How to eat plant foods in spite of GI issues

As a huge proponent of the power of food, I was invigorated by watching a short clip from this year’s 2015 International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine featuring snippets of various world-renowned doctors stressing the importance of dietary and lifestyle modifications for beating heart disease, a killer of nearly 800,000 Americans per year.

Specifically, they recommend that people adopt a plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. As most of us know by now, plant foods are jam-packed with essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that work together to protect us from chronic disease.

Fortunately, this recommendation is consistent with what nutritionists have been promoting for a long time. Unfortunately, eating a variety of plant foods is easier said than done for many people with gastrointestinal issues.

Plants have varying amounts of dietary fiber, also known as roughage. Fiber is an undigested carbohydrate meaning that we don’t have the necessary tools to break it down so it travels throughout the GI tract more or less intact, which can be particularly bothersome for people with diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping, diverticulitis, slowed gastric emptying, bowel urgency, history or risk of bowel obstructions, or active IBD.

In fact, many people with certain GI issues are specifically instructed by their physicians to avoid fruits and vegetables.

Let’s set the record straight. Most people on a low fiber/roughage diet can tolerate a variety of plant foods provided the rough fiber is removed or broken down (predigested) outside of the body, such as by cooking, blending, juicing, or removing the rough skins or seeds.

Here are a few specific tips for including plant foods on a low fiber diet:

  • Blend fruits and vegetables to make a smoothie or pureed soup
  • Choose smooth nut butters instead of nuts (e.g. almond butter)
  • Peel fruits and vegetables (e.g. peeled apple)
  • Try a vegetable juice
  • Cook vegetables until they’re very soft (a crock pot is helpful)
  • Top pasta with colorful pestos and pureed vegetable sauces

DISCLAIMER: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have related to your condition or your treatment plan.

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