Beans and grains can be the culprits behind intestinal gas and bloating, but proper preparation will enhance their digestibility and bypass the unpleasant after-effects.
The health benefits of beans and whole grains make them worth including in your diet. Both foods contain many essential nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and the B vitamins folic acid, riboflavin, thiamin and niacin. They also have a wide range of unique plant chemicals, including phytosterols that have been linked to lower blood cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of cancer.
Their high fiber content does more than keep us regular. Fiber rich foods regulate blood sugar after eating, which helps prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. Fiber also creates a feeling of satisfied fullness and reduces the urge to overeat.
Where do our digestive troubles begin? Beans and grains are actually seeds. They’re designed to stay dormant until the conditions are right for germination. They also need to make it through an animal’s digestive tract safely if they get eaten. Seeds have developed various compounds to help them survive, and these are what impair our
A substance only found in the seeds of plants, phytic acid stores phosphorus for the seed when it germinates. But phytic acid has been shown to block our absorption of calcium, zinc and iron.
Seeds contain inhibitors that counteract our natural digestive enzymes. This prevents our enzymes from properly breaking down food in the intestines.
Complex carbohydrates and proteins
Grains and beans contain various complex carbohydrate and protein molecules that aredifficult to digest due to their structure.
Our goal is to break down, or predigest, the inhibiting chemicals and complex molecules in beans and grains before we eat them. If we don’t, improperly digested particles can cause a buildup of bacteria in our intestines as we try to digest them. The bacteria let off excess gases in the process that lead to bloating and passing gas.
Various preparation methods can help make beans and grains more digestible. Before you start to worry extra preparation will take too much time, keep in mind that each step is actually very simple. The only effort needed is a bit of planning.
Beans and whole grains should be soaked for at least 8 hours before processing them any further. This will trigger the early stages of germination in the seed and cause the phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors and complex sugars and proteins to start breaking down.
Method: mix dry beans or grains in a bowl with at least three to four times as much water as seeds. Let them sit out at room temperature overnight or up to 24 hours until they are plump.
Once your seeds have finished soaking, it is ideal to sprout them before cooking or eating. This will further degrade the inhibiting compounds as the seed starts to grow.
Please consult a raw foods guide to determine which beans or grains are appropriate to be eaten raw. Typically smaller seeds, such as most grains, lentils or black beans are good to eat raw, whereas larger beans, such as kidney or lima beans are not recommended.
Method: put the soaked beans or grains in a strainer. Keep them out at room temperature and rinse under running tap water at least once a day. Small white roots will start to show after a few days (the time varies depending on the seed). It’s best to use them when the roots are no longer than a ¼ inch. You can either cook them at this stage or use them raw.
After soaking and sprouting your beans or grains, there are various cooking options.
Either can be boiled in water in a regular saucepan. Most larger beans will cook within 1½ to 3 hours at a low simmer, and lentils and whole grains will cook in 20 to 30 minutes.
Method: You can also use a slow cooker, pressure cooker or rice steamer. Check the instructions for your individual appliances to determine appropriate cooking times for each bean or grain.
You can ferment your own bean products, but it’s often a fairly complicated process. The easiest way to consume them is to buy prepared items, such as tofu or miso. These can be easily found at most grocery stores.
Grains, on the other hand, are much easier to ferment at home. Here are a couple ideas to start.
In sourdough bread preparation, milled flour is soaked and fermented for a period of time before making the bread. The King Arthur Flour website has a good description on how to make sourdough yourself.
Fermented breakfast grains
A great example is fermented oatmeal. Start by mixing 1 cup of whole oat kernels with 4 cups of water. Let them sit at room temperature for 24 to 72 hours in the same water.
The longer they sit, a tangier flavor will develop. Cook the oats and water as you would regular oatmeal, either in a pot on the stove or in a slow cooker overnight.