Legumes include beans and lentils and are high in protein, carbohydrates and fibre. They are also high in a number of minerals such as potassium, calcium and iron.

Most dried beans, except black-eyed beans, split peas and lentils, need to be soaked overnight in plenty of water before cooking.  By bringing beans to the boil for 2-3 mins, scooping off the foam then taking off the heat and leaving to sit for 2-3 hours you can speed up this process. Change the soaking water once or twice, rinse the legumes and cook in fresh water.

Adding a strip of the seaweed kombu to the water whilst soaking and cooking the legumes aids the digestibility of the legumes. Also cooking legumes with fennel or cumin seeds, adding vinegar in the last half hour of cooking and/or adding salt, miso or tamari towards the end of cooking can all aid digestibility.

For those with sensitive digestions, canned legumes are better tolerated. These should be well rinsed, scooping off the foam and further soaking of them can make them more digestible.

Legumes consist of an indigestible fibre which contains oligosaccharides. Oligosaccharides are prebiotic that feed the bacteria in our large intestine. ‘Good’ bacteria contain their own digestive enzymes ferment the foods we can’t. This feeds them and provides us with beneficial nutrients such as vitamin K. When we have a large number of ‘bad’ bacteria, they can feed on these foods and cause bloating, high amounts of flatulence and constipation. Conflictingly, one way to decrease the number of ‘bad’ bacteria is to increase the number and variety of ‘good’ bacteria. To do so, we need to nurture and grow the good guys by feeding them prebiotics such as oligosaccharides.

To aid in reducing the uncomfortable and often embarrassing side effects of the fermenting oligosaccharides by the bad guys, whilst still supporting the growth of the good guys, it is advisable to begin with very, small servings of legumes and slowly increase the serving size over time. The number one rule of thumb for best digestion of legumes and in fact better digestion overall is to make sure you chew each mouthful to mush before swallowing. It is also recommended that you ensure you have good stomach acid.

Please Note: you may need to work on other areas of digestion if your bloating, constipation, pain and flatulence are severe, do not get any better or you feel your stomach acid may be an issue. (Talk to your natural health practitioner for support)

Natalee Durrant – Naturopath and Medical Herbalist