I was chatting with my cousin about some health and weight problems she was having and I was stunned to discover that she almost never cooks vegetables for her family dinner. Too much trouble she said. I suggested that not only should she add vegetables every day, she should significantly reduce her meat intake and add legumes to her diet. She was vehement about not eating beans at all. Her reason? Gas.I suspect there are a lot of people out there who feel the same way about beans.Excess gas can cause discomfort and sometimes actual pain as well as embarrassing flatulence. Judy at Savvy Vegetarian thinks that some new vegetarians give up for that very reason. People who are new to vegetarianism may well be suddenly eating a greater amount of beans and perhaps our bodies need a bit of time to adapt.
Once you understand the cause of gas, it's fairly easy to remedy. Beans contain a sugar called oligosaccharide and we lack the enzyme required to break the sugar down. When the sugar arrives in your lower intestinal tract intact, it ferments, creating a buildup of gas. The gas isn't absorbed into the intestine, so the body expels it, creating red faces all around.
The answer to this problem is pretty simple. Cook your own beans rather than using canned, and soak them thoroughly first to allow the sugar leach out. To avoid having it re-absorbed into the beans, it's a good idea to change the soaking water a few times. Cooking the beans slowly also makes a difference. Adding the spice asafoetida, or Kombu which is a kelp or baking soda are all said to help break down the sugar. Rinse the beans after you have cooked them as well.
I also read a number of other hints that may also help reduce gas. Younger beans are better to use than older beans, and although it is impossible to know how long the beans you are buying have been dried, there are a couple of things to look out for. Beans darken with age so choose beans that are lighter in colour, and also those with fewer cracks in them. There are suggestions that grinding or mashing beans helps, and simply chewing them well makes a difference. If you are using canned beans, rinse them a number of times.
Beans are such a great source of protein, fibre and nutrients, they should be a major part of everyone's diet and you can do it without the gas. You can check out the Recipe of the Week in the TreeHugger archives for lots of legume recipes such as Wine Braised Lentils or head over to Planet Green for recipes like Chickpea Salad , Bean and Swiss Chard Stew for a Tomato Lentil Curry or a Black Bean Soup.
Challenge of the Week: Embrace the bean and make a meal based around a legume.