The Beauty of Beans (Part 2)

Last week[1], we looked at beans from a historical perspective and learned a little about both the nutrition and health benefits that they have to offer.

Do you eat beans? Many of my patients used to tell me that they liked beans, but disliked some of the unpleasant side effects. Just like the old childhood rhyme says (something to do with the words “fruit” and “toot”—you can probably fill in the rest!), some people find that they become quite bloated and gassy after eating any kind of bean dish. Why does this happen?

Beans contain types of sugars called oligosaccharides. These sugars are also found in other “gassy” vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, and onions. Unlike other sugars found in our food, oligosaccharides are made of big molecules. Humans don’t have the enzyme (alpha-galactosidase) needed to digest these sugars. So oligosaccharides move through the small intestine, undigested, into the large intestine. There, the many strains of bacteria that normally hang around in our colons feed on these sugars and begin to ferment them. This fermentation gives off gas, often in the form of methane or sulfur.

What’s the solution, then? Fortunately, there are several things you can try to avoid the embarrassing social consequences and discomfort of eating beans:

If, despite all your efforts, you still suffer discomfort after eating beans (or other vegetables, for that matter), try an over-the-counter enzyme replacer, such as Beano, with your first bite of food. Beano contains the missing enzyme that can help you digest those beans without all the gas. Beano is available as either drops or chewable tablets (check out[2] for more information).

If you decide to give Beano a try, or already use Beano, it’s a good idea to keep close tabs on how this product affects your blood glucose levels. Because Beano is helping to digest previously indigestible carbohydrates, it’s actually serving to add a little more carb to your food intake. The amount of additional carb is likely to be minimal, but it’s a good idea to check your blood glucose level 2-3 hours after your meal and see what happens.

Other companies make similar enzyme replacement supplements, including Nature’s Plus, Garden of Life, and ReNew Life. These products are available in some pharmacies and natural foods stores, and can be purchased through the Internet.

Next week: Fitting beans into your eating plan.

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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