Previously, I wrote an article called “FODMAPS: Could Common Foods Be Harming Your Digestive Health?” I described how certain classes of foods, known as FODMAPs, are poorly digested in certain people and can lead to gas, bloating, pain and changes in stool frequency and consistency. Studies have shown that conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are associated with FODMAP intolerance, and that a low-FODMAP diet offers relief in a substantial percentage of people with IBS. (1) I also have information on what would make up a diverticulitis diet menu if you’ve suffered from an attack.
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Today I’ve got another tip for those of you with digestive issues, including IBS, constipation, diarrhea and acid reflux: eat fewer vegetables.
Yep, that’s right. Fewer vegetables.
Find out how following mainstream advice to eat six to eight servings of vegetables a day could hurt your gut.
Vegetables, Insoluble Fiber, and Soluble Fiber
Vegetables (as well as some fruits) are often high in insoluble fiber. While soluble fiber can be soothing for the gut, consuming large amounts of insoluble fiber when your gut is inflamed is a little bit like rubbing a wire brush against an open wound. (2, 3, 4) Ouch.
Vegetables that are high in insoluble fiber include:
- Greens (spinach, lettuce, kale, mesclun, collards, arugula, watercress, etc.)
- Whole peas, snow peas, snap peas, pea pods
- Green beans
- Kernel corn
- Bell peppers
- Onions, shallots, leeks, scallions, garlic
- Cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts
- Winter squash
- Summer squash (especially peeled)
- Starchy tubers (yams, sweet potatoes, potatoes)
But Won’t I Become Deficient in Nutrients If I Don’t Eat Tons of Veggies?
First of all, I’m not suggesting that you don’t eat these foods at all if you have digestive problems. I’m simply suggesting that you limit them. There are also steps you can take to make these foods more digestible and less likely to cause problems. They include:
- Never eat insoluble fiber foods on an empty stomach. Always eat them with other foods that contain soluble fiber.
- Remove the stems and peels (i.e. from broccoli, cauliflower, and winter greens) from veggies (and fruits) high in insoluble fiber.
- Dice, mash, chop, grate or blend high-insoluble fiber foods to make them easier to break down.
- Insoluble fiber foods are best eaten well-cooked: (5) Steamed thoroughly, boiled in soup, braised, etc; avoid consuming them in stir-fries and if you do eat them raw, prepare them as described in #3 above.
Second, although fruits and veggies are high in certain nutrients, animal products like meat, organ meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are as high and sometimes higher in those nutrients. For example, the chart below compares the micronutrient profile of beef liver and beef with blueberries and kale, two plant foods often referred to as being particularly nutrient-dense:
It’s also worth pointing out that most traditional cultures only ate a few vegetables and fruits that were available seasonally. They couldn’t walk into Whole Foods and buy every vegetable on the planet at every time of year.
I have nothing against vegetables. In fact, I like them quite a bit and I do think they’re beneficial.
Fermented Vegetables: A Better Alternative?
Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kim chi, sauerruben, and cortido are excellent alternatives for people with gut issues. First, the fermentation process “pre-digests” the vegetables and makes them easier to absorb. Second, fermented veggies contain probiotic microorganisms that help heal the gut.
Although sauerkraut and kim chi contain cabbage, which is high in insoluble fiber (and a FODMAP to boot), I’ve found that many patients with gut problems can tolerate it quite well. FODMAPs are sugars and sugar alcohols, and fermentation breaks down sugars. This is probably why fermented FODMAPs are better tolerated than non-fermented FODMAPs.
If you’re new to fermented vegetables, you have two options:
- Make them yourself. Check out this page for a great primer. It’s really quite easy, and cheap.
- You can buy them at a health food store. Make sure that it says “raw” on the jar, and they’re in the refrigerated section. The sauerkraut you can buy in the condiments section has been pasteurized and won’t have the same beneficial effect.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to health, and no two people should follow the exact same diet. Someone who’s experiencing more mild digestive issues might see a big difference after reducing the amount of vegetables they eat, while someone else with IBS, SIBO, and/or significant bloating might benefit from following a more restrictive approach, like a short-term, low-FODMAP diet.
But what’s the best way to determine which approach is right and support someone who’s trying to make major dietary changes and improve their health? I believe that a health coach, working together with a Functional Medicine practitioner, can offer the support needed to help clients alleviate their digestive discomfort and heal.
Health coaches are armed with knowledge. They understand how human motivation works, and they’re experts in the science behind behavior change. They are skilled at offering their clients the support they need to make changes—like adopting a low-FODMAP diet or implementing other treatment protocols from their doctor.
At the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program, we teach you how to offer the kind of support that helps clients reach their wellness goals. We also offer a solid background in Functional and ancestral health, so you understand the mechanisms behind a number of chronic illnesses and health conditions.
Learn more about what health coaches do from the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program.