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If you love beans and rice, but then feel bloated afterward, I’ve got your back. The truth is that many of us have a hard time digesting beans because they contain oligosaccharides (a type of sugar) which our bodies don’t break down very well.
And beans are one of the most notorious foods for causing gas and bloating.
If you avoid beans because of the fear of gas, don’t worry!
Here are my top tips for enjoying beans without the belly bloat.
Vegan athletes and fitness buffs unite! Let’s get our vegan protein without clearing out the house.
Why Beans Cause Gas and Bloating
Beans are high in protein but also carbohydrates. One of these carbohydrates is a special kind of fiber called oligosaccharides.
Oligosaccharides are sugar molecules that the body cannot break down, so they end up in the intestines where bacteria feast on them. This produces gas.
Gas isn’t always a big deal. Most healthy people pass gas 14 to 25 times each day. (1)
But if your digestive tract is tasked with processing more fiber than you’re used to, or processing that fiber too fast, you can end up with too much gas. If that intestinal gas gets trapped it cause uncomfortable or painful bloating.
And we can’t always just get the gas out. Sometimes it sneaks up on you, and other times you gotta hold ’em in.
One type of oligosaccharide found in beans is called raffinose. (2)
Raffinose is also found in some other amazingly healthy foods as well, especially cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and artichokes.
Normally, sugars are digested in the small intestine. But because we lack the enzyme to break down raffinose, it ends up in the large intestine fully intact.
The large intestine is loaded with bacteria, yeasts, and fungi that break down foods that weren’t digested by the small intestine. And these bacteria love fiber!
The bacteria break down the raffinose, producing hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane gas.
And you know what comes next. Yep, bloating, discomfort, and gas.
So Why Would You Eat Beans?
It’s not all bad though.
Beans’ indigestible carbohydrates are prebiotic, which means they help encourage the growth of good gut bacteria, microbes thought to aid in immunity and play a role in preventing allergies, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disease. (3,4,5,6,7,8)
And the fiber in beans is soluble. Soluble fibers form a gel in your intestines. This gel absorbs water and slows digestion. (9)
When digestion slows, you feel full longer and reduce your risk of overeating. You also have the opportunity to absorb more nutrients, and the gel kind of cleans your intestines out as it slowly moves its way along.
The bacteria in the large intestine ferment oligosaccharides into short-chain fatty acids like acetate, butyrate, and propionate. (10)
These short-chain fatty acids contribute to gut health by reducing inflammation, increasing the absorptive surface of the intestine, and stimulating cell growth and differentiation. (11)
Not only do beans have some great prebiotic fiber to feed good gut bacteria, but they also have some pretty amazing health benefits for our overall wellbeing.
Heart disease is the number one killer in North America today. And beans are associated with lower cholesterol levels, which reduces your risk of developing heart problems down the road.
Type II Diabetes has become a health epidemic. This generation of Americans has more chronic diseases than ever before. Beans have been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels, reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes, and improve insulin sensitivity.
Beans are also nutrient-dense protein alternatives if you’re cutting down on meat for health or ethical reasons. A half a cup of cooked beans has about the same amount of protein as eating two ounces of lean protein.
They are rich in antioxidants, low in fat, high in fiber, and have a low glycemic index.
All in all, beans are amazing.
But we still don’t want all of that bloating and gassiness.
So let’s get to my top tips for reducing gas from eating beans. Whether you are a veteran vegan or a complete newbie, these will help.
My Top Tips for Reducing Bloating from Beans
I’m going to break this down into 2 sections: main tips and honorable mentions.
The main tips are the methods I use all the time when I cook beans and are tips that have the most research behind their effectiveness.
Honorable mentions are additional tips that may help, either by themselves or in combination with my main tips.
1. Choose Beans With a Lower Raffinose Content
Now you know that raffinose is one of the main reasons that beans cause so much gas. But not all beans have the same amount of this fiber.
If you are new to eating beans or are just adopting plant-based eating, choosing beans that are lower in raffinose content is a great idea. Work your way up to beans that are higher in raffinose.
This is also helpful if you’ve always avoided beans because you hate farting.
Lentils have less raffinose than beans. There are still some, but most people handle lentils better than beans for this reason.
Red lentils, green lentils, brown lentils…they’re all amazing.
Smaller beans have less raffinose than larger beans. Adzuki, mung, black-eyed peas, and white kidney beans (cannellini beans) are great options that you may handle better than larger beans.
Larger beans typically have a lot of raffinose.
Fava beans are the highest. Followed by kidney, black, pinto, and garbanzo beans. Garbonzo beans (chickpeas) are amazing, but they can be really hard for people to digest.
When I’m working with clients I usually have them skip garbanzo beans until their bodies are well adjusted and they know they can handle beans well.
Hummus is the one exception. Hummus is made from garbanzo beans and is a great dip for fresh veggies like carrots, cucumbers, and sweet peppers. The garbanzo beans are already blended down, so even though the raffinose is still going to make its way to your large intestine, your body will have a head start metabolizing the sugars from the garbanzo beans.
Edamame and soybeans are also pretty high in raffinose. Tofu has a lower raffinose content than whole soybeans due to processing, but not much.
Tempeh is much lower in raffinose because it is fermented. This makes it a great protein option for vegans!
Bonus tip – Canned beans have less raffinose than dried beans because the canning process breaks down some of those sugars. So opting for canned beans instead of cooking your own dry beans is another great option. More on that option in a bit.
2. Soak Dried Beans Before Cooking
If you are going to cook dry beans you should definitely soak them before cooking. Not only will soaking help break down most of the raffinose in the beans, but it will also help break down most of their anti-nutrients, like lectins and phytic acid, as well. (16,17)
Anti-nutrients are plant compounds that can interfere with the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, like zinc and iron.
Soaking is simple. You just cover them with water and let them sit overnight.
You’ll hear all kinds of different ideas for how long to soak your beans for. But here’s what the research says…
You want to soak your beans for up to 12 hours, if possible. Soaking beans for 12 hours leads to a 96 percent loss of raffinose (17)
How to Long Soak Your Beans
Use 4 cups of water for every 1 cup of beans.
Add them to a bowl, cover, and set them on the counter or pantry to soak.
Soak for 12 hours
Change your soaking water after 4 hours
Most of the time I’ll use the pot I’m going to cook my beans in to soak, and then leave it sitting on the stovetop.
Now, this is key…
Discard the soaking water!
Raffinose is going to leach into the water, which is how it will get out of your beans. So you don’t want to cook your beans in that water. That’ll destroy the benefits.
In fact, you want to discard the water several times during the long soaking process if possible. Especially after 4 hours! 65.28 percent of the gas-producing substances in the beans are removed within the first 4 hours. So get it out of there! (17)
Drain the beans, give them a quick, gentle rinse, cover with water once again, and leave to continue soaking.
You might not always have time for a long soak. I don’t always know exactly what I’m going to eat tomorrow night for dinner. But I don’t want to skip eating beans if they sound good or are the best protein source I have on hand.
If that’s the case, you can go for a short soak. It’s not quite as effective as a long soak, but it will still break down anti-nutrients and most of the raffinose.
How to Short Soak Your Beans
Rinse your beans and then add 4 cups of water for each cup of dried beans to a pot.
Bring the water to a boil and simmer for two to three minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat, cover it with a lid, and allow it to sit for 1 hour.
Drain the soaking liquid, add fresh water, and cook like normal.
3. Add Kombu to Your Soaking Water
Glutamic acid helps break oligosaccharides like raffinose down into simple sugars.
And this is the exact enzyme we lack!
This is actually the same enzyme that’s in popular anti-gas supplements like Beano.
Some people will add the kombu to the cooking liquid, but I don’t recommend this.
Kombu is heat sensitive and denatures at about 60 degrees Celsius (140 F). Water boils at 100 degrees C.
So I recommend adding kombu to your soaking water and letting it do its thing breaking down raffinose while the beans soak.
Maybe add a pinch to your cooking water, but the soaking water is where you are going to get the most benefit
How much should you add?
A 4-inch strip to a large pot of beans or a 2-inch strip to a small pot. (18)
Not more than that! Kombu is very rich in iodine. Iodine is critical to thyroid health (18), but too much is not a good thing. And it’s difficult to know exactly how much iodine is in the kombu. So stick to the 4-inch maximum and call it good.
4. No Kombu? Try Baking Soda
Baking soda can work on oligosaccharides similar to kombu.
You can add baking soda to your soaking water, your cooking water, or both. (19)
Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to 4 cups of water. Stir in the dried beans and let them sit for 12 hours. (20)
Remember to change the water after the first 4 hours since a lot of the raffinose will already be broken down. Get it out of there! Rinse, add some fresh water, another teaspoon of baking soda, and let it sit for the rest of the time.
Drain, rinse, add fresh water, bring to a boil, cook, and enjoy.
This is actually the method I use the most. I rarely have kombu or other fancy herbs around (which I’ll talk about next). But I always have baking soda.
I don’t have a problem processing beans. I eat them all the time, so my body is well adapted to them.
But I always soak, and I always add baking soda (unless I have kombu).
5. Pressure Cook Your Beans
This is how I almost always cook beans and lentils. In fact, I can’t tell you the last time I cooked beans on the stovetop. I love my Instant Pot!
Pressure cooking is incredibly effective at destroying anti-nutrients, like lectins, and breaking down raffinose. And it’s far faster than stovetop cooking. (21)
Pressure cooking and soaking is the absolute best combination if you really struggle with bloating after eating beans.
Of if you are a new vegan. If you’re new to this, you don’t have the gut bacteria to help you break down a high-fiber diet.
Not yet. You will.
But if you’re going to introduce beans, especially you athletes and fitness buffs out there, definitely long soak and then pressure cook your beans.
You’ll thank me later.
For a comprehensive list of cooking times for all different kinds of beans, both for the stovetop and pressure cookers, read this article here.
6. Start By Eating Beans in Small Amounts
If you’re new to eating a vegan diet or regularly eating beans, you need to allow your digestive system to adapt.
Start with 1/4 cup each day for 2 weeks. Then up that to 1/2 cup for 2 weeks. Continue adding 1/4 cup every 2 weeks until you reach the amount of beans you want to eat on any given day.
It’s also important to eat them regularly if you’re just starting out. You need to send your body a clear signal that these are going to be part of your life. Your gut will colonize the right bacteria to help you handle them better.
For most people, it takes 2 to 4 weeks of regular eating of beans to begin to feel comfortable and not experience higher than normal levels of gas.
But for some, it can take up to 8 weeks.
Just go slow.
The above tips are the ones that I follow, with the exception of choosing beans that are lower in raffinose. I usually eat kidney beans, black beans, and garbanzo beans.
But I’ve been eating them regularly for the past six years.
If I’m eating dry beans I soak them with baking soda or kombu for 12 hours, and then I pressure cook them.
I also add garlic to pretty much everything.
But here are some additional tips that can help with processing beans, or just handling a high fiber diet in general.
1. Add Ajwain or Epazote to Your Bean Dish
Ajwain (carom seed) is an Indian spice that tastes very similar to cumin.
In India, they use ajwain to help with upset stomach symptoms, similar to the way we use peppermint or ginger in the US.
Epazote is an herb found in South America and Mexico. It’s traditionally used to flavor black beans, but it also has gas-reducing properties as well. Add a small amount of the herb to your cooking water.
For either ajwain or epazote, add 1 tablespoon to a large pot of beans while cooking.
2. Try Carminative Herbs
Carminative herbs don’t have enzymes that help break down fiber, but…
they can definitely help with gas and bloating.
Ginger, fennel, garlic, thyme, and turmeric are all herbs that have gas-reducing properties or aid in digestion.
Add any of these to your cooking water or as flavors to your meals after they are all prepared.
I add ginger to everything!
While these have been shown to help with an upset stomach, there’s not a lot of research or science to back up their ability to reduce gas or break down oligosaccharides.
But they are natural, tasty, healthy herbs that may help. So there’s no harm in trying and seeing how any of these may work for you.
3. Rinse Your Beans Before Eating
Canned beans are a great option if you are short on time. Or just lazy, as I frequently am when it comes to preparing food.
The canning process breaks down oligosaccharides, so the beans are good to go from a bloating standpoint.
But you’ll want to rinse them before eating. Just like soaking, the raffinose ends up in the canned water. So you’ll want to get rid of that water before eating.
There is a catch here, though.
Many of the vitamins in beans are water-soluble. When you rinse canned beans you’ll also rinse away some of these beneficial water-soluble vitamins. (23)
I don’t rinse canned beans unless I want to get reduce any salt that may have been added. But if you’re new to this, or struggle eating beans because of gas, rinse away.
4. Cook Your Beans Until They’re Nice and Soft
To reduce gas, cook beans until they are very soft. Cooking beans thoroughly may help to minimize gas formation.
Now this I do. I cook dry beans until they are very soft, and I even cook canned beans before I eat them. You don’t have to cook canned beans. But I’ll cook them on the stovetop just to soften them up a bit more.
5. Drink Plenty of Water
Water helps keep your digestive system running smoothly, and it’s incredibly important for helping you handle a high-fiber vegan diet.
With everything running smoothly, your gut bugs will have less time to sit and feast on the soluble fiber from your beans. Less time, less gas.
6. Move Often, As in Every Day
Moving your body after a meal aids digestion by encouraging food to travel more swiftly through the digestive system, allowing you to avoid that unpleasant, bloated sensation.
7. Chew and Enjoy Your Beans
Eat slowly, chew your food well, and enjoy every bite.
Digestion starts in the mouth with chewing and digestive enzymes found in your saliva.
By chewing thoroughly you give your saliva more time to break down your food, and you end up chewing your food into smaller pieces. Smaller pieces mean more surface area for the digestive enzymes in your stomach to work on.
All of this will make things easier on your intestines, reducing bloating in the process.
8. Consider a Probiotic and Digestive Enzymes
The biggest reason you’re struggling with gas and bloating, especially in the beginning, is that you don’t have the right bacteria in your gut to handle all of the fiber you’re eating.
A high-quality vegan probiotic that includes Acidophilus and Bifidus strains of bacteria can boost the number of good bugs in your gut.
Digestive enzymes also keep digestion moving smoothly and quickly by helping your body metabolize fats and carbs.
My preferred digestive enzyme brand is the Organika Full Spectrum Plant Enzymes.
I drink these with apple cider vinegar and lemon water in the morning.
Ways to Include Beans and Lentils in Your Diet
Now that you know you can get away with eating beans, here are a couple of quick and easy ways to add these protein powerhouses to your diet.
Add beans to salads. Kidney and garbanzo beans are my favorites to add to salads.
Add beans to stews and chilis instead of meat.
Beans and rice are a delicious combination and make a complementary protein.
Get the Tools I Use in the Kitchen
Heads up: this page includes affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products or equipment I have personally vetted.
Instant Pot – any pressure cooker will work, but this thing is incredible. And prices have come down quite a bit over the past couple of years. You’ll love this!
Reduce Bloating From Beans Conclusion
If you’re struggling with bloating from eating beans, there are a few things that can help end your pain. First and foremost, get in the habit of soaking your dry beans overnight. While you’re at it, add some kombu or baking soda to the soaking water as well. And cook your beans until they’re nice and soft.
Drinking plenty of water is also important for helping to reduce bloating when eating a high-fiber vegan diet. Moving around after meals can aid digestion by encouraging food to travel quickly through the digestive system rather than sitting and fermenting in your gut.
Finally, chewing well and enjoying every bite will slow down how fast everything gets to your stomach. The more time these enzymes have, the less gas they are likely to produce. If you’re still struggling, try adding a probiotic and digestive enzyme supplement to your routine.
And finally, don’t forget my favorite way to reduce bloat: break out your Instant Pot and let it take care of most of the gas busting for you.
I hope these tips help make eating more beans a delicious and comfortable experience.
What is your favorite way to cook beans?
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