If you’re vegetarian or would like expand your horizons and enjoy some meatless meals then this article is for you! You can definitely enjoy a vegetarian meal that is healthy and delicious while on the low FODMAP diet. However, when you overlap two restrictive diets, it is highly recommended that you work with a registered dietitian who is trained and experienced in both areas. You will need to pay close attention to nutrients such as iron, protein, omega-3 fats, vitamin B12 (vegans) and zinc, as well as be careful to stay within your low FODMAP serves. In order to follow both diets well, I highly recommend preparing your food at home most of the time, which is advice I share with everyone whether you are low FODMAP, vegetarian or neither.
As a FODMAP trained registered dietitian and vegetarian, I would love to share my tips that ensure everyone at the table gets the nutrition they need, and that the food tastes great too!
1. Low FODMAP Protein
Include a source of protein in all of your meals. It is important to get enough protein throughout the day. Without protein, you will feel hungry sooner and your body will miss out on what it needs for cell repair and growth. For more information about your protein requirements, refer to Alana’s excellent article, Vegan Low FODMAP Protein Sources. Another easy rule of thumb is to cover about 1/4 of your plate with protein.
Make sure you know the exact FODMAP serve for all of the high protein vegetarian foods in the Monash Low FODMAP app. This includes measuring and weighing the protein to be certain. Choose high protein food such as extra firm tofu, canned lentils, canned chickpeas, tempeh, eggs, edamame, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. Grains such as quinoa, millet and brown rice also contain protein. Be careful not to consume multiple foods that can be high in galactooligosaccharides (canned lentils, canned chickpeas, firm tofu, tempeh, or almonds) in one meal as that may exceed your FODMAP limit for that meal.
What about protein powder? Although protein powder can be convenient, I recommend getting protein from food first, because high protein foods often contain many other important nutrients such as iron, fibre, vitamin B12, and healthy fats.
2. Bump Up The Iron
Children, teenagers, high performance athletes, and women (before menopause) need a diet rich in iron (1). Iron is required to make hemoglobin in our red blood cells (1). Not getting enough dietary iron can increase your risk of anaemia (1). Alana also wrote an excellent article about Iron and the Low FODMAP Diet, so use this as a reference for the amount of daily iron you require.
In my freezer, you always find a bag of green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, or chard). Once the leaves are frozen, give the bag a vigorous shake to break the leaves then use generous handfuls in all of your soups, stews, or smoothies. In addition to green leafy vegetables, other foods high in iron include edamame, pumpkin seeds, oats, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, canned chickpeas, canned lentils, sesame seeds (2).
To increase the absorption of iron, consume iron rich foods with a source of vitamin C such as lemon juice, lime juice, red pepper, strawberries, or tomatoes. On the flip side, tea, coffee, and calcium rich foods can decrease the absorption of iron.
3. Include Healthy Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in brain and eye development and promote heart health (3). For vegetarians who don’t eat fish, it can be challenging to get enough. Healthy fats also go a long way to making meals taste delicious. When you consume foods that are high in the omega-3 fatty acid called ALA (alpha linoleic acid), our bodies can convert it to the more beneficial omega-3 fats called DHA and EPA (3). This conversion is very low which makes it important to consume foods rich in ALA regularly. Good sources of ALA include flax seeds, flax oil, walnuts, walnut oil, soybean oil, and chia seeds (3).
One of my vegetarian secret weapons is to use ground walnuts generously. You can add them to baked goods such as muffins and banana bread, they are also great in oatmeal or sprinkle on top of salads. Try adding flax seeds or chia seeds to your morning bowl of oatmeal. I also recommend picking up some walnut oil as it is a tasty on salads and easy to cook with.
4. Eat Low FODMAP Veggies
Vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. However, it can be tricky to get enough on the low FODMAP diet. According to Alana’s infographic on How to Combine Low FODMAP Vegetables, you need to be mindful of combining too many vegetables from the same FODMAP group at one time. Some people may have a hard time digesting vegetables raw so steaming, roasting, or sautéing can be a good way to go.
When serving vegetables, increase the variety of colours and types you serve in one meal. For example, instead of serving steamed carrots alone, add green beans and strips of red pepper. Prewashed lettuce and spinach leaves are extremely convenient for side salads. Keep a box of vegetables like cucumber, peppers and cherry tomatoes ready to eat in your fridge.
5. Make it look and taste irresistible!
This is definitely the most important step! To make vegetarian meals look appealing and taste delicious, include a variety of colours, textures and flavours. Use different coloured vegetables (green, red, orange). Add toppings that have crunch, like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, or bean sprouts. Add extra flavour with green onion tops, fresh cilantro, parsley, basil, or a lime or lemon wedge. A meal that looks great can actually taste better too! If you need inspiration, check out Alana’s vegetarian recipes.
It is possible to make a healthy, well balanced, low FODMAP and delicious vegetarian meal, but you need to watch the FODMAP content and ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients your body needs. Do your best to prepare most of your meals at home, enjoy foods high in protein throughout the day, bump up your iron, include healthy fats, be generous with vegetables, and use lots of colours and textures to make a scrumptiously satisfying meal. Enlist the help of an experienced registered dietitian to support you along the way.
Audrey Inouye is a FODMAP trained registered dietitian in Canada. She began her career in public health by managing community outreach and peer support programs for diabetes and prenatal nutrition. Audrey later branched into private practice and founded IBS Nutrition. She specializes in helping people overcome the digestive symptoms of IBS with the low FODMAP diet. You can get to know Audrey through her website or on Facebook or Twitter.