DEAR DR. BLONZ: When cooking beans, will adding ginger to the water reduce the amount of intestinal gas from eating them? Where does the gas come from? If using this technique, how much ginger would be needed for 1 lb. of beans? And should I use fresh ginger or ground, which also affects the amounts? -- S.K., Las Vegas
DEAR S.K.: Beans contain particular carbohydrates called oligosaccharides. The body does a poor job of digesting these, because we don’t produce sufficient amounts of the particular enzyme required to do that job. As a result, these carbohydrates travel through the small intestine undigested, then arrive in the large intestine, where they serve as sustenance to the natural flora that live there. Flora can give off methane and other gases as a metabolic byproduct of their meal. Some of the intestinal gases get absorbed through the intestinal wall, but when production exceeds this ability, the excess gets passed out of the body. All this will vary from individual to individual.
I am familiar with ginger’s reputation of being able to reduce the gas from beans. There is, however, little available in the scientific literature that describes how this herbal root might accomplish the task. Some of the information says that ginger works its wonders when you add it to the soaking water, as you mention above. I could not, however, find any guide that specified amounts or types of ginger.
What is confusing is that there are other articles saying that the anti-gas effect comes when you use ginger as a seasoning with already-cooked beans. One article even made reference to “research in India,” but again, there was little to be found in the scientific literature. On top of all this, we have ginger’s reputation as a digestive aid unrelated to beans, as well as its recommended use to help with various forms of nausea, including morning sickness and post-surgical nausea.
Aside from giving ginger a try, there are other techniques that can help limit the impact of gas production. One is to eat more slowly, chewing foods thoroughly, and enjoying beans as a part of a meal that contains protein and fat -- ideally preceding the beans. This helps because it slows the rate at which the food travels through the digestive tract, in turn slowing the rate at which the gas is produced.
Another option is to take an over-the-counter product that provides some of the missing digestive enzyme. The way the beans are cooked is also a factor. For more on this, see tinyurl.com/yb65zrzz.
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