Beans are the ultimate superfood, jam-packed with protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates.
Pound-for-pound, they contain more nutritional value than any other food in the world.
To understand what prebiotics are, we first need to know what they are feeding – probiotics.
Probiotics are the good bacteria in your gut microbiome that have numerous health benefits to keep your body working optimally.
A microbiome is a microscopic environment made up of bacteria, yeasts, and viruses in our bodies.
An astonishing 100 trillion bacteria, both good and bad, live in our gut microbiomes.
Although most probiotics are found in your intestines, they can also be found in other parts of your body, such as your skin, lungs, and mouth.
The primary function of probiotics is maintaining balance in your body.
When harmful bacteria enters your body, it throws your immune system out of whack, and you’ll start feeling ill.
The good bacteria’s job is to fight off the bad and support your immune system.
Probiotics also help you digest food, create nutrients, and line the cells in your gut to prevent them from absorbing unfriendly bacteria.
The two most common species of probiotics are Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.
These two types of bacteria are commonly found in fermented foods such as:
- Sourdough bread
- Certain types of cheese
In recent years, probiotic supplements have also been increasingly popular, growing from USD 51 billion in 2019 to USD 55 billion in 2020.
Because probiotic supplements are relatively new, the scientific community often disagrees about the roles of each type of bacteria and its benefits.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any claims on the benefits of probiotics.
According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), Bifidobacteria has been credited with:
- Helping treat IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
- Countering effects of chemotherapy
- Treating constipation
- Fighting infections
- Helping with diarrhea
Lactobacillus is known to:
- Lower cholesterol
- Prevent diarrhea
- Help alleviate IBS
- Lower the risk of vaginal infections
- Contribute to weight loss
- Reduce cold and flu symptoms
- Help alleviate eczema
- Reduce symptoms from allergies
Prebiotics are certain types of fiber that we cannot digest, but our gut bacteria can.
In a nutshell, they feed the good guys in our bellies.
They are commonly found in:
Do beans contain prebiotics?
Beans have been getting loads of attention these days as a superfood due to the high content of protein, fiber, and antioxidants.
Protein is an essential nutrient whose primary purpose is to repair and maintain our body.
Beans high in protein content are soybeans, lentils, split, pinto, black, kidney, lima, and navy beans.
Fiber is the type of carbohydrate found in edible plants that we cannot digest.
The fiber then passes through our intestines and feeds the good bacteria in our gut, resulting in a fermentation process.
Fibers can be classed as fermentable and non-fermentable.
Soluble, fermentable fibers are what feed our gut bacteria.
Some insoluble fibers also have the ability to be fermented.
Some fermentable fibers include guar gum, beta-glucans, pectins, inulin, and oligofructose.
Beans also contain a group of sugars called oligosaccharides.
Two of the most common oligosaccharides are raffinose and stachyose.
The molecules of these sugars are too big to be digested in the small intestine, so they move to the large intestine, where they get fermented by gut bacteria, producing gas.
The metabolic process of fermentation produces gases such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane.
The unfortunate side effect of eating beans is the higher volumes of gas produced in your gut.
You might have encountered folks complaining about frequent flatulence after eating beans and legumes.
Despite the health benefits of eating beans, a vast majority still avoid beans because of the awkward result of farting.
After all, not all of us have dogs to blame!
There are several ways to decrease flatulence.
Here are some recommended ways to save yourself some potential embarrassment and enjoy beans more.
- Rinse and soak beans before cooking to remove some of the oligosaccharides.
- Start with eating small amounts of beans at a time, gradually increasing the portions.
- Use a small amount of baking soda to make the water more alkaline and help break down the sugars.
- Drink more water with beans to help move food through the digestive system.
- Include carminatives in your recipe. Carminatives are a group of herbs that are traditionally used to help with abdominal pain, flatulence, and bloat. Some common carminatives are ginger, sage, thyme, peppermint, rosemary, parsley, and chamomile.
- As a last resort, try over-the-counter digestive aids such as Gas-X or Beano. These medications contain enzymes that help digest the oligosaccharides.
Remember, the gas is normal!
Aside from it causing potential awkward moments, it indicates that your body is functioning well, and your gut bacteria are busy munching up all the good stuff you fed it.
There’s even an old children’s nursery rhyme that goes like this:
Beans, beans, the magical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot!
The more you toot, the better you feel
So let’s have beans with every meal!
Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs)
The bacteria in your gut also produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), an organic compound that plays an essential part in your gastrointestinal health.
Acetate is the most common SCFA and regulates the pH of your gut, keeping a balanced environment.
In addition, it has been linked to inhibiting the growth of pathogens, controlling appetite, and feeding the bacteria that create butyrate.
Butyrate’s primary role is to provide energy for the cells that line your gut.
These cells are called colonocytes and are responsible for transporting vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from your digestive system to your bloodstream, eventually making their way to other parts of your body.
In addition to that, colonocytes act as a barrier to protect against toxins and pathogens.
In addition, butyrate has been linked to helping with inflammation, reducing cancer markers, and improving brain function.
Propionate has been considered to lower cholesterol, reduce fat storages, reduce cancer cells and help with inflammation.
Lastly, lactate is produced by the lactobacillus bacteria.
It is not an SCFA but another type of microbe produced by your gut.
Like acetate, lactate feeds the bacteria that produce butyrate.
It has been known to improve the immune system, fight bad bacteria and improve brain function.
Are Pinto Beans Prebiotic?
According to The Bean Institute, yes, pinto beans are prebiotic.
They are the most popular bean in the United States.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides the following nutritional value of 1 cup of pinto beans:
- 245 calories
- 1g fat
- 2mg sodium
- 45g carbohydrates
- 15g fiber
- 0g sugars
- 15g protein
The recommended daily intake (RDI) of protein is between 15 to 25 grams, while fiber is 25 to 30 grams.
A single cup of beans puts you more than halfway to your protein and fiber needs!
In addition, pintos pack a bunch of other nutrients like:
- 20% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of iron
- 20% RDI of magnesium
- 20% RDI of vitamin B6
- 28% RDI of thiamin
- 20% RDI of potassium
- 40% RDI of copper
Do I Need To Take A Prebiotic?
You don’t have to take a prebiotic since it naturally is found in the food you eat.
Increasing your intake of beans, vegetables, and fruits will have a similar result.
However, in recent years, the use of both prebiotics and probiotics supplements has been steadily gaining popularity.
A food or supplement containing both probiotics and prebiotics is called synbiotics.
You might need a probiotic, prebiotic, or synbiotic supplement if you:
- Go to the bathroom irregularly.
Ninety percent of the bacteria in our bodies live in our colon, and if you aren’t passing digested food out regularly, your gut bacteria might need a little help.
- You have uncontrollable sugar cravings.
Different strains of bacteria that live in our bodies want different things.
If you’re constantly craving white, refined sugar, your body’s balance might be out of whack.
- You took an antibiotic.
Antibiotics are increasingly used to fight infections and even save lives, but their usage comes at a steep cost.
Antibiotics kill all the bacteria, not just the bad stuff invading your body.
Replenishing gut bacteria one to two weeks after a course of antibiotics is essential to get the balance back.
- Your metabolism is slowing.
It’s not just age; metabolism can also slow because of an inefficient gut struggling to translate food into energy.
- You’re constantly tired and sleep poorly.
Most of the serotonin, the hormone that influences our mood and sleep, is manufactured in the gut.
An unbalanced gut will produce less serotonin and result in lower energy and possible insomnia.
- Your skin is irritated.
Rashes, eczema, and other skin conditions can be a sign of an unbalanced gut.
- You have a sensitive stomach.
Food allergies and intolerances have all been linked to poor gut health.
Diarrhea, cramps, bloating, and nausea are all signs of an unhealthy digestive system.
Synbiotic supplements are thought to have the following health benefits:
- Help with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
- Lower the risk of traveler’s diarrhea, a frequent problem for travelers that consume contaminated food or water
- Lower the risk of obesity
- Strengthen the immune system
- Help with lactose intolerance
- Increase metabolism
- Lower the risk of cancer. Lactobacillus has been found to reduce the growth of tumors
- Allow better absorption of healthy vitamins and minerals
- Contribute to prenatal care
- Reduce bloat and constipation
As with all supplements, consult your physician before embarking on anything new, and only buy high-quality products from trusted manufacturers.
Remember, probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics are not currently regulated or endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Synbiotic supplements have also been known to cause a few side effects, especially at the start. Some of the more common side effects are:
- Acid reflux
- Lack of appetite
- Allergic reactions that can result in hives or extreme stomach pain
Although rare, certain foods like yogurt and dairy drinks can be synbiotic if prebiotic fiber is present in its ingredients.
Miso, tempeh and sauerkraut can also be synbiotics if they are prebiotic.
Beans genuinely deserve the attention they get as a powerful addition to our diets.
They help our immune systems fight illness, provide us with energy, and feed the good guys in our bodies that want to keep us safe and healthy.
After all, we are their home!
Have a healthy, happy life, and don’t worry about farting!