Good Question: How Can I Make Beans More Digestible?

We predicted that beans will get a shot of popularity this year, and we definitely love to eat them too. In fact, they are one of our favorite ways to eat light and go vegetarian. Reader Marcy is interested in eating more beans, but she has a question common to many of us who like to eat these powerful little legumes.

It find it difficult to digest lentils and many beans (tofu is OK though). I wonder if there are any ways to make beans more digestible. I've heard putting vinegar in them helps break them down, but it hasn't made a difference for me -- unless I'm not using enough. I'd like to eat more vegan food without always being stuck with tofu. Any suggestions?

Heirloom dried beans can have a wonderfully meaty flavor, and we stocked up on Rancho Gordo beans this winter. They are so easy -- just cook a pot and eat off of it all week. But those digestion issues... well, they are a problem.

We consulted two books: an old favorite, Aliza Green's Beans, and Rancho Gordo's Steve Sando's new book (look for a review shortly).

Green offers more specific help for combating digestion issues. She advises purchasing fresh beans, which is a good idea no matter what. She also recommends soaking and rinsing the beans to remove some of the starches that cause upset.

Sando, on the other hand, says that soaking won't help at all. He believes that there is very little you can do to combat this problem, except for eating more fiber. He feels that most of us don't get enough complex fiber in our diet, so our bodies have a hard time digesting beans. He recommends starting slowly and helping your body build up the capability to digest beans.

We don't have a clear sense of who is right. We are still experimenting with beans, and we're curious to see if we get better at digesting them!

We also like some of the other suggestions from Green, most of which are recommendations for combining beans with other ingredients to minimize gastrointestinal issues. Some of the ingredients that are said to help are alkaline-rich greens like spinach and chard, seasonings like epazote, fennel seed, and lovage, and alkaline-rich seaweed like dried kombu.

We plan on experimenting with some of these suggestions soon.

Any other advice for Marcy?

Related: How To Cook Beans
(Image: Faith Durand)