Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Last week, we looked at beans from a historical perspective and learned a little about both the nutrition and health benefits that they have to offer.

Do you eat beans? Many of my patients used to tell me that they liked beans, but disliked some of the unpleasant side effects. Just like the old childhood rhyme says (something to do with the words “fruit” and “toot”—you can probably fill in the rest!), some people find that they become quite bloated and gassy after eating any kind of bean dish. Why does this happen?

Beans contain types of sugars called oligosaccharides. These sugars are also found in other “gassy” vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, and onions. Unlike other sugars found in our food, oligosaccharides are made of big molecules. Humans don’t have the enzyme (alpha-galactosidase) needed to digest these sugars. So oligosaccharides move through the small intestine, undigested, into the large intestine. There, the many strains of bacteria that normally hang around in our colons feed on these sugars and begin to ferment them. This fermentation gives off gas, often in the form of methane or sulfur.

What’s the solution, then? Fortunately, there are several things you can try to avoid the embarrassing social consequences and discomfort of eating beans:

  • First, while this may seem somewhat contradictory, try to eat more beans! It appears that the more often you eat them, the less gas you’ll have. Just start out with small amounts and gradually increase your portions and frequency.
  • Second, if you cook with dried beans, always discard the water in which you’ve soaked and cooked the beans. If you use canned beans, drain and rinse them well.
  • Third, spice up your bean dishes with ginger, coriander, turmeric, or fennel seeds. These seasonings can help lessen the gas production. Adding a strip of kombu, a type of sea vegetable found in many natural foods markets, while you cook beans can also lessen gas.
  • Fourth, if you cook with dried beans, add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda to the soaking water. This helps to draw out some of the indigestible sugars in the beans. You won’t get much sodium from this small amount, and you’ll be discarding the soaking water anyway.
  • Some beans are less gassy than others: lentils, black-eyed peas, lima beans, white beans, and chickpeas may be better choices than kidney beans or black beans, for example.

If, despite all your efforts, you still suffer discomfort after eating beans (or other vegetables, for that matter), try an over-the-counter enzyme replacer, such as Beano, with your first bite of food. Beano contains the missing enzyme that can help you digest those beans without all the gas. Beano is available as either drops or chewable tablets (check out www.beanogas.com for more information).

If you decide to give Beano a try, or already use Beano, it’s a good idea to keep close tabs on how this product affects your blood glucose levels. Because Beano is helping to digest previously indigestible carbohydrates, it’s actually serving to add a little more carb to your food intake. The amount of additional carb is likely to be minimal, but it’s a good idea to check your blood glucose level 2-3 hours after your meal and see what happens.

Other companies make similar enzyme replacement supplements, including Nature’s Plus, Garden of Life, and ReNew Life. These products are available in some pharmacies and natural foods stores, and can be purchased through the Internet.

Next week: Fitting beans into your eating plan.

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The Beauty of Beans (Part 1)
The Beauty of Beans (Part 2)
The Beauty of Beans (Part 3)


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