The 10 Best Plant-Based Proteins for a Sensitive Stomach


Navigating healthy eating can be a real challenge if you consider yourself a member of the “sensitive stomach” club. Every dining experience, party, and catered event can be riddled with anxiety about whether the food served (or even the coffee offered) will cause a flare of pain or other unpleasant symptoms.

But these struggles can be intensified if you follow a plant-based diet, as some potentially triggering foods include many of the major vegan protein sources, which makes knowing the best plant-based proteins for a sensitive stomach all the more important. As if meeting your protein needs as a vegan wasnโ€™t challenging enoughโ€ฆ.

However, many different protein-rich vegan foods are less likely to spark unwanted symptoms in those who have sensitive stomachs.

What constitutes a โ€˜sensitive stomachโ€™?

โ€œThe term โ€˜sensitive stomachโ€™ is commonly used when a person often experiences unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation that are triggered by foods,โ€ explains Bianca Tamburello, RDN, a registered dietitian at FRESH Communications. Other symptoms could include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, indigestion, heartburn, and acid reflux.

Many different circumstances could cause these symptoms. โ€œSome people have a sensitive stomach thatโ€™s easily upset while others may have a diagnosable GI problem, like irritable bowel syndrome for example,โ€ says Tamburello. Other diagnoses that could lend to sensitive stomach symptoms include inflammatory bowel disease, gastroparesis, celiac disease, or food allergies and sensitivities.

Determining sensitive stomach triggers

Because of this myriad of potential sources, attempting to discover the root cause of sensitive stomach symptoms can be a frustrating process. While certain tips like drinking more water, reducing stress, eating slower, and cutting down on caffeine consumption can all be beneficial, the most effective way to reduce or halt symptoms is usually to try and determine oneโ€™s trigger foods.

Triggers can be as straightforward as a single cause, like spicy foods or cashews, or as complex as entire groups of carbohydrates. The low-FODMAP diet is a common strategy for many to determine the origin of their sensitive stomach symptoms. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyolsโ€”which are different types of carbohydrates identified as being more likely to cause unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms in some people.

Unfortunately, many of the best sources of plant-based protein land high on the list of FODMAP-rich foods like wheat, legumes including beans, peas, and lentils, and certain higher protein vegetables like broccoli and artichoke. โ€œLegumes, for example, are nutrient-dense, packed with fiber and protein but can be hard to digest, especially during stomach upset,โ€ Tamburello says.

The importance of protein

Protein is a super important component to a healthy balanced diet, as you may imagine. โ€œProtein is crucial for normal body functions and plays a role in transporting oxygen throughout the body. In addition to muscle, our skin, bones, and hair are all made up of protein,โ€ Tamburello explains. Protein is also an important component of basically every other vital structure in the body you can think of.

In terms of how much protein we need to be consuming on a daily basis, the number can vary greatly depending on age, height, weight, and activity level. While 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is the typical go-to equation for determining the average personโ€™s protein needs, โ€œthe U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that on average, women need about 46 grams of protein and men need about 56 grams of protein per day,โ€ says Tamburello.

10 plant-based proteins for a sensitive stomach

So, where does it leave plant-based eaters with sensitive stomachs in terms of protein options? While you should always seek medical advice about chronic sensitive stomach symptoms prior to making lifestyle changes, here are 10 great plant-based protein options that may be less triggering for those who struggle with GI concerns.

Oats

While not often thought of as a good source of protein, oats are actually packed with the macronutrient. In fact, in one cup of cooked whole grain oats there are six grams of protein, helping you to meet your daily goals. Oats are delicious served simply as hot cereal in the morning, cold overnight oats from the fridge, or ground up and used in place of wheat flour in an array of baked goods.

Nut butter

โ€œDepending on your symptoms, nut butters, like peanut butter, may also be a good choice,โ€ says Tamburello. Peanut butter, for example, contains seven grams of protein in just two tablespoons. Nut butters are the perfect smoothie, toast, oatmeal, and baked good additions, while also serving as a delicious dip for cut fruit.

Nutritional yeast

Lovingly called โ€œnootchโ€ by fans of the product, nutritional yeast is often utilized by plant-based eaters (and many omnivores) as a cheese substitute. But aside from its tasty flavor, itโ€™s actually a nutritional powerhouse, offering notable amounts of zinc, selenium, B vitamins like B12, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. Nutritional yeast is also an excellent source of complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids needed by the body to reap the full benefits of protein. In just under two tablespoons of nutritional yeast, youโ€™ll find an impressive eight grams of protein.

Soy products

While soybeans in their whole form can be irritating for some people with sensitive stomachs, certain soy products may be better tolerated. โ€œOptions such as tofu (10 grams of protein in half a cup) and soy milk (eight grams of protein in 1 cup) are high in protein but low in fiber and easy to digest,โ€ offers Tamburello. Itโ€™s also an added bonus that all soy products are complete proteins, too.

Hemp hearts

Another complete protein, hemp hearts (or hemp seeds) are a great high-protein addition for those with a sensitive stomach. With nine grams of protein in just three tablespoons, these tiny seeds can seamlessly (and unnoticeably) be added to smoothies, salads, and dressings.

Brown rice

โ€œWhole grains offer a fair amount of protein and can be easier to digest than legumes,โ€ says Tamburello. And brown rice is one whole grain that can be particularly soothing for a sensitive stomach while also providing 5.5 grams of protein per cup.

Spirulina

Thanks to their impressive health benefits, seaweed products have soared in popularity over the past few years, especially the blue-green algae commonly known as spirulina. This complete protein offers a super impressive eight grams of protein in just two tablespoons. Spirulina should be a safe addition for most people with sensitive stomachs, particularly because it almost always comes in powdered form, making digestion even easier.

Quinoa

Yet another complete plant-based protein that should fare well for many sensitive stomachs. Though technically a seed, quinoa is often grouped in with the whole grains as it cooks up very similarly and can be used in many of the same culinary applications. In one cup cooked youโ€™ll be getting around eight grams of protein, alongside plenty of fiber and micronutrients like iron, folate, potassium, magnesium, and plant compounds.

Chia seeds

Similarly to hemp hearts, chia seeds are another minimally irritating protein-rich option for those with sensitive tummies (flax seeds would also fit within this criteria). It, too, is a complete protein and offers five grams in two to three tablespoons, ready to be added to chia pudding, smoothies, oatmeal, grain bowls, baked goods, and more.

Millet

An often-forgotten gluten-free ancient grain, millet is not only delicious but super nutritious as an excellent source of fiber, B vitamins, plenty of minerals, and (unsurprisingly) protein. One cup cooked contains a noteworthy six grams of protein and makes for a delicious rice or quinoa substitute in most dishes.



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