Vegetables are healthy right?? Well yes of course they are but if you have IBS or SIBO then you will know that healthy doesn’t always necessarily feel good in the belly and some vegetables may actually add fuel to the fire!
I’m hoping this blog post takes the anxiety out of choosing the right vegetables, explains why some that are normally considered healthy might make you feel unwell and what my top 10 vegetables are that are generally safe for IBS and SIBO.
What are vegetables?
A bit of sci-ency background for you…vegetables are carbohydrates which provide energy for our bodies and are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Carbohydrates can be divided into sugars, fibres and starches. When we eat carbohydrates they are broken down to glucose (except for fibre which is non-digestible) which is used by our cells for energy or it can be stored in the body as glycogen or fat.Glucose is also the food bacteria in our belly feed off which can cause fermentation resulting in an array of uncomfortable digestive symptoms. This is not what you want when you have IBS or SIBO! Fibre is also a food source for bacteria in the large intestine which also causes fermentation that can be problematic for IBS or SIBO sufferers.Vegetables are broken down into groups and these are some examples:
Brassicas/Cruciferous: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts
Green Leafy: Spinach, kale, lettuce, silverbeet, bok choy, green bean, snow peas, chard
Root: Potato, sweet potato, beetroot, parsnip, carrot, onions, garlic, leek, bamboo shoot, turnip, swede, cassava, taro
Legumes: All beans, chickpeas, lentils, split peas, tofu
Cucurbita: Pumpkin, cucumber, zucchini, squash
Solanaceae/night shades: Tomatoes, eggplant, capsicums or bell peppers
Why are some vegetables so painful?
Each vegetable family, in fact each individual vegetable contains different amounts of sugar, fibre and starch which will then determine the amount of fermentation that will occur in the intestines. The goal is to choose non-starchy, low sugar vegetables that are easy on our digestion.
Eating vegetables raw is a lot harder on our digestion and can also cause symptoms like pain, bloating and gas. I recommend eating mostly cooked vegetables (except for salad vegetables like lettuce of course) as cooking softens the fibres and makes them easier to digest. Steaming is a great way to cook your vegetables as it keeps all the nutrients in and you can really control the level of cooking – lightly steaming is best, you don’t want to boil all the goodness out of them!!
Another factor that could be contributing to your symptoms is specific intolerance such as histamines, oxalates, salicylates & FODMAPs. I won’t get into these in this blog post but keep an eye out for future posts on these intolerances.
So the million dollar question is…what vegetables should I eat if I have IBS & SIBO?!?!
My terrific ten!
Just to be clear these are not the only vegetables I eat and everyone will have their own tolerance levels but they are my favourites for these specific reasons…they are low fermentation, versatile in their uses and most of them are well tolerated as they are low in FODAMPs, salicylates, oxalates & histamines!
This gorgeous vegetable I think is way under used! It is very versatile and has a beautiful, subtle licorice flavour. It is high in calcium but best of all it aids digestion and helps to ease digestion symptoms. I love it raw in salads or added to a green stir-fry and when it is roasted, oh my, it becomes so sweet and makes such a lovely addition to chicken and fish. Another way I love using fennel is to make vegetable stock by adding the stalks and the bulb (chopped) to water with celery, chives, fennel seeds, salt and pepper corns. And don’t forget about those fine, fragrant & green fennel leaves, they make for a pretty and delicious garnish for almost any meal! You really can use the whole vegetable! Just be sure to remove the rubbery outer layer, it's a little hard to chew!
For those who don’t know, bok choy is a common vegetable in many Asian dishes. It is great to add to stir-fry dishes, soups (add at the end to avoid over cooking it), curries or just lightly steam it (and I mean lightly as it only takes about 1 or 2 minutes to cook) and serve with other steamed greens along side some salmon or fish and voila an easy dinner done!
As a kid, I couldn’t stand cauliflower but now I totally appreciate the magic of this flowery beauty! It is great to use as an alternative to rice, steam it and add it to salads or use it to make pizza bases! My favourite way however, is to roast it with a bit of avocado oil, herbs (I use fennel seeds or chives), salt and pepper! Roasting cauliflower brings out the sweetness and makes it so damn tasty you will want it for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
These beauties have quite a neutral flavour and come from the bamboo plant. They are usually sold in tins and you can find them in the Asian aisle at the grocery store. They are great additions to any Asian dish like curries, stir-fries, soups, fresh salads and my favourite san choy bao. Yum!
I don’t think I need to explain this one too much but just keep in mind that different varieties of pumpkin contain different amounts of starch and sugar. The best variety to eat for IBS and SIBO is Jap pumpkin. Roast it, steam it, mash it or use it to bake brownies, pancakes, biscuits! The options are endless!
These slender greens are a great addition with any protein or salad! They are also a fantastic, raw on-the-go snack…I actually take them to munch on when I fly. They are best just lightly steamed and not overcooked and they are also a good source of protein...bonus!
Turnips are a root vegetables and have a white and purple skin. They have a similar texture to potatoes but are super low in kilojoules, higher in nutrients and surprisingly a great source of vitamin C! Their flavour is mild and I actually think they taste similar to cauliflower. They are great to use in place of potatoes (potatoes are not good for IBS and SIBO bellies) for mash, soups, stews, casseroles or you can just steam them and add to salads or mix with your favourite roast vegetables. FYI they don’t take as long to cook as potatoes so keep an eye on them.
I know what you’re thinking…rocket is lettuce, boring! Well it’s not just lettuce it’s a bitter green which makes it great for digestion and the liver, plus it has zero change of fermentation in the gut! Bitter foods like rocket stimulate the digestive enzymes and juices to help break down our food. So technically if you have IBS or SIBO rocket should be a staple for you! Add it to salads or drizzle it with lemon and olive oil and make it a superstar side to any meal!
Asparagus is another vegetable I’ve grown to love over time! Like many other veges it is best lightly steamed and not so great when overcooked as they become stringy. They make the perfect dinner addition to fish, salmon, chicken or grass-fed meats, or even with some lovely poached eggs for breakfast! They are packed full of vitamins and minerals and super low in kilojoules! Don’t eat too many in one meal though if you have a FODMAP intolerance, stick to 4 at a time. Snap those woody ends off and get steaming!
So technically you might not call chives a vegetable but rather a herb however I had to include it in my list and here’s why. If you have a FODMAP intolerance, IBS or SIBO then you would understand the pain of onion and also the pain of not being able to use them in cooking for their great flavour! Enter, chives! They make such a great alternative and add so much flavour to all those meals that call for onion like stir-fries, soups, stocks, casseroles, curries, homemade sauces or marinades. You can also spice up any meal for example omelettes, salads, savoury baking or mix them with some grass-fed butter and drizzle over your steamed vegetables…delish!
So there you have it…my favourite vegetables at the moment that are gentle on your belly if you suffer from IBS and SIBO like me. It's important to note that everyone is different and has an individual tolerance to foods so I encourage you to find what works best for you and make a list of your terrific ten!
If you are struggling with your digestive symptoms and health please contact me for a private nutrition consultation, I would love to help balance your belly and get your health back on track!