, hummus, basically all of my favourite things – I didn’t take much convincing that going low FODMAP wasn’t for me. And in fact, with some moderation and a bit more thought into how and when I was eating these particular foods (i.e. not wolfing down an apple after a falafel wrap with oodles of hummus while sitting, hunched over at my desk feeling stressed), I actually found that my digestive issues calmed down a little. So it was that I put the idea on the back burner.

Twelve months down the line I have found myself researching the low FODMAP diet once more and reminding myself what is ‘in’ and what’s ‘out’. A bit of online searching certainly seems to validate the efficacy of this diet in improving gut heath and symptoms of IBS. While it originated in Australia, it is now promoted in the UK by the NHS and supported by research from King’s College, London. But what exactly are FODMAPs and what is the theory behind this diet?

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which are essentially a collection of poorly absorbed carbohydrates found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, wheat and milk (i.e. high FODMAP foods). Some of us are more susceptible to issues with absorbing the sugars from these foods and if they are not absorbed they tend to pass through the small intestine and enter the colon where they are fermented by bacteria. This in turn produces gas, which stretches the bowel causing bloating, wind and pain. It may also cause water to move into and out of the colon, resulting diarrhoea, constipation or a combination of the two (nice!). Cutting out all of these high FODMAP foods for a limited time can reduce these symptoms and then controlled reintroduction can help you to ascertain which foods in particular are causing you issues.

While my husband’s decision to go low FODMAP doesn’t necessarily have to impact on my eating habits, I do love to cook delicious food for us to enjoy together in the evenings, and the idea of me chomping away on a garlicy, oniony, mixed bean chilli while he eats plain brown rice with steamed carrots is just too sad. Moreover, when he did try few days of ‘fending for himself’ (read: eating plain lentils and rice cakes) he lost interest in food and a lot of weight, which worried me more than his stomach upsets. And, while I do love many of the high FODMAP veggies, such as mushrooms, asparagus, leeks and sugar snap peas, I know that I only need to cut these out of our evening meals for a short period, while for me, my husband has given up eating meat indefinitely, which is a much greater sacrifice.

So with all of this in mind I got Googling ‘vegan FODMAP recipes’ and discovered some great dishes that I’d love to share (whether you are going low  FODMAP or not!). We’ve found quinoa, brown rice and lentils to be great staples, as well as baked sweet potatoes with salad and sun dried tomatoes. My favourite discovery was the website The Wild Gut Project, which is where the below two recipes are taken from, with a few slight adjustments from me. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

Speedy satay and coconut noodles
(adapted from www.thewildgutproject.com)

Serves 2

Ingredients 

1 tsp coconut oil
1 inch cube of fresh ginger, finely chopped
50g tofu, pressed and cubed
1 carrot, chopped into thin sticks
1/2 courgette, cut into rounds
2 tbsp peanut butter
6 tbsp coconut cream
1-2 tsp miso paste (adjust for your own taste)
1 onion and garlic free stock cube
1 packet of rice noodles
1 big handful of choi sum, chopped (use the leaves and the top part of the stalks)
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce (more to taste if required after serving)
1 tsp garlic-infused olive oil
Small bunch fresh coriander
1/2 lime 

Method

  1. Sauté the ginger and tofu with some coconut oil in a wok until the tofu is slightly browned all over  
  2. Add the carrots and courgette and cook for a further 5-7 minutes, stirring so the tofu doesn’t stick
  3. Pour in 200ml of boiling water and add the peanut butter, coconut cream, miso paste and stock and stir until the sauce is combined 
  4. Add the rice noodles
  5. Once the noodles have loosened up, add the choi sum and red pepper and stir for 3-5 minutes 
  6. Add the soy sauce and garlic oil  
  7. Serve with fresh coriander and lime juice

Tasty tofu and spinach curry
(adapted from www.thewildgutproject.com)

Serves 2

Ingredients 

200g firm tofu, pressed and cubed
1/2 aubergine cubed
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp asafoetida
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp nut or vegetable oil
4 tbsp worth spring onion, dark green section only
2 inch cube root ginger, grated
3 salad tomatoes sliced
1 bag spinach
5 big leaves of chard
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp sesame seed oil
2 tsp garlic-infused olive oil
4 tbsp coconut cream
Cayenne pepper and salt to taste
Small bunch fresh coriander
Brown rice

Method

  1. Put the rice in saucepan, add water and bring to the boil. Allow the rice to simmer while you cook the curry
  2. In a bowl, mix the cubed tofu with the soy sauce and turmeric before setting aside and prepping the ginger, spring onions and tomatoes
  3. In a hot frying pan toast the garam masala, asafoetida and cumin seeds until they start to smell fragrant. Then add the oil and fry them for 1 minute before adding the spring onion greens and ginger
  4. Once the spring onions are a little crispy, transfer to a food processor/blender (I added a little water and popped them into the NutriBullet). Then use the same frying pan to fry the tofu and transfer back the bowl once it’s a little golden on each side
  5. Using the same pan and a dash of oil fry the aubergine until soft. Once cooked through add to the bowl with the tofu
  6. Add the tomatoes, 3-4 handfuls of spinach and chard to the processor and blend until it is like a bright green smoothie
  7. Gently heat the green smoothie liquid in a large saucepan for approximately 10 minutes until it no longer tastes grassy. Add water if needed
  8. Stir in the cumin powder, sesame seed oil, garlic oil, coconut cream, cayenne pepper and salt. Add the tofu, aubergine and 4-5 handfuls of spinach to the curry and heat for another couple minutes until the spinach has wilted 
  9. Serve topped with fresh coriander and brown rice
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Gut feeling

If you are very British and prone to squirm at the mention of bodily functions, this post is probably not for you.

And I’ll be honest, this is not something I’ve thought about talking so candidly about previously. Or at least that was the case until I started listening to the Ben Greenfield’s podcast. If there is anything that will kick to the curb your squirmishes surrounding conversations about poo it’s Ben Greenfield explaining, in detail, the ins and outs of a coffee enema, or the efficacious properties of baking soda and water to ‘clear you out’. Add to that a recent reading of Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography, in which she talked pretty frankly about her bouts of explosive diarrhoea in the sea before her ironman races, and any idea about what it’s socially ok to mention broadens somewhat.

And this week, when Tim Dowling discussed his colonoscopy in his column in the Guardian Weekend Magazine (the final bastion of middle-class, left-wing respectability) I felt that a rubicon had been crossed and it was time to talk gut health.

It’s not just toilet talk that’s got me interested (I use interested here in its absolute broadest sense) in digestive issues. A number of the podcasts that I listen to have been discussing digestion lately, from so-called ‘leaky gut’ syndrome, to SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth), with interviewees claiming they had never realised what good digestion was until they undertook an elimination diet and discovered a whole new bout of energy and a reduction in GI discomfort. Moreover, the more you chat to people about tummy troubles (especially runners – although that may be based on my skewed social group), the more you realise how many people are struggling with some kind of digestive disquiet.

The thing is, a disruption in gut health doesn’t just leave you toilet bound or deprived (depending on the nature of your issue) it can leave you grouchy, lethargic, irritable and generally feeling less than ideal.

My stomach has its own idiosyncrasies – I can handle the hottest of the hot foods, but put me within biting distance of some white bread and my stomach will inflate like a balloon and be total agony for hours afterwards. In my pre-vegan days dairy had the same effect, something which I didn’t realise fully until I’d given up cheese and milk completely.

While I’ve generally learned to gravitate towards the foods that serve me well and away from those that leave me bloated and uncomfortable, I do still go through patches of real stomach upset. With a history of ulcerative colitis in the family (a type of Crohn’s disease) I’m hyperaware when I start to feel awry. Which is why, when I found myself in so much discomfort this week that I had to go home and huddle around a hot water bottle for the evening, I took a serious look at the elimination diet.

A week ago the idea of cutting out nuts and seeds, nut butter, tahini (hence hummus), soy products (including tofu), nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, aubergine), cayenne and chilli pepper would have been anathema. These are basically my main food groups. But with that amount of pain still fresh in my mind I felt willing to give anything a shot.

The elimination diet also requires the removal of dairy, eggs, sugar, meat, wheat and gluten products, which I generally avoid anyway, and demands 2-3 weeks sans allergens to allow any ‘inflammation’ and allergenic response in your body to subside. You then reintroduce foods one by one and see how your body responds.

While for socialising, staying with friends and generally eating anything that you’ve not meticulously prepared yourself makes this a tricky diet to follow to the letter, I’m taking a less extreme version of cutting back on potential triggers, diarising what I eat and recording how I feel as a result. I already suspect too many soya products as being the main issue, but as a friend pointed out, too much of anything really isn’t good for your body, and I know I can get hooked on one or two food stuffs and then tend to include them in everything, which is probably also causing some of the problems.

While ‘banned’ and ‘permitted’ foods seem to vary depending on which source you read, commonly accepted low risk foods include oats, rice, quinoa, fruit (except oranges), veggies (except potatoes and nightshades – sweet potatoes are ok), olive and coconut oil, rice milk, pine nuts and flaxseeds, herbs and spices (excluding chilli and paprika). If you are a veggie beans (except soya) and lentils are also allowed in moderation. For a reasonably comprehensive list see: http://global.oup.com/us/companion.websites/9780195371109/pdf/00_Mullin_Appendix_3.pdf.

Day-to-day for me this translates to fruit or oats with apple or blueberries, cinnamon and fresh grated ginger for breakfast made with water and a dash of brown rice milk (I’m taking a break from the green juice powders just in case they are causing some of the problems), a big salad of carrot, cucumber, courgette, avocado, spinach and fresh basil with olive oil, or a homemade squash or parsnip soup for lunch and butternut squash and sage risotto, or courgetti with mushrooms and homemade avocado and basil pesto for dinner. Plus snacks of nectarines, bananas, blueberries and peaches in between. The main thing is trying to keep changing up which fruit, veggies and pulses I eat so I’m not bombarding my gut with one thing.

Although I’m not being as militant as I might, I am being more respectful and wary of what I’m putting into my body, slowing down my eating and taking time to consider how it is impacting on me. A couple of days in and my stomach is starting to settle. There is still a long way to go, but I’ll be interested to see if these changes have a positive impact in the longer term. If nothing else the last few days have proven that I can survive without a jar of nut butter, lashings of humus on everything and a slab of tofu at the ready!

I’d be interested to hear if others have had similar issues and how they have resolved them. In the meantime, some podcasts on this issue if you want to learn more:

https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2016/05/paloe-autoimmune-protocol

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-rich-roll-podcast/id582272991?mt=2&i=362373748

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/ben-greenfield-fitness-diet/id283908977?mt=2&i=369101193