The Musical Fruit: Why Beans Make Us Gassy

We love beans. We love them on their own, we love them in soups, we love them mashed into dips. But we definitely don't love some of their less fun digestive consequences. Apologies for the rather indelicate title and subject, but we felt this was one time when it was best to get right to the point!

All beans - all legumes, really - contain a handful of carbohydrates that the enzymes in our stomach and small intestine can't break down into something our bodies can absorb. This means that those carbohydrates are largely intact when they enter the large intestine, where our natural bacterias are able to break them down.

Unfortunately, the more active the bacteria become, the more gas they produce. Meaning the more gas we produce.

It's always puzzled us why we'd sometimes have trouble with beans and not other times, and why some beans in particular seemed to give us more gas. Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking explains that soy, navy, and lima beans contain especially large amounts of the indigestible carbohydrates. When these or other beans give us trouble, it's usually because they either weren't soaked before cooking or they weren't cooked for long enough.

We can actually use that information to help prevent beans from making us gassy! Pre-soaking beans will help leach out most of the bothersome carbohydrates. We usually set beans out overnight in a bowl of fresh water and then discard the water before cooking. The downside of this technique is that you lose some of the nutrients, minerals, and vitamins as well.

The second option is to be sure to cook your beans long enough. The cooking beans low and slow eventually breaks down the carbohydrates so that our bodies are able to absorb them
without trouble. While this method takes time and patience, the positive is that all the good vitamins and minerals are retained.

Any other tricks for enjoying beans without suffering their side effects?

Related Recipe Basics: How to Cook Beans in the Slow Cooker

(Image: Flickr member sara.atkins licensed under Creative Commons)

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