A few months ago, I had a lab look closely at the DNA of my gut bacteria. It might be surprising to you (as it was to me) to find the results came with some very specific and helpful dietary guidelines. Several gut bacteria were found at low levels. Based on this, it naturally followed that I should increase my intake of certain foods – especially lentils and beans.
I hadn’t eaten legumes for many years, so the results were spot on. But here’s the frustrating catch – I gave them up, not because I didn’t like them but because they caused me pain.
The legume quandary.
Like grains, legumes contain anti-nutrients (phytic acid and lectins) which are not only tough on a sensitive gut, but they bind the nutrients inside them, preventing you from absorbing them. Soaking, sprouting and culturing grain can reduce phytic acid and lectins, you can find out how to do that here.
In addition to the anti-nutrients, legumes are also FODMAPS, meaning that they contain a type of carbohydrate called galaco-ligosaccharides that can cause unpleasant digestive problems for some people, especially people who have IBS or a similar digestive problem known as SIBO.
But, I’ve given lentils and beans a bad rap for too long – so now it’s time to consider the benefits!
What have legumes got that our gut bugs need?
Legumes can contribute to our gut health in a few different ways. They have:
- Resistant Starch
Resistant starch is a type of carbohydrate that is ‘resistant’ to digestion, meaning it travels through the digestive system without being broken down. It’s not really food for us – it passes through the small intestine and arrives in the large intestine to become food for our healthy gut bugs instead. Some forms of resistant starch are only available after the particular food has been cooked and cooled – legumes however, contain a high concentration when eaten hot or cold.
- Soluble Fibre
Soluble fibre is a source of food for your gut bacteria which converts it into short-chain fatty acids. These help heal the lining of your gut (prevents leaky gut) and increase nutrient and mineral absorption.
- Insoluble Fibre
Legumes are full of insoluble fibre which improves gut function. Insoluble fibre absorbs water from your digestive tract and bulks up. As it moves along your digestive tract it collects all the waste, like a sponge that soaks up toxins. It also keeps you regular and helps prevent IBS and inflammatory bowel diseases. To get the digestive benefits from your high-fibre, legume meal, I recommend you drink plenty of water so that your digestive system has all the water it requires to do its job efficiently.
- Prebiotic Food
Foods like lentils and beans that feed healthy bacteria are known as prebiotics. Prebiotics promote the growth of good bacteria which can lower your risk of digestive disease and even help prevent bowel cancer by inhibiting inflammation. Prebiotics help probiotics do their job and the combination is necessary to keep the bacteria balance in check.
There are many ways to introduce more prebiotic foods into your diet but legumes are a simple and cheap source. With all these benefits, it’s obviously high time I experiment with a few legumes in my home cooking. I’ve reached out to my favourite local foodie bloggers for some beany inspiration. Here are 10 delicious recipes to sample.
6. EASY PUMPKIN & LAMB RED LENTIL DAHL
by A gut Feeling