Beans, Beans, the Magical “Fruit”: The More You Eat the Less You Toot!

Beans are a wonderful food, full of filling protein and fiber, as well as other important vitamins and minerals that nourish a healthy body. Unfortunately, some people choose to avoid this healthful food because they fear intestinal gas or flatulence. However, beans are not a food to be avoided! With all their benefits, it’s important to not avoid but regularly enjoy this simply delicious, naturally nutritious food.

A Healthy Gut

There is increasing research and attention about the health of the gut or gastrointestinal (GI) tract, how it contributes to overall physical and mental health, and how certain foods benefit or harm the gut.

A healthy gut is one that digests, absorbs, and eliminates with ease and is free of illness.It’s important to eat a diet that feeds a healthy gut. Research suggests that the health of the gut is enhanced with a diet rich in plant-based foods full of fiber.

Fiber

Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet. Nutrition experts recommend that adults consume between 25 to 38 grams of dietary fiber per day; research shows that the majority of Americans do not meet this recommendation.

Fiber provides many benefits including providing an increased feeling of fullness or satiety, and helping to maintain a healthy digestive system.

Beans Are Naturally Rich in Fiber

Check out the chart below to see how beans stack up against other fiber-containing foods.

Food Serving Size Fiber
Navy Beans ½ cup 10 g
Kidney Beans ½ cup 8 g
Black Beans ½ cup 8 g
Lentils 1/2 cup 8 g
Almonds 1 ounces (~1/4 cup) 4 g
Blueberries 1 cup 4 g
Apple 1 medium 4 g
Quinoa ½ cup 3 g
Strawberries 1 cup 3 g
Peanuts 1 ounces (~1/4 cup) 2 g
Bread (whole wheat), sliced 1 slice 2 g
Wild Rice 1 cup 2 g
Brown Rice ½ cup 2 g
Spinach 1 cup 1 g

As you can see, beans are one of the most naturally rich sources of fiber; enjoying them regularly will help you experience all their fiber benefits!

Beans: Why do they produce gas?

Beans contain fibers called oligosaccharides (all-uh-go-SACK-are-rides), which are non-digestible, fermentable fibers that cause gas. While this might sound like a bad thing, it’s actually a very good thing. These fibers survive the acidic stomach and don’t get digested in the upper part of the gut. They make their way intact to the colon where they are fermented by beneficial bacteria. Gas is created during this fermentation process. It’s a good sign, one that says these healthful bacteria are being fed well, maintained, and enhanced through the right food choices, which in turn may lead to the prevention of diseases of the gut, as well as other organs in the body. Fibers from foods like beans that are able to reach the gut intact and stimulate growth and promote activity in the beneficial microflora are also referred to as prebiotics.

Research shows that the health of our gut plays an important role in our overall physical and mental health. Consuming plant-based foods that contain these non-digestible fibers may keep our bodies regular and our gut healthy.

Here’s a list of some foods that have been established as prebiotic stars, and others that show potential.

Prebiotic Stars* and Prebiotic Potentials

Fruits Apple, banana, berries, raisins
Vegetables Onion, garlic, leeks, Jerusalem artichoke, globe artichoke, asparagus, chicory root, burdock, yacon, jicama, tomato, greens: spinach, collard greens, chard, kale, mustard greens, dandelion greens, salsify
Legumes or Pulses Legumes such as lentils, dry beans, chick peas and peas
Whole grains Whole wheat, barley, and rye, oats, brown rice, whole grain corn, buckwheat
Seeds Flaxseed, almonds
Other foods Honey
* These foods have been documented in the scientific literature as sources of inulin and oligosaccharides (nondigestible fermentable carbohydrates).

Source: Gut Insight: Probiotics and Prebiotics for Digestive Health and Wellness by Jo Ann Hattner, MPH, RD

Beans & Gas Study

Healthy adults were asked to eat half a cup of legumes (pinto beans, black-eyed peas or navy beans) or carrots each day for 8-12 weeks. Initially, half the people reported increased gas, but after 8 weeks they were back to normal levels. These results suggest that while some individuals may experience gas associated with bean intake, regularly consuming beans (~1/2 cup daily) for a period of 8 weeks may reduce bothersome symptoms like bloating and abdominal discomfort.

What’s the bottom line? The more often you eat beans, the less often you’ll experience GI discomfort!

SOURCE: Winham DM, Hutchins AM. Perceptions of flatulence from bean consumption among adults in 3 feeding studies. Nutr J. 2011;10:128

So…Maybe A Little Gas is OK?

It is important to recognize that gas production is a normal body process, one that signals good things are happening in your body. Some of the benefits of fiber fermentation in the gut include improved mineral absorption, especially calcium and magnesium, and enhanced immunity. So the next time you feel the rumbles, try to relax and realize it happens to everyone.

Gas-Reducing Tips

If fermentation still has you fearful, here are some tips to reduce your fear of flatulence:

  1. Increase your bean intake slowly. Start by eating 2 to 4 tablespoons of beans per day, and gradually increase consumption to the ½ cup per day recommendation.
  2. Drink more water each day as you eat more beans.
  3. When soaking dry bean before cooking, change the water several times. The gas-producing fibers are released into the soaking water, and discarding it removes some of these compounds.
  4. Rinse canned beans without sauce before eating or using in recipes. (Rinsing also reduces the sodium content of canned beans.)
  5. Cook with herbs. Certain herbs may also help break down the gas-producing fermentable fibers. Try epazote (commonly used in Mexican cuisine) or asafetida (commonly used in Indian cuisine).
  6. Consider using a gas-reducing enzyme tablet. These are available over the counter in many pharmacies.

Gas is a good thing!

Don’t let fear of flatulence rob you of the many benefits of beans when consumed as part of a healthful diet. Regularly enjoying beans increase your bodies’ tolerance and may reduce intestinal gas. if you do experience a little gas, it’s okay—it happens to everyone. It’s the sign of a healthy gut that is being fed well. Remember the more you eat, the less you toot!