Amongst the vegan community, it is an absolute headache to constantly be bombarded with questions about protein, zinc, calcium, vitamin B12, iron, and organoleptic enjoyment of food in a vegan diet. Yes, we can consume plenty of these nutrients AND adore the taste of our meals. What many vegans and non-vegans alike understand is the cruciality of fiber in human health. I won’t go into details about fiber because many reading this post already have a strong understanding of its functionalities in metabolic health, weight maintenance and weight loss, heart health, and fending off diabetes and cancer. This is the macronutrient that many vegans–specifically those who primarily eat “whole foods”–love to emphasize to the rest of the world due to its abundance in wholesome food products and health benefits.
If fiber is so fantastic, why is this post titled “low fiber vegan diet” instead of a high fiber one? Good question.
As amicable as a high amount of fiber is for numerous human bodies, such quantities of fiber isn’t for everyone. There are many health conditions centered around the functionality of the intestines where fiber is one of their worst irritants and can instigate extremely unpleasant conditions, if not severely risky. Examples include diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease (includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, though one study discloses that higher amounts of fiber alleviated the symptoms!), intestinal blockage, colorectal cancer, and pre- and post-bowel surgery as a treatment for these conditions. Also, if you are currently in eating disorder recovery or hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery, it’s probably best to lay off the high-fiber and high-water foods and reach more for higher fat and more heavily refined items to absorb more calories. Moreover, a large amount of fiber (amount depends on the body) too abruptly and/or without sufficient hydration results in bloating, gas, abdominal cramping, obstruction of the intestines, and constipation. Sexy, I know.
- Just as a disclaimer, there are some sources of evidence citing fiber as a tool to help the reduction of these symptoms and help discourage the presence of these conditions. Like I always say, please speak with a medical professional about any questions or concerns you may hold about intestinal disorders.
The good news? It is absolutely feasible to follow a low fiber diet, even a vegan one! It requires focalizing your diet on a different haul of foods and cooking methods to soften the fibers in certain fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes to help them digest more easily. Having said that, it is always easy for someone to swap out their brown or wild rices for white rice and/or whole grain breads for white bread or sourdough (also, that would be delicious), but that would not necessarily be the most optimal in terms of nutritive gains. While these foods can certainly be part of a healthy diet, it is still critical to eat enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Now remember: a low fiber diet still includes SOME fiber. You are more than welcome to eat out of tubs of butter and consume meat and eggs all day long, but you will still miss out on key nutrients found in plant-based foods. Not to mention, your grocery bill might cry. Monitor your fiber intake, but do not antagonize the macronutrient.
- Examine what foods trigger your unpleasant symptoms and what are acceptable. Like for anything else, fiber necessities and food tolerances and allergies will vary across biochemical individuality. Some people can easily tolerate soy and wheat on a vegan low fiber diet and others cannot. It is likewise with seeds and beans. Portioning is also important. Journal exactly how you feel after eating a meal and the anatomy of these recipes. You will be sure to pinpoint the foods that you should reduce or avoid altogether. They may give you a few phases to eliminate a lot of highly fibrous foods, then gradually integrate them back into your diet.
- When in doubt, talk to a doctor or registered dietitian. Say you find the former plan difficult because there are too many possible correlations. It is best to discuss the issue at hand with a medical and health professional, ideally doctors and RDs (if you have known them for a long time, even better!), to help you navigate the amalgamation of foods you should stick to and the ones you can afford to eat a bit less, if not at all.
- Choose finely blended or pureed renditions of your favorite food materials. For instance, instead of whole chickpeas or a fruit salad, try blended hummus or a smoothie. The starches and fibers are so heavily homogenized that the intestines have to conduct tremendously less work digesting the foods than if consumed whole. Nut butters are a wonderful substitute for nuts and seeds if you find them challenging to digest whole as well. Heck, try blending vegetables into a nice sauce or filling soup!
- Roast, bake, broil, saute, simmer, HEAT. Bye, salads, and hello, stir-fries, platters of roasted vegetables, and warming or piping hot meals! It’s definitely okay to enjoy a small side salad, but ensure that most of your vegetables are cooked very thoroughly, especially cruciferous vegetables and those that are highly starchy and water-dense, such as Brussels sprouts, eggplant, potatoes, broccoli, onions (also, who wants to eat a raw onion?), and more. In general, they should be soft enough to the point where they fall off your fork, or if roasted, where you can easily poke into one with a sharp edge.
- Cut your produce into smaller pieces. We still want to focus our meals on the most wholesome foods possible, so similarly to blending, chop, slice, and break down your fruits and vegetables into the finest fragments. They do not have to be baby food-sized particles, but enough so that you don’t end up swallowing a whole broccoli floret or apple slice.
- Select your proteins wisely. Optimally, your protein sources should be low in fiber and mostly fat and protein, such as tofu, seitan, smooth nut butters and bean purees, and protein powders. Depending on the specific fiber RDI for you, it is possible to integrate slightly more servings of higher fiber protein sources, or slightly less.
- Avoid the skins. What many forget about foods is that the skins of certain fruits and vegetables contain the majority of the fibers and nutrients. That’s why it drove me NUTS when I saw people peel sweet potatoes, zucchini, cucumber, eggplant, apples, and everything else that has a thick skin! WHY?! Well, now I know that the skin is troublesome for people who cannot digest these fibers without physically suffering. Again, with the types of fruits and vegetables you can consume, be sure to check which ones you need to peel prior to cooking and consumption. Personally, I wouldn’t stress about the nutrient content in the skins vs. the fruit itself because there are still a large amount of antioxidants in the flesh of the fruits! (Note that this may also apply to certain nuts like almonds and hazelnuts)
- Chew more thoroughly. Eh, it’s a given for everyone, but it helps even more with people who have more sensitive digestive troubles.
- Get creative! There are plenty of ways to integrate more wholesome foods into innovative recipes, such as oat banana muffins, carrot and white bean hummus, tomato and mushroom sauces, sweet potato pancakes, and garlic onion + dill tofu cream cheese.
- If you have restricted yourself from some more heavily refined foods, enjoy them! Seriously. Dig into some sushi with conventionally delectable white sushi rice or that vegan cupcake you have always wanted to try! Once more, be sure to check with a medical professional or an RD if you have strong doubts about the type of foods you should consume on a low fiber diet, whether healthy or not.
- Remember to supplement for the essentials. Vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, Vitamin B12, potassium–any extra nutrient you can incorporate into your diet without dragging in more fiber (or too much) helps. Many of these nutrient-dense sources also contain exorbitantly strong fibers and starches, so use this time to invest in a good multivitamin and/or fortified foods such as orange juice, fortified dairy free milk, low fiber cereals, and so forth.
- Be kind to yourself. Look, a low fiber diet can be quite limiting in terms of “whole foods” intake. There are quite a lot of low fiber diet plans that live off white rice, bagels, and relatively nutrient deficient products that some vegans frown upon (any bad-mouthing about you articulates everything about them and nothing about you). Fiber in and of itself is vital, but it is challenging to digest too much of it and of certain types–even if you do not struggle with intestinal problems or any digestive disorders, try reducing your fiber intake once in a while just so your system does not have to expend so much energy all the time. Truthfully so, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to dieting and honor what your body can do.
Have you ever been instructed to go on a low fiber diet? What are your favorite low fiber foods?