If you have trouble digesting beans, these 3 tips may be just what you need to start tolerating them better.
If you’re like a lot of people, you may not digest beans very well. I can totally relate here — I avoided beans for a very long time due to my struggles with IBS. Along with many different kinds of foods, I simply couldn’t tolerate them. They left me extremely bloated, gassy, and sometimes running to the toilet. Not fun.
If beans can cause us so much distress, why bother eating them? When I ate a paleo diet, legumes were the devil to me. Gas-forming oligosaccharides, lectins, anti-nutrients… they seemed like a food that we weren’t designed to eat. However, beans are actually very nutritious and beneficial for not only the health of our body, but the health of our gut, when prepared properly.
Health Benefits of Beans
Studies show that a high intake of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts and seeds are linked to significantly lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. (1)
Beans contain B vitamins, minerals like iron and magnesium, plant-based protein, complex carbohydrates and prebiotic fibre that fuels the friendly bacteria in our gut. A healthy, robust microbiome is essential for preventing numerous diseases, supporting the immune system, reducing food allergies and sensitivities, and experiencing good digestion overall.
Plus, beans are pretty inexpensive to boot and if you buy them dried, are a great long-lasting pantry staple.
What makes beans hard to digest?
So what’s the deal with beans? Why can they make us so gassy?
Beans contain a group of sugars called oligosaccharides that are highly fermentable in our colon (also known as FODMAPs). This means that the bacteria in our gut “feed” off of these sugars. When they feed off of them, they produce gases as a result. This is completely normal and actually beneficial for us since those same friendly gut bacteria also produce essential nutrients as a byproduct of fermentation that supports the integrity of our gut.
But understandably, we don’t want to be keeled over with gas pains every time we eat beans. If you’re having trouble digesting them, here are a few things you can do to start tolerating them better.
3 Ways to Digest Beans Better
When using dried beans, it’s important to soak them for a few hours or overnight (depending on the bean; 8 hours is usually sufficient). Once soaked, strain and rinse before cooking. This allows much of the water-soluble gas-forming polysaccharides (sugars) to leach out into the water (which you’ll discard), enhancing your ability to digest them. It also reduces their lectin content which have anti-nutrient properties that can interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients. Soaking is a simple, straightforward way to improve the digestibility of beans.
If you want to get extra fancy, you could take this another step and wait for them to start sprouting. Sprouting occurs when the bean starts germinating and growing small shoots. This typically takes a few days but is very easy to do. After soaking overnight, simply strain, and then rinse twice per day, covering with a clean tea towel or cheesecloth. Once their shoots appear and are about 1/2 inch long, you’re ready to prepare and eat them as usual.
2. Buy Them Canned
Canned beans tend to be better digested than dried beans for the same reason as above: their gas-forming sugars are leached out into the water they’re canned in. Buying your beans canned is a convenient way to eat pre-soaked beans in a pinch. Simply rinse and strain before eating.
3. Reduce Your Portion Size
Reducing your portion size is an easy way to start tolerating beans better, while also discovering what quantity works best for your body. By reducing the amount that you eat in a sitting, you’re reducing the amount of those fermentable sugars that your gut bacteria gobble up. You can start by eating 1/3 of a regular serving and gauging if that helps. Then, work towards increasing your consumption of them gradually.
Some beans that can be extra-easy to tolerate are chickpeas and lentils. Give those a try first along with the tips shared today and see if that helps!
If you need more help improving your digestion, check out my 4-week Digestive Wellness Program where we dive deeper into these topics. I promise there is hope for you to tolerate foods better. I’ve been through it myself!
I’d love to know: do you tolerate beans well, or do you have trouble digesting them?