Happy Tummy Beans: 5 Tricks for Degassing and Enjoying Beans
From black bean chili to hearty stews to tasty tostadas, it's hard to go through life without enjoying beans! But still, those delicious legumes can wage an unpleasant war in our bellies. Let's take a look at why this discomfort happens and 5 ways to make beans more digestible and enjoyable for you... and everyone around you!
Why do beans cause gas, bloating, cramping and indigestion for so many of us? It's annoying, embarrassing and uncomfortable! If you have not been in this special club, then congratulations, my friend. Eat up and enjoy this nutritious, delicious and convenient food!
The rest of us: read on if you want the low-down on how to reduce unpleasant digestive problems associated with beans!
The Magical Fruit!
Beans are so easy eat, but, for many of us, soooo hard to digest! Why must this be???
First off, this convenient and delicious food is not only loaded with fiber, starch and nutrients, but also has complex sugars that are hard on our digestion. In fact, these sugars, known as oligosaccharides, can't be broken down by our intestinal enzymes like most foods can.
Instead these sugars, found in beans and other foods like wheat and some veggies (such as garlic and artichokes), cruise on down to our large intestines where they become a tasty treat for our intestinal bacteria. Yum! And that's where the gas begins.
The gas, bloating and discomfort "down there" is a byproduct of fermentation in our guts. This may not be a problem for some people since gut bacteria ARE part of a healthy microbiome -- the happy community of microorganisms living inside and outside our bodies. In fact, our good gut bacteria do a lot to support our immune system, a healthy metabolism and even our brain function.
But when we are out of balance in our digestion and in healthy vs. unhealthy gut bacteria (a.k.a. dysbiosis), the already hard-to-digest beans can set us over the edge leading to the uncomfortable bloating, room-clearing farts and sudden trips to the bathroom.
Also, the high fiber content in beans can be another challenge for our digestion. That's why proper preparation and mindful eating of beans is going to be key for your maximum enjoyment of this ancient and healthy food.
Anti-Nutrients: Phytates and Lectins
Before we get on with the degassing process, let's address the another challenge to bean digestion: anti-nutrients.
Say what??? You may or may not have heard the buzzword "anti-nutrient" floating around the health food galaxy. These are elements of plants and animals that help them defend against predators, support nutrient uptake and more.
For example, the anti-nutrient known as oxalate found in your spinach and Swiss chard acts as a natural repellent against grazing animals as well as a providing calcium regulation for the plant. How nice!
Phytates or phytic acid, found in nuts and seeds as well as beans, help these plants store the mineral phosphorous. These "anti-nutrients" are needed for plant health and survival.
The trouble comes when these anti-nutrients interfere with human gut activity and mineral absorption. Phytates, with their high phosphorous content, are thought to disrupt our absorption of other key minerals like iron, zinc and calcium.
Additionally, there is another class of anti-nutrients found in beans capable of inducing gut chaos: LECTINS!
Studies have shown that lectins can also disrupt the proper absorption of key minerals like calcium, zinc, iron and phosphorous -- think: massive nutrient robbery! Not only this, lectins can also bind to parts of our intestinal tracts wreaking havoc with nutrient absorption and gut bacteria. There is good reason we don't eat beans raw (and can't), but the way you cook them is critical to deactivating some of these gut busting anti-nutrients and gaining some serious benefits.
Your 5 tips will not only address how to reduce the phytic acid and lectin content of your frijoles, but also make those tough gas-inducing sugars easier to digest.
But first, let's talk briefly about the amazing health benefits of eating beans. After all the downsides, we need some good news!
Bean Benefits: Longevity, Heart Health and More!
You may have heard about the Blue Zones -- hot spots across the globe where people are living longer than average. A LOT longer.
In most of those places, beans are a major dietary staple and have been for ages. This has led many to believe beans are associated with longevity. For example in Sardinia, Greece, where many citizens live over 100 years of age, they regularly consume garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, and lentils. In the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica residents, including many centenarians, enjoy plenty of rice and beans as do the Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda.
And it's not just in the Blue Zones. There have been many fascinating studies from all over the world associating beans with positive health outcomes and longevity. In this research, bean consumption has been correlated with health benefits such as:
A significantly lower risk of heart disease
A decrease in total and LDL cholesterol
Regulation of blood sugar and diabetes
Reduced risk of cancer
Management of obesity and weight loss
An increase in antioxidants (read: lower overall disease risk!)
Beans are also rich in life-giving micronutrients like potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and zinc as well as the amino acid lysine, which is thought to have anti-viral and anti-cancer effects.
Lastly, beans are a GREAT source of fiber. And fiber is a wonderful and easy way to detoxify your body regularly by just using food. Fiber stimulates optimal gut, liver and kidney function and helps various toxins move out of your body and down the toilet. Adios!
So how can we prepare this incredible superfood to maximize nutrient-density and minimize insufferable gas?
This can be done in 5 key steps!
5 Ways to Avoid Gas with Beans: Let's Do This!
You may already know about soaking beans, but doing it properly is key if you want to maximize your nutrition and digestion. This takes a bit of planning, but once you do it, you'll see it's pretty darn simple and totally worthwhile!
So far, I have tried this with pintos, black beans and chickpeas. I hope to try more soon. Let me know in the comments below if you try it and with which beans and how it works!
The first step is the MOST critical for degassing, so be sure to read each part:
Step 1: The 24-Hour Salty Bicarb Soak
There is definitely more than one way to soak beans, but I find soaking them for at least 24-hours in a brine of salt water and baking soda to be the most effective for making the softest, creamiest, tastiest and most digestible beans. Here are the steps to this method:
Sort first: Spread dried beans out on a kitchen towel and remove by hand any small rocks, dirt, straw or defective looking beans (half beans are okay). A nice activity for the kiddos!
Rinse or skip: If your beans are dusty or dirty (meaning they are probably fresh and authentic) rinse them well in a colander. If they are clean and shiny you can skip this step.
Add salt to your soaking water: YESSS!!! You can put to rest the myth about salt making beans tough. The salty water helps the nutritious mineral content of beans stay inside the legumes and not leech out into the water and helps soften up the hard shells. You will find this makes for very soft beans. According to Cook's Illustrated, the measurement for 1 pound of dried beans is 3 tablespoons of salt in 4 quarts of cold water. I use warm water to speed up the process and I don't measure the salt exactly and don't use quite that much. Do what makes sense to you. I use pink Himalayan salt or sea salt and not refined table salt which has questionable additives and sugar.
Add baking soda: Add a big pinch and up to a teaspoon of baking soda to your salty soaking water and stir it all up. Add your beans so that there is about 5-6 inches of water above the bean line. The beans will begin absorbing water so this is important -- add more H2O if needed.
Rinse and repeat: If possible, at the midpoint in your 24-hour soak, rinse the beans in your colander, refresh the water, and repeat these last 2 steps with salt and baking soda. However, if you forget or are too tired, lazy or spaced out, they will still come out fine. I speak from experience:).
Final rinse: This part is very important to minimize those lectins and phytates and gas-producing sugars. Rinse VERY WELL after 24 hours and put in your Instant Pot or pressure cooker. Your beans are ready to roll.
Step 2: Pressure Cook in Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker
Cooking the beans under pressure versus on the stove top (which I did for years) makes a huge difference in locking in flavor, nutritional value and digestibility. I have only done this specific method in my Instant Pot and not a regular pressure cooker. I believe the timing for both a pressure cooker and Instant Pot should be the same, but for your safety, please research the conversion if you are unsure. However -- and this is key -- I also do a one hour finish on the stovetop to reduce the water content and increase the creaminess.
Once your well-soaked, clean beans are in the Instant Pot or pressure cooker, fill water to the max line. Unless you are only cooking a small amount of beans, this should work well. Otherwise just fill the pot with water 5-6 inches above the bean line (don't exceed max fill line).
Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of olive oil or avocado oil. I'm not kidding here. I learned this from my mom -- the best bean maker in the universe -- and it makes your beans crazy creamy. Try it. See how you like it.
Set your Instant Pot to pressure cook for 4 hours.
Allow for a natural, slow release.
Transfer everything (carefully) to a stovetop pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a medium simmer and add plenty of salt (a few big pinches or shakes should do, or you can salt to taste). Stir often to prevent sticking to bottom or clumping.
Cook for one hour, or however long it takes to reduce the water and get them as creamy as you like them. I like my beans a bit soupy with the bean water about the thickness of maple syrup. Maybe a tad thinner.
Enjoy some hot beans with your meal of choice. Once cool, store and freeze some in glass jars or containers. I'll tell you why below -- rotation, and not overloading on beans meal after meal, is VERY helpful for optimal digestion.
Step 3: Eat in Rotation
As stated throughout this post, beans are high in fiber. This alone can be hard on your GI tract. If you haven't been eating lots of beans lately, I highly recommend eating these in small portions and in rotation only every 3-4 days. This strategy gives your body a chance to metabolize all the fiber and other complex components discussed above (oligosaccharides, phytates and lectins), and then recover before doing it again.
I do this with a lot of foods I am sensitive to and it seems to help my body clear out hard to process compounds -- like sulfur and histamine-- if I eat things every 4 days or so rather than day after day.
Your body will let you know (ahem, gas and bloating) if you are not ready, or if you have overdosed on beans by eating them for too many days in a row. If so, just take a break for a few days and try again.
Step 4: Eat with Fermented Food or Fresh Herbs
Try enjoying your beans with a fermented food to support your healthy gut bacteria and digestive tract. Before eating a tostada bowl, chili or bean soup, I like to "pre-load" my system with a few tablespoons of sauerkraut as an appetizer -- great for stimulating natural digestive enzymes. I have found this step to be a game changer for happy tummy beans (unless you are extremely histamine intolerant -- I am fairly histamine intolerant so I only eat fermented foods in rotation every few days). Fresh herbs eaten with your beans can also be a helpful natural digestive aid. I love beans with lots of cilantro and lime! Bean soups are great with lots of fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon.
Step 5: Take a Digestive Enzyme
If ever there was a good occasion to take a digestive enzyme to support your GI tract, this is it! I like this one, called Veganzymes by Global Healing Center. It is strong and made with very clean ingredients. It contains the enzyme alpha-galactosidase which breaks down the complex carbohydrates in beans into simpler sugars making them easier to digest. It's not just for vegans, but named this because it's made with pristine, vegan ingredients. It includes enzymes to digest everything you can think of including animal protein.
I also love this milder option called Plant Enzyme Digestive Formula by Designs for Health which contains a broad spectrum of enzymes including alpha-galactosidase. You can also search for another enzyme of your choice, but be sure to read up on where and how they are made. Be sure to get a high-quality digestive enzyme.
What about you? Do you soak your beans or have a good method that works? Have an enzyme or trick you love for enjoying beans? Gonna try this? Let me know in the comments below! I'd love to hear your thoughts!
You can also tag me @nourishandcherish.ntp if you want to share any photos!
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About the Author
Roxie Daggett is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) with a virtual practice in Sedona, Arizona. Her passions include studying nutritional research pertaining to memory, brain health, genes and longevity. When she is not geeking out on nutrition she enjoys messing around in the kitchen with old world recipes, reading and hearing stories from elders and farmers about traditional food sourcing, and wandering around the Red Rocks with her heroic husband and Staffordshire bull terrier.
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