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Apr 15, 2013 06:41 PM

problems digesting many legumes

Hello all!

I'm not a vegan (actually, not fully a vegetarian either, but that is not a matter for this board, except for the desire to cut down on animal-based products) and have a terrible time digesting most legumes. I can usually handle lentils (which I love) and very well cooked white beans, as in soups or stews. I love black beans, but they don't always love me. And yes, of course I've tried Beano.

One thing I'm wondering is if edamame are easier to digest than riper, dried soya beans.

When in Amsterdam, I was pleased to have had no digestive upset eating fermented tempeh. It is hard to find in many places, except for ludicrously expensive and overflavoured versions in some healthfood stores. The quest for plain Indonesian tempeh (yum) continues.


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  1. Soybeans are actually the most difficult whole beans to digest unless they're fermented. Mung beans, lentils and adzuki beans are the easiest, any other beans will give you more of a problem.

    Some tips that should help:
    - Cook your own dried beans instead of buying canned or pre-cooked, and *soak* them first. The longer the soak, the better, and it should be at least 24 hours.
    - When you do cook them, add a piece of kombu to the water.
    - Turmeric, ginger, cumin, epazote, dill seed, coriander seed and fennel can all help with digestion and reduce your reaction.
    - Seasoning them with any form of acid (like vinegar or citrus juice) will help break down some of the compounds that are difficult for you to digest.

    One final thought - if certain fruits, vegetables & sugars give you similar trouble, you may actually have fructose malabsorption.

    2 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      I usually add the kombu to the soaking water too. Julia Child also had a way of cooking beans with a pinch of baking soda to reduce any negative effects.

      1. re: adventuresinbaking

        The baking soda thing is a myth--the idea was it would react to "degas" the beans; doesn't work, and according to Cooks Illustrated, it makes dried beans tougher. The above recommendation to add an acid is a better one.

    2. Try eating a tiny amount of legumes a day. Very gradually increase your consumption. Worked for me and my family members. Your body just needs to get used to them.

      1 Reply
      1. re: pikawicca

        +1 your gut will create the bacteria necessary to process

      2. you make me feel so lucky.
        the burger joint within walking distance of my house makes an incredible "burger" on a whole wheat bun out by substituting indonesian tempeh strips for meat.
        the entire deal is:
        whole wheat burger bun
        strips of indonesian tempeh briefly deep fat fried
        fresh tomato slice
        fresh lettuce
        grilled caramelized onions

        and then, for a $1 upcharge i have them add their Yuzu jalepeno slaw which is made using a vinaigrette NOT mayonaise.

        1 Reply
        1. re: westsidegal

          I have no trouble whatsoever with tempeh. I ate gobs of it when in Amsterdam (I confess everything may not have been pure vegetarian, as shrimp paste or fish sauce may have been a seasoning - as I said before, I'm not a vegetarian, but posting here in the quest to reduce animal products, while not screwing up my gut).

          You are bunny, that simply is not true in my case. Think I need some predigestion or probiotic help. I'm not a young person, and while my mum was very health-conscious and we ate a lot of veg and not much red meat, she was never a vegetarian.

        2. If they don't agree with you, why eat them?

          1 Reply
          1. re: ipsedixit

            For non animal-source complete protein, of course.

          2. By the way, I LOVE black beans. Dearly wish I could dig into a pot of them without gut distress the next day.

            9 Replies
            1. re: lagatta

              Are you eating canned or cooked from dry beans? If you cook from dry soaking 24hrs, rinse, then cooking with kombu and a pinch of baking soda. With canned rinse well
              Try just 2 tablespoons a day for a while along with you meal (keep most of the rest of the beans frozen) to start to build a tolerance and gradually increase to 1/4c for a week and so on. A large infrequent serving of beans will cause the most digestive issues.

              Are lentils or edamame ok? Those are both great legume options.
              A probiotic supplement can only be a good thing IMO.
              Hopefully two years later you're able to find tempeh more readily near you- i love the stuff and since it is fermented (its high in probiotics too) and mixed with grains its a great way to add a vegan protein to your regular menu

              1. re: Ttrockwood

                About the only tinned beans I eat at home are the Eden Organics. Yes, they are expensive but often on sale at a bio-market not far from my neighbourhood. They are prepared with kombu, and bother me less than others. Sometimes I cook them, but I'll have to be more diligent about doing that and freezing them in small portions. I do have an old crockpot, which is a very useful thing, and uses little energy. Yes, I add kombu.

                I don't seem to have any problem with either lentils or chickpeas, and am usually ok with edamame. Yes, they are great options and I love making the Levantine lentils, rice and onion dish (dirt cheap, too).

                I can get overpriced tempeh at a natural foods shop at the Jean-Talon Market but the only Asian market that carries it at a more reasonable price is a bit of a trek (this is also dirt-cheap to make; some Indonesian colleagues (in Europe) say it is the staple: tempeh with this, tempeh with that... a bit like Monty Python's spam, spam, spam, but more salubrious.

                Yes, I really like tempeh, and foods from that region in the world in general. A highlight of (working) stays in Amsterdam.

                1. re: lagatta

                  That's great you can manage the chickpeas and lentils- i made a big batch of mujadarra last week that i've been enjoying.
                  Have you thought of making tempeh? Looks rather straightforward...

                  1. re: lagatta

                    lagatta, I have the same problem. Most beans I'm fine with - and I LOVE beans - but for some reason black beans seem to sort of tear me apart. I still eat them, but not as much as I'd like to. Since I eat a lot of other beans without any problem, I have assumed that after 30 years of trying to make black beans happen, it just isn't going to. I still eat them, but I make sure I do so when ... I'm going to have some alone time afterwards, if you catch my drift (and please don't catch my drift!).

                    1. re: LulusMom

                      Ha! I live alone - except for my elderly cat who likes scents - and work mostly at home (wouldn't think of eating beans if I'll be working at a conference the next day, except for "safe" things like falafel or hummus) but the digestive distress is far more than passing wind from both ends. "Tear you apart" as you said is a more accurate descriptor. And, of course, I love black beans, and have friends from Brazil and other black bean countries.

                      I'm making chile with small red beans (Eden, cooked with kombu). There will also be fresh ginger. Hope it goes well, if not, friends will get a lovely home-cooked present, adorned with fresh coriander.

                      1. re: lagatta

                        I do hope this works for you. Please let us know. And yes "tears me apart" is more of a big deal than the other problem.

                2. re: lagatta

                  Do you eat fermented foods other than tempeh? Sauerkraut and cortido have tons of probiotics and prepare the gut for much better digestion. Tempeh is easy to make as Throckwood says.

                  1. re: magiesmom

                    Yes, I do. I make curtido, and while I don't make sauerkraut, I certainly eat it. I'll try to interest my downstairs neighbour (a very good cook) in a tempeh project. We do have small apartment kitchens. Curtido with pupusas ... beans again!

                    And not being a vegan, I certainly eat yoghourt, preferably made from goat's or ewe's milk.

                    Here in Qu├ębec we have a medicinal-strength probiotic yoghourt (also comes in soya and rice-based formulas for allergics and vegans). Not a "pleasure of the table" (nasty-tasting stuff) but very effective when digestion goes awry, for example when travelling.

                  2. re: lagatta

                    Have you cooked them with kombu.?
                    Do you eat fermented foods other than tempeh? Sauerkraut and cortido have tons of probiotics and prepare the gut for much better digestion.