legumes

Got Beans? My Guide to Including Legumes on a Low FODMAP Diet

Legumes (also known as pulses) include beans, lentils and dried peas (chickpeas, split peas). Beyond the classic black, pinto, or garbanzo beans, you can now buy an incredible variety of lentils (red, yellow, green, black, split or not) and even heirloom beans, with different colors, flavors and shape.

If you thought legumes were boring, think again. Just a virtual visit to the cuisines or India (dals and channa masala), Morocco (Harira), the Mediterranean (Italian Ribollita), Latin America (black bean soup or pozole) and Japan (soy beans) will start making your head spinning with new ideas on how to vary your intake of legumes. And these are just a few examples. One could write and entire book on the different ways you could cook these nutritional powerhouses. Indeed, let’s then talk about why they are so good for us.

The Benefits of Legumes

First of all, they are the cheapest way (for your wallet and for the earth) to get protein in your diet. But if you think that they are “poor people’s” food, I am going to tell you that they are also “lucky people’s” food. Yes, because, in addition to the protein, they contain slow-digesting carbohydrates, tons of fiber, and 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:

1)    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.

2)     Help with constipation: they contain insoluble fiber, which creates bulk and moves stool through the GI tract faster.

3)     Help keep healthy cholesterol levels: they are one of the few foods high in soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and helps excrete it (I wrote more on the subject in a previous article). They are also very low in saturated fat, and may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease when they replace high-saturated fat foods like burgers or cheese.

4)     Protect the body against disease as they contain antioxidants and other bioactive compounds. Although foods like blueberries and broccoli are more famous for their antioxidant content (you may have heard of anthocyanins and sulfuraphanes), legumes contain flavonoids, lignans, phytosterols, and other bioactive compounds that may protect us from chronic disease and inflammation.

5)     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.

Legumes on a low FODMAP diet

Legumes are rich in prebiotic fibers known as oligosaccharides (mostly GOS, or galacto-oligosaccharides, and also fructans). As humans don’t have the enzymes necessary to break these molecules down, they go through our GI tract unabsorbed, end up in the large intestine, where our gut bacteria digest them and use them for energy. Unfortunately, the result of this fermentation process is gas, and for people with IBS, it’s an exaggerated amount of gas, which can also induce bloating and pain.

For this reason, most beans, lentils, and dried peas 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. The good news is that 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.

Here is how to prepare them to minimize the gas production:

  • During the elimination diet, you can have small amounts (no more than ½ cup) of canned chickpeas and lentils as they as low enough in FODMAPs to be suitable for this phase.

  • Afterwards, if you pass the GOS challenge, you can start by reintroducing small amounts of other canned beans first, as the canning process drastically lowers the amounts of FODMAPs. You can read more about the effect of food processing on FODMAPs here. 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. Start with channa dal, urad dal, and chickpeas (lowest in FODMAPs), then try butter beans, and red or green lentils. Last, try the higher-FODMAP varieties: soy, borlotti, lima, red kidney beans, and split peas (highest!).

  • Finally, the enzyme supplement alpha-galactosidase helps some people tolerate beans 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 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 (for example during the weekend), and 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 the 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 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. Divide into the portion size that correspond to a maximum of ½ cup chickpeas.

  • 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. Try my Mexican Lentil Chili below.

black lentils are low FODMAP.jpg

Mexican Lentil Chili

Ingredients

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained

1 Tablespoon olive oil

½ cup chopped green tops of scallions (1 oz.)

1 medium red or orange bell pepper (1/3 lb.), small dice

1 small green chili, de-seeded and minced

1-2 teaspoons chili powder (depending on desired level of heat)*

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon salt

1, 14-oz can diced tomatoes

1, 15-oz can black or brown lentils, drained and rinsed

½ oz dark (60 or 70%) chocolate, finely chopped

½ teaspoon lemon juice (optional)

3 Tablespoons chopped cilantro

*Make sure to check the ingredients’ list as some chili powder blends add garlic and/or onion. Spicy foods may be a trigger for some people. Adjust amount of chili powder according to tolerance.

Procedure

1.      Bring 1 and 1/2 cups water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and quinoa. Bring back to a simmer, then lower the heat, cover and cook for 10-12 minutes. Stir, cover and let the quinoa rest for 5 minutes.

2.      While the quinoa is cooking, heat the oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the scallion tops, bell pepper, and green chili. Cook for 6-7 minutes, until softened. Check and stir often, adding some water, if needed.

3.      Add chili powder, cumin and salt and stir for 1 minute.

4.      Add tomatoes and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes, until thickened.

5.      Stir in lentils, quinoa, chocolate, and ½ cup water. Let simmer for an additional 5 minutes, until flavors have blended.

6.      Taste and add lemon juice, if desired, and adjust for salt, if needed.

7.      Garnish with cilantro. Serve with corn tortillas on the side.

Yield

4 servings

Storage

Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

 

 

3 Tips for Eating a Balanced Vegetarian or Vegan Low FODMAP Diet

FODMAPs are sugars and fibers that are either poorly absorbed or not absorbed at all. A low FODMAP therefore diet restricts the intake of carbohydrate-rich foods such as some grains, legumes, lactose-containing dairy, vegetables and fruits. When you add another restriction – that of a vegetarian or vegan diet, you might even wonder whether there is anything left to eat at all!

With some planning, and the help of a registered dietitian knowledgeable about FODMAPs, vegetarians and even vegans can follow a low FODMAP protocol and eat a balanced diet. As many foods are either eliminated or limited in portion sizes, vegetarians and vegans need to be especially careful in planning meals so to avoid deficiencies in protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and, possibly, fiber.

Here are 3 tips to eat a balanced vegetarian or vegan low FODMAP diet.

1. Don’t skip the protein

Vegetarians are less at risk of eating too little protein as the low FODMAP diet includes eggs, lactose-free dairy products and a few types of cheeses. Vegans need to pay more attention. Each meal should include a low FODMAP source of protein such as legumes (canned lentils or chickpeas), tofu (firm, extra firm), edamame, or tempeh. I recently wrote My Guide to Eating Soy Foods on a low FODMAP Diet (including an Indonesian Tempeh recipe).

Among the low FODMAP grains, quinoa (and quinoa-based pasta), millet and oats are also high in protein - more than rice - and can contribute to the overall protein intake. According to vegetarian nutrition experts, vegetarians and vegans should aim to eat a little more protein than omnivores: about 1 g/kg body weight (instead of the general recommendation of 0.8 g/kg).

2. Include good sources of calcium

Calcium intake may be an issue for everyone on a low FODMAP diet due to the restriction of lactose. Vegetarians who like dairy products can eat lactose-free milk, yogurt, and a few kinds of hard cheeses. Vegans miss out on this food group entirely but can still meet their calcium needs by drinking calcium-fortified almond or hemp milk, and eating calcium-set tofu, and calcium-rich vegetables (bok choy and kale) and chia seeds. See more ideas in my article, 5 Tips to Eat Enough Calcium (including two tasty calcium-rich recipes).

3. Pump Up the Iron

A common pitfall for all vegetarians/vegans (whether on a low FODMAP diet or not) is eating too little iron. The best sources are, after all, red meat and organ meats. Breakfast cereals are fortified with iron but most of them are high in FODMAPs. Even so, careful meal planning can help you eat enough or close to enough. All the plant-based protein sources are high in iron (and zinc): legumes, soy products, nuts and seeds. The grains mentioned above are also rich in iron, as well as certain low FODMAP vegetables such as kale, chard, raw spinach, bok choy, and broccoli. 

You may have heard that the iron from plant foods is not as well as absorbed as the one from animal foods. However, adding a vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable (for example, kiwi, strawberries, oranges, or red bell peppers and broccoli) at the same meal greatly increases the absorption of iron. Another useful tip is to avoid drinking coffee, tea, mint tea or cocoa with meals as the flavonoids or phenolic acid in these beverages bind the iron and reduce its absorption by as much as 50-90%. Finally, it would be best to eat calcium-rich and iron-rich foods in separate meals, as calcium and iron inhibit each other’s absorption. You need not worry about the foods that contain both (such as tofu or legumes). Mostly try not to drink lactose-free milk or almond milk with your lunch or dinner, and have those very high-calcium foods with breakfast and/or snacks.

Final Food for Thought…

A paper published by Monash University earlier this year found some popular vegan foods to have either a low or negligible FODMAP content: soy cheese, coconut yogurt, pea protein isolate, kelp noodles, vegan egg replacer, nutritional yeast, agar-agar, dulse, and spirulina. Check out the Monash University FODMAP Diet App for appropriate serving sizes.

Even when doing all things right, you may still be deficient in certain of these nutrients or may simply not be eating enough. It’s best to consult with a registered dietitian trained on the low FODMAP diet to see whether you may need to tweak your meals further or need a supplement (for example, B12 for vegans). Finally, don’t forget that the low FODMAP diet is a temporary diet and, once you have completed the re-challenge phase, you may be able to include many more foods, such as more varieties of beans and lentils, perhaps soy milk, and more choices or higher portions of vegetables.

 

5 Tips to Eat More Fiber on a Low FODMAP Diet

We all know fiber is a good thing. We keep reading articles about it in magazines and see packaged foods boasting "high fiber" claims in bold letters. Indeed, fiber has several health benefits: it helps our intestines function regularly and may help lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels. 

People with IBS need to be careful about the amounts and types of fiber they eat so not to experience unwanted symptoms. Certain fibers are rapidly fermented in the large intestine and may lead to bloating, abdominal pain and excess gas. A few examples of foods that contain these types of fiber are onions, artichokes, wheat, and beans. These are the fibers a low FODMAP diet is designed to minimize.

Other types of fiber are slowly fermented and better tolerated, for example, the fiber in brown rice, kiwis, raspberries, carrots, and chia seeds.

How much fiber do we need? According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and adequate fiber intake is 25 g per day for women and 38 g per day for men up to the age of 50 (a little less for older people). This is, however, for the general (healthy) population (sadly, most Americans consume too little fiber, an average of 15 g per day). Monash University recommends people with IBS eat between 25 and 30 g of fiber per day.

Here are 5 tips to eat more fiber:

1.     Don't be afraid to consume some fiber. Remember, this is a low FODMAP diet, now a zero FODMAP diet. On the other hand, don’t overdo it. Depending on your IBS subtype and symptoms (diarrhea or constipation), you might need to be on the low or high end of those recommendations. As you increase your fiber intake, make sure to also drink enough water during the day.

2.     Be sure to choose low FODMAP whole grains (brown rice, millet, quinoa) and don't limit yourself to the "white" stuff. There is a tendency for people to gravitate towards either avoiding grains altogether or mostly eat white rice, white-rice flour based products (crackers, gluten-free bread). By including more whole grains, in addition to the fiber (2-4 grams per cup of cooked brown rice, quinoa, quinoa-corn pasta or millet), you will get other important nutrients as well.

3.     Choose a variety of low FODMAP fruits and vegetables (keep the skin on) in small portions (1/2 cup is a good benchmark and will provide 2-4 grams of fiber) and spread them out throughout the day. Try some of these:

  • Fruit: raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, kiwifruit, oranges

  • Vegetables: carrots, radishes, kale, Swiss chard, eggplant

4.     Some canned legumes are ok even during the elimination phase (rinse and drain first). Try up to ½ cup per meal or snack (5-8 grams of fiber):

  • Lentils (great in soup, salads or chili)

  • Chickpeas (they are delicious roasted as a snack or sprinkled on salads)

  • Fresh or frozen edamame (boiled and rinsed)

5.     Don’t forget the nuts and seeds. In small amounts, these can contribute good amounts of fiber without triggering symptoms. Try up to 2 tablespoons per meal or snack (1-2 grams of fiber in most nuts/seeds; 10 grams in chia seeds):

  • Nuts: almonds or walnuts – great sprinkled on hot rice/quinoa cereal for breakfast

  • Seeds: pumpkin seeds (good by themselves or as topping for tacos) and chia seeds (in a smoothie or as chia pudding – see my recipe for Cocoa Chia Pudding below - who thought that eating more fiber could look like this?)

Finally, if you feel you need a fiber supplement, consult a dietitian before trying one on your own. If you choose the wrong fiber, you may make your symptoms worse. An expert dietitian can recommend one most suitable to your IBS subtype.

AdobeStock_Chocolate chia pudding.jpeg

Cocoa Chia Pudding

Ingredients

1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk

¼ cup chia seeds

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa or raw cacao powder

1 packet powdered stevia (1 g)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

A few chocolate shavings or 2-3 raspberries per serving to top (optional)

Procedure

1.     Combine the almond milk, chia seeds, cocoa, stevia, and vanilla extract in a bowl. Whisk until well combined and the mixture begins to thicken. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator overnight or for 6-8 hours.

2.     When the pudding has set, give it one more stir, then portion into single-serve bowls. Alternatively, heat up in the microwave for a warm pudding.

3.     You can top with a small amount of shaved chocolate or 2-3 raspberries per serving, if desired.

Yield: 2 servings

Storage: Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Author: Antonella Dewell, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Natural Chef

10 Ideas for Healthy Low FODMAP Snacks

For people with IBS, the ideal meal pattern is to consume 3 moderately-sized meals and 1-2 small snacks, preferably spaced 3-4 hours apart. One reason is that large meals may end up accumulating a large load of FODMAPs and trigger symptoms. This may happen even if you are careful and choose only low FODMAP foods, as people with IBS are very sensitive to the distention of the stomach wall and, when it enlarges due to a large amount of food, the nerves that surround it send signals of pain/cramping to the brain (this is called visceral hypersensitivity).

It’s best to avoid “grazing” or eating semi-continuously as this is similar to stacking too many FODMAPs in the same meal. The intestinal tract needs to be empty at intervals during the day so that it can benefit from what are called “migrating motor complexes”, healthy cleansing waves that occur in the small intestine when it is empty.

All this makes snacking play an important role in the Low FODMAP diet. Here are 10 ideas for healthy and nutritious low FODMAP snacks (most of them are portable and can be used when traveling):

1.   Vegetables: choose red/yellow/orange bell peppers, baby carrots, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, either alone or with a dip or spread (see ideas below)

2.   Dips/spreads: home-made Baba Ganoush (no garlic) or lactose-free cream cheese

3.   A handful (about 2 tablespoons) of low FODMAP nuts (no pistachios or cashews) or an ounce of peanuts; they can be raw, roasted, salty, spicy or even chocolate-covered

4.   Two rice cakes or half of a firm banana with 1-2 tablespoons peanut butter or 1 tablespoon almond butter

5.   Fruit: 1 cup grapes or pineapple chunks, 2 small kiwis, 1 medium orange or 2 small mandarins

6.   Lactose-free plain yogurt, alone or with 1 ounce of blueberries or raspberries

7.   Hardboiled eggs sprinkled with salt & pepper or cayenne/paprika

8.   A pouch of water-packed tuna, alone, with raw vegetables (see above) or a handful of low FODMAP rice crackers

9.   Popcorn without added high FODMAP ingredients like garlic/onion powder or honey

10. Home-made roasted chickpeas (up to half a cup). See my recipe below: 

Healthy Low FODMAP Snacks.jpg

Spiced Roasted Chickpeas

Ingredients

1, 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

½ teaspoons freshly ground cumin*

½ teaspoon freshly ground coriander*

1 teaspoons paprika

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoons avocado oil

Procedure

1.     Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.     Dry the chickpeas by spreading them on towels on your kitchen counter.

3.     In a large bowl, mix the cumin, coriander, paprika and salt with the oil, then toss the beans into the bowl and mix until they are well coated with the spices.

4.     Spread the chickpeas onto the baking sheet in one single layer and roast for 10 minutes. Shake the sheet and then bake for another 15-18 minutes, or until crispy.

5.     Use as a snack or a protein and fiber-rich topping for a salad.

*Note: for best flavor, roast the coriander and cumin seeds in a skillet until aromatic, stirring often and being careful they don’t burn. Transfer them to a coffee or nut grinder and grind them to a powder.

Yield: 4 servings

Storage: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Author: Antonella Dewell, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Natural Chef