Who doesn’t love beans, cooked to perfection in an aromatic gravy or adding texture and flavor to a salad? We’ll tell you who – someone who’s cramping with gas after indulging in a bean-rich dish. Many people simply don’t eat beans to avoid the digestive discomfort – not to mention embarrassment – of the flatulence that typically accompanies them. So what is it with beans and why do they produce gas? Should you banish them altogether from your diet or are there ways to get around their troublesome trait? Let’s find out.
Bacterial Fermentation Of Complex Sugars In Beans Causes Gas
Beans (and other members of the legume family like peas and lentils) contain complex sugars or oligosaccharides such as raffinose and stachyose. The enzymes in our body are incapable of digesting these sugars. So instead of being broken down by our stomach or small intestine and absorbed by the body, these oligosaccharides travel undigested to the large intestine. When these starches reach the large intestine, healthy gut bacteria that live there begin to work on them in a process called bacterial fermentation. Carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane gases are released as byproducts during this process. These, in turn, are responsible for symptoms ranging from gas, bloating, nausea, and cramps to diarrhea and – ugh! – social embarrassment.1 2
Some Kinds Of Beans Produce More Gas Than Others
All beans, you see, aren’t created equal. When it comes to gas, some beans seem to produce more of it than others. Bean varieties that are highest in oligosaccharides include soybeans, navy beans, and lima beans. These tend to have the most “disagreeable” effect on your stomach. Garbanzo, kidney, white, black beans and chickpeas come next with average amounts. Beans that have comparatively less oligosaccharides include mung beans, black-eyed peas, split peas, and adzuki. So if you’re prone to gas, opt for the ones that are lowest in these sugars.3
Canned Vs. Dried
While a few varieties of beans like fava or lima are available fresh, the broadest selection of beans is available in dried form, followed by canned form. So your choice of beans will mostly boil down to what is available in canned or dried form.
Canned beans contain less of the offending sugars and are convenient once in a while if you have a hectic routine. Do bear in mind though that compared to canned beans, cooked dried beans are more energy dense and loaded with a higher degree of nutrients like protein, iron, potassium, magnesium, and fiber. The sodium content in canned beans is also a cause for concern – too much of it and you’re looking at problems like high blood pressure and heart disease. And finally, dried beans are much easier on your wallet – all good reasons to stick to dried beans for regular consumption and using canned ones as an occasional alternative.4 5
Your Constitution Plays A Role Too
Besides the fact that some bean varieties seem to produce more gas than others, your individual constitution also plays a role in how the digestive system processes beans. So, you and your partner may eat the same amount of beans cooked the same way and still have variations in gassy episodes! People with poor intestinal function or who normally grapple with digestive problems like constipation or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may have a rougher time dealing with beans. The bacterial balance in your gut may also play a role – too much or too little of some gut bacterial species may cause more gas.6
Your body’s reaction to beans will also depend on how accustomed you are to a high-fiber diet. If fiber isn’t a regular part of your meals, your body has to adjust to the intake when you do have it. As a result, you can expect some digestive discomfort, including gas.7 The easiest way to get around this is to incorporate fiber-rich foods into your meals. As one study found, over 70% of the participants on a bean-rich diet who experienced flatulence initially reported it decreased considerably by week 2 and 3 of regular bean consumption.8
Have beans at least a couple of times a week to get your body used to it. Don’t just have a large quantity in one sitting, though. You need to up the fiber intake gradually to allow your body to recalibrate. So focus on small portions, start with one serving a week, and work your way up to at least three or more servings a week. You will eventually see less of these problems.9 Incidentally, the study above also showed that the mere anticipation of developing gas from beans seemed to influence some people’s perception of it. We may, often, be exaggerating the connection between beans and flatulence in our head, almost expecting a reaction. So don’t wish the gas into your tummy by anticipating or imagining it!10
Why You Must Still Incorporate Beans Into Your Meals
While a gassy explosion when you eat beans can seem like a deal breaker, there are several reasons to persist and make beans an integral part of your diet. As the study we just cited concluded, the benefits of eating nutrient-rich beans far outweighs its gas-producing downside.
- Beans are an excellent source of protein, iron, and fiber. By cooking beans, you even increase the amount of fiber in them.
- If you’re vegetarian or vegan, this is the easiest and most nutritious way to meet your protein requirements. Even otherwise, beans is a more nutritious option than red meat to meet your protein needs and lower the risk of certain diseases like cardiovascular problems and even cancer.11
- They are economical and come in a wide variety of tastes and textures.
- They are incredibly versatile and can be incorporated into a range of dishes – think pastas, salads, soups, and burritos. You can even substitute meat with cooked and ground lentils for a juicy veggie burger.
- Beans are fat-free and can help regulate your cholesterol levels – the famed, heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet includes several types of beans.
- Including beans consistently in your diet may actually boost the good bacteria in your intestine.
- The starches in beans digest slowly and are, hence, a good source of nutrition for diabetics.
- According to ayurveda, legumes, the plant family that includes beans, peas, and lentils, nourish and help build the seven dhatus or body tissues, in particular, muscle tissue. These have an especially important role in vegetarian diets.
Bottom line: If you’re looking to switch to a healthier diet that emphasizes vegetarian products over meat and dairy, don’t give up on beans. Rather than eliminating these nutritional powerhouses from your diet, explore methods to reduce the gas they produce. Also, like we said earlier, add bean dishes gradually to your diet and allow your body time to get used to them.12 13 14
Eliminate Gas From Beans By Cooking It Right
How you treat your beans before eating them matters! One study found that by boiling unsoaked beans or by soaking beans, discarding the soaking water, and then cooking the beans, you can reduce the oligosaccharide content of the beans by as much as 76%. Sprouted beans also have fewer of these gas-producing carbs so you could soak your beans and then have the germinated beans. Cooking in water with a more alkaline pH (say by adding a pinch of baking soda) also can reduce oligosaccharide content.15
The simplest trick to cooking a gas-free bean dish is pre-soaking. Here are some ways to do this:
Cold Soak: Rinse beans well and cover with water to soak overnight (or 8 hours). Beans that soak for longer periods produce smaller amounts of gas. Before cooking, drain out the water, rinse well with cool, fresh water. While the long soak reduces gas, this method requires planning ahead.
Hot Soak: In a large pot, place 2 cups of beans and add 8 cups water. Bring water to the boil and allow to boil for 2–3 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and open after a while (you can even let it sit for 3–4 hours). Drain the soaking water and rinse beans with cool water. Now cook with fresh water. The “hot soak” method also reduces gas-producing compounds, aside from cutting cooking time.
Thorough Rinse: Rinsing the beans thoroughly and discarding the water is important whether you decide to soak first or boil it straight. Much of the gas-producing compounds get released into the soaking/cooking water. Replace this with fresh water several times while rinsing to further reduce gas from dried beans. Even when you use canned beans, remember to drain the water in the can and then rinse the beans well in a colander. Draining the water serves a dual purpose – it cuts down the gas-producing elements and reduces sodium by 41%.16 17 18
Use Carminative Herbs And Spices To Reduce Gas
A carminative herb or spice, when used in cooking, helps prevent gas formation in the digestive system or expels gas from it. Carminatives contain camphor, eugenol, menthol, thymol, and carvone, compounds that help to boost the digestive activity and minimize gas. Common spices and herbs with these compounds are allspice, caraway, cloves, fennel, dill, sage, and thyme. Herbs from the mint family (peppermint, spearmint, marjoram, lemon balm) and carrot family (parsley and celery among others) are also well known for their carminative properties.19 20
Asafetida, cumin seeds, black pepper, and fresh ginger are spices typically used with beans in Indian cuisine. A traditional Chinese method suggests adding wormwood to the soaking water to expel gas. The Mexicans cook beans with epazote or wormseed to get rid of flatus while an old Appalachian practice is to cook beans with a small, whole carrot.
Carminatives In Ayurveda
Ayurveda categorizes carminatives into “heating” and “cooling” types. Both categories normalize the action of vata dosha, the humor which, according to ayurveda, governs movement of all kinds in our bodies, including blood circulation and elimination of waste. You can use both kinds with beans to minimize gas.
- Heating carminatives are pungent in flavor and promote digestion and absorption but should be used in moderation. Examples: Carom seeds, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, rosemary, turmeric are all pungent spices that aid digestion and absorption.
- Cooling carminatives that are used widely in Indian cooking are cumin, coriander, and fennel, either as spice powders or whole spices to flavor food.21
Get the health benefits of beans by following these simple tips and, soon, you may forget that they ever troubled you. We leave you with the wisdom of Julia Child: “Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”
|↑1, ↑13||Stachyose. ScienceDirect.|
|↑2, ↑7, ↑8||Winham, Donna M., and Andrea M. Hutchins. “Perceptions of flatulence from bean consumption among adults in 3 feeding studies.” Nutrition journal 10, no. 1 (2011): 128.|
|↑3||Dragonwagon Crescent. Bean By Bean: A Cookbook. Workman Publishing. 2012|
|↑4, ↑16||Cooking with Dry Beans. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.|
|↑5||Zanovec, Michael., Carol E. O’ Neil, Theresa A. Nicklas. “Comparison of Nutrient Density and Nutrient-to-Cost Between Cooked and Canned Beans.” Scientific Research Vol. 2 No.2. April 2011.|
|↑6||Preventing gas and flatulence. Harvard Health.|
|↑9||Palmer, Sharon. The Plant-powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Optimal Health, Beginning Today. Workman Publishing, 2012.|
|↑10||Perceptions of flatulence from bean consumption among adults in 3 feeding studies. Nutrition journal 10, no. 1 (2011): 128.|
|↑11||Protein. Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.|
|↑12||Diekman, Connie and Sam Sotiropoulos. The Everything Mediterranean Diet Book. Simon & Schuster. 2010.|
|↑14||Magical Beans.Boston University.|
|↑15||Messina, Virginia. “Nutritional and health benefits of dried beans.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 100, no. Supplement 1 (2014): 437S-442S.|
|↑17||Zanovec, Michael., Carol E. O’ Neil, Theresa A. Nicklas. “Comparison of Nutrient Density and Nutrient-to-Cost Between Cooked and Canned Beans.” Scientific Research Vol. 2 No.2. April 2011.|
|↑18||All About Beans Nutrition, Health Benefits, Preparation and Use in Menus. North Dakota State University.|
|↑19||CARMINATIVE .School eBook Library.|
|↑20||Duke, James A. The Green Pharmacy: Discoveries In Herbal Remedies For Common Diseases. Rodale. 1997.|
|↑21||Dass, Vishnu. Ayurvedic Herbology. Lotus Press. 2013.|