Beans, Beans, the Flatulent Fruit

Oct 24, 2011 8:01 am

Giggle all you want, the beans do what they do

why do beans give you gas?
Photo: The Ewan on Flickr
Contrary to popular opinion, beans are neither magical nor fruit.
 

Whatever the bean, be it black, lima, kidney or pinto, the old school rhyme still rings true. You know the one: beans, beans the magical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot. Juvenile as it sounds, the message it holds is anything but a joke; beans make you gassy.

What causes bean-induced flatulence?
Consider yourself bean-intolerant. It’s not you, it’s all of us. We as human beings are ill-equipped to properly digest and break down the many types of edible beans we toss in our sauces and soups. What we lack are the enzymes capable of breaking down sugars known as oligosaccharides, which comprise most of the bean structure. Without these anti-oligosaccharide enzymes to act on the beans you ingest, bean matter passes essentially undigested through your GI tract until it reaches the large intestine. That's where the magic happens.

Enter the bacteria of the intestine, collectively known as the gut flora. Fear not, as the bacteria in your intestines are there to help, not harm. Through a form of fermentation called saccharolytic fermentation, bacteria of the large intestine break down otherwise indigestible materials — such as bean oligosaccharide — into nutrients and minerals that the body can absorb.

Unfortunately, as non-luck may have it, another product of this fermentation is gas, which we experience as flatulence. How much flatulence? Well that all depends on your bean intake. The more beans you consume, along with even mildly weak intestinal fortitude, can lead to uncontrollable and sometimes uncomfortable results.

How can you prevent bean-induced flatulence?
The bad news: you can’t change how your body digests. The goods news: supplementing a bean-laden diet with the missing enzymes and components needed for digestion could ease your symptoms. Over-the-counter fungi-derived forms of the anti-oligosaccharide enzyme alpha-galactosidase, the active ingredient in Beano, are a perfect example and could be the best accompaniment to that next side of Boston baked beans.

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