Have you heard of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? Or maybe you are an IBS warrior like me, who fights against this unpleasant digestive condition that can turn the delicious food we love into our enemy, giving us a range of uncomfortable and often embarrassing issues.
We struggle with many different and varying gut-related problems and nutritional deficiencies, but one of the biggies is our protein intake – or lack thereof. Different IBS warriors are able to digest different forms of protein. There is no set rule. Whey protein could react wonderfully with one person’s gut, but horribly with another.
For me, pea protein has become my saviour. We will explore something called the FODMAP diet in a bit more detail a little later on, but it was established to help IBS warriors pin-point their triggers, and to remove the offending foods from their diets.
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Monash University in Australia, who pioneered this diet, have established that pea protein is low FODMAP, and therefore should be safe to consume for most people with IBS. This alone makes it a wonderful, wonderful thing.
What is IBS and its symptoms?
IBS is a common gut condition (I did not realise just how common it was until I began my IBS journey) that causes a range of uncomfortable symptoms. We struggle with tummy pain, bloating, wind, fatigue and changeable bowel habits that see our bodies switch between diarrhoea and constipation.
Do we follow a specific diet?
As I mentioned before, the FODMAP diet can be followed to pinpoint what makes our guts angry and to reduce symptoms. We follow a dietician’s plan to eliminate certain food groups until we know what works and what doesn’t. You can read more and experiment yourself by downloading the excellent Monash University Low FODMAP Diet App.
The challenges of getting enough protein
Often we need to reduce our intake of nuts, legumes and some meats as they are harder to digest, which removes a vital source of additional protein from our diets.
Nuts are easier to digest when soaked and maybe good for some when eaten in small quantities and/or in the form of butter or milk.
White meat is usually fine, however red meat is another common IBS trigger, while eggs can be excellent for some and bad for others. It really is a lottery with IBS.
The above are all amazing sources of protein however they often need to be avoided or limited by those with sensitive stomachs.
And this is where protein powder comes in very handy indeed!
How can protein powder help?
The most important thing that an IBS warrior looks for is... SYMPTOM-FREE food! As much as protein powder helps us maintain a healthy weight, build lean muscle and increase recovery times, this is not as important to us as a meal that will not cause us pain.
Protein powder is often a safer option than the above-mentioned food sources, so we need to consider…
What protein powders are suitable for IBS?
There are plant-based proteins as well as animal-based, so there are plenty of choices on the market. This can be overwhelming for the first-time protein buyer. The animal-based protein powders, especially whey protein, maybe a good fit for IBS warriors who can tolerate dairy products. In most cases, however, plant-based proteins are a better choice.
So, let’s have a closer look at the common types:
- Pea: You may be a little bit confused here as peas are high FODMAP and are usually a trigger for IBS, but here is the good news! The protein that is isolated from peas is low FODMAP and should be safe to consume.
- Brown rice: A little low on certain amino acids for building the big muscles, but it is considered low FODMAP.
- Egg: This is another safe option but is it necessary to consume egg protein if you can tolerate eggs? Eggs are low FODMAP and most of the time is good for IBS.
- Hemp: Although hemp protein has not yet been tested as low FODMAP, it can be beneficial for some IBS warriors who are able to digest it.
- Soy: This is a tricky one as many soy products can be consumed on the low FODMAP diet, but not all of them.
What should you watch out for?
Preservatives, additives and other ingredients. Preferably you want to choose a protein powder that is as natural as can be. The safest is to buy one with the shortest list of ingredients and check one-by-one if these are good for your tummy. Look for natural sweeteners such as stevia, or organically sourced produce like vanilla beans and the cacao fruit.
When to use protein powder?
The best time is after exercise, as this will promote lean muscle growth and increase your recovery times, but you can have a protein fix any time you like, whether it be as a meal replacement, or just to stave off the hunger for a while with something that won’t make you sick.
How to use protein powder when you have IBS?
There are so many wonderful ways; in a smoothie, as a pudding, as an addition to milk and over your favourite cereal, in baking.. the list is as long as your imagination.
Often the simplest recipes are the best, so here is one of my favourite smoothie blends:
- 2 scoops of Go Good Organic Vanilla Pea Protein Isolate
- 1 small banana
- ½ cup oats (preferably cooked or soaked overnight, so that it is easier to digest)
- 1 cup of almond milk
- Pinch (or two) of cinnamon powder
You may omit oats as this blend tastes delicious with or without them. If you have a sweet tooth, or if your banana is not very ripe, you may want to sweeten your smoothie with either honey, maple syrup or coconut sugar, depending on your taste, preference and tolerances! Happy sipping!