Legumes (also known as pulses) include beans, lentils, and dried peas (chickpeas, split peas). Most people believe they are gassy and should be excluded from the low FODMAP diet. This is only partially true. Legumes are nutritional powerhouses you don’t want to miss out on. Let’s find out why, and how you can include some legumes without worrying about gastrointestinal symptoms.
Why include legumes on a Low FODMAP Diet?
First of all, they are the cheapest way (for your wallet and for the earth) to get protein in your diet. Unlike the old saying, they are not just “poor people’s” food. They are also “lucky people’s” food! In addition to providing protein, they contain slow-digesting carbohydrates and lots of fiber. Moreover, they come packaged with minerals (iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium), vitamins (folic acid and other B vitamins), and phytochemicals. Here is what they can do for us:
- Help with constipation: they contain insoluble fiber, which creates bulk and moves stool through the GI tract faster.
- Help with weight management and blood sugar regulation. Their high fiber content helps us feel full longer, and digest food slower. Even their carbohydrate portion is digested very slowly and helps improve blood glucose control and thus prevent (or control) diabetes.
- Help keep healthy cholesterol levels: they are one of the few foods high in soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and helps excrete it. When they replace high-saturated fat foods like burgers or cheese, they may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Protect the body against disease as they contain antioxidants and other bioactive compounds. Although foods like blueberries and broccoli are most famous for their antioxidant content, they are not the only ones. Legumes contain flavonoids, lignans, phytosterols, and other bioactive compounds that may protect us from chronic disease and inflammation.
- Help maintain a healthy gut due to their prebiotic fiber, which is the fast food for our good gut bacteria.
The American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society all recommend legumes as one of the most important food groups for disease prevention and optimal health.
How to include legumes on a Low FODMAP Diet
Legumes are rich in prebiotic fibers known as oligosaccharides. However, humans don’t have the enzymes necessary to break these molecules down. Therefore, they go through our GI tract unabsorbed and end up in the large intestine, where our gut bacteria digest them and use them for energy. The result of this fermentation process is gas. Unfortunately, for people with IBS, it’s an exaggerated amount of gas, which can also induce bloating and pain.
For this reason, most legumes are excluded during the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet. Studies have shown that after only 3-4 weeks of a low FODMAP protocol, the gut bacteria diminish in variety and numbers due to a low prebiotic fiber intake. However, they can repopulate after re-introducing foods high in prebiotics. Most people find that they tolerate some or most legumes, either in smaller or even larger portions.
How to prepare legumes to minimize gas & bloating
- A few types of beans and other legumes can be part of a low FODMAP diet. You can have small amounts of canned chickpeas, lentils, and a few others. The process of canning drastically reduces the amount of FODMAPs in the legumes. Check the Monash FODMAP App for the most updated list of legumes.
- Afterward, if you pass the GOS challenge, you can start by reintroducing small amounts of other canned beans first. Be sure to drain them and rinse them well.
- To increase the variety of beans in your diet, you may also want to try cooking them yourself. Soak them overnight, discard the soaking water, and cook them in fresh water until they are very soft. Using a pressure cooker will make sure of this. Adding a piece of kombu to the cooking water will also help reduce gassiness.
- Finally, you could try the enzyme supplement alpha-galactosidase. It digests the GOS in legumes and may help you tolerate them more easily.
Tips for cooking and eating legumes
- Plan ahead: soak them the night before you intend to eat them. If you forget, stock your pantry with a few cans of your favorite legumes to have some handy.
- If you don’t have the time to cook them when you set out to make lunch or dinner, prepare them ahead of time. Store them in airtight containers or even freeze them in the portions you know you will need for your favorite recipes.
- Add herbs and spices to vary the flavor: they are delicious! Cumin and coriander, when added to the cooking water, also help decrease gas production.
- You can add beans or chickpeas to any salad for a complete meal; prepare a quinoa-tabbouleh and add some chickpeas.
- Have them as a snack: try my Spiced Roasted Chickpeas Recipe.
- Replace part of the ground beef in your Bolognese sauce with canned lentils.
- Make your own hummus: You can use garlic-infused olive oil to replace the garlic and use canned chickpeas. Blend in a mixer with some lemon juice, a little water, and salt to taste, then add cumin and paprika for additional flavor.
- Put them in soups or stews. Just start with the smallest amount you know you can tolerate. Then, slowly increase the portions and see how you tolerate them.
In conclusion, legumes can certainly be part of a low FODMAP diet, with some attention to the type and amount you eat. In fact, they have so many benefits for our gut and overall health that they should not be avoided altogether. If you thought beans were boring, or don’t know what to do with them, I encourage you to expand your horizon.
Just a virtual visit to the cuisines of India (dals and channa masala), Morocco (Harira), the Mediterranean (Italian Ribollita), Latin America (black bean soup or pozole), and Japan (soybeans) will start making your head spinning with new ideas on how to vary your intake of legumes.
If you are struggling with IBS and are confused about what to eat and how to find relief from uncomfortable gut symptoms, I can help!