Transitioning to a plant-based diet, especially when you have IBD, will require some planning.
I’m happy to share some tips from Registered Dietitian, Rachael McBride, who helped to contribute some valuable information in the Facing the Fear of Food article.
Q: Do you have any tips for someone who wants to transition to a vegan diet?
A: Don’t try to be perfect from day one! It’s okay to take your time.
In fact, trying to transition all at once might be unintentional sabotage. That’s a major change and it may leave you feeling overly limited in your food choices and physically awful. That tends to be the gist of most conversations that start with “I used to be vegan, but…”
If there are a few foods that you can confidently drop at once, go for it!
Another fairly easy step is to start replacing animal foods with their vegan substitutes. There are tons of plant-based options available now for milks, cheeses, margarine, dressings, cookie dough, snack foods, meats, and more.
Thanks to brands like Earth Balance, Gardein, Follow Your Heart, Daiya and Tofurky, being vegan is easier now than ever. Best of all they are starting to turn up in conventional grocery stores, so they aren’t too hard to find.
From there, have fun with it! Be creative. Start trying recipes you find online or pick up a vegan cookbook. Inevitably, you will be introduced to some dishes and ingredients you’ve never had before. You can also try your hand at re-creating old favorites.
After I went vegan, I basically learned how to bake because I really wanted a cinnamon roll (and we didn’t have Cinnaholic yet)!
Q: Ok, I’ve removed animal products from my diet. How do I make sure that I’m getting enough nutrition?
A: As important as it is to make sure you have foods you enjoy, it is equally or more important to make sure you still get adequate nutrition.
For those of us who are already at risk of nutritional deficiencies due to IBD, this is imperative. Without a bit of attention to nutrition, vegans can run low on protein, omega-3 fatty acid, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Thankfully, these are easy to get either through a well-planned diet, fortified foods, supplementation, or a combination of all three.
Of course, you can always work with a Registered Dietitian as well; we love this stuff.
Q: Do you have any tips for someone who has IBD?
A: Specifically for those with IBD and transitioning to veganism: now is a good time to keep a food journal.
For you, it is also particularly important to take it slow and make only one or two changes at a time. You may find that some of the plant-based substitutes or new foods may be triggering and you’ll need to be able to isolate what bothered you.
You may also be getting more fiber than your GI tract was accustomed to.
When I was diagnosed, I told one of the doctors I was vegan and she asked (very sympathetically), “How are you going to do that?” When flaring, you’ll have to make some adjustments, but if veganism is incredibly important to you it can be done (Note: there will be another post about fiber & flaring, so SUBSCRIBE to the VeganOstomy newsletter to know when that’s online).
Thankfully, vegan diets are often naturally lower in fat, which may help with gas and diarrhea for those with difficulty with fat absorption.
Above all, I want to again stress my very first point: don’t be perfect! If you are going vegan, it’s because it’s important to you for one reason or another. Honoring your values shouldn’t come at the expense of your physical or mental health. Start with what’s most important to you and go from there, but be sure you take care of yourself along the way.
Special thanks to Racheal McBride for her time and information.