How to Have Your Beans and Avoid Gas, Too!

Filed under: Big Kids, Tweens, Teens, Nutrition: Health, Home Remedies, Mealtime, Dear Karla

Dear Karla,
My family and I enjoy beans, but we all seem to end up uncomfortable and gassy after eating them. I am curious why certain beans lead to more gas than others. Also, is there any way that this gas can be avoided? I'd hate to cut beans out of our family diet!
Thanks, Nancy

This is a great question Nancy! While many people are embarrassed to admit it, beans do lead to flatulence (there's even a song about the after-effects of this -- ahem -- "magical fruit"). I think all of us have experienced this at some point in our lives, whenever we eat these nutrient-packed little pods. But before you cut beans out of your diet -- which would lead to losing a lot of important nutrients! -- there are a few things that you can try.

Let's start by explaining where this gas comes from in the first place...

Beans and Flatulence -- What Gives?

Beans contain a type of carbohydrate called oligosaccharides, which is found in other vegetables like cabbage. The two oligosaccharides that cause concern for people are raffinose and stachyose. Normally, the body produces enzymes that play a role in breaking food down into its simplest units and easing digestion, but we do not produce any enzymes to break down oligosaccharides. Instead, raffinose and stachyose are digested by bacteria in our large intestine and product a natural byproduct of gas.

Dry Beans vs. Canned
If you prefer to use dry beans, it is best to soak them overnight as this makes them easier to digest and also speeds the cooking time. The legumes that do not need to be pre-soak are split peas, lentils, blacked peas and small dahls. If you prefer to use legumes or beans that are already pre-cooked (like canned) my first recommendation is to drain and rinse them really well to get off any residue and excess salt.

Improving Cooked Bean Digestion:
  • Start by eating a smaller amount at a time to ease the body's acceptance and digestion of them (1/4 cup to start is perfect).
  • Get your "good bacteria" levels up -- take some probiotics, which can be found in foods like kefir and yogurt -- but watch the sugar content -- and also in supplement form.
  • Do not drink a great deal of liquid with your meal, as this will "water down" your enzymes, making digestion less effective.
  • When cooking your beans, try adding epazote -- a herb also called Mexican tea -- as it helps break down gas-causing saccharides.
  • Some find adding a touch of vinegar to fully cooked beans is a trick that works.
  • Use natural carminatives in your cooking -- these work on preventing the formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract -- and include things like anise, coriander seeds, cumin, basil, oregano, dill and ginger.
  • And, if all else fails, there is always Beano -- a natural enzyme product that helps to partially digest stachyose and raffinose.
Have any other home remedies for helping your kids alleviate painful gas and bloating? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Karla Heintz, B.Sc., is a nutrition educator and author of Picky? Not Me, Mom! A Parents' Guide to Children's Nutrition. If you have a question you would like answered please leave it in the comment section below. Thanks!

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.