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Green beans in a bowl

Are Green Beans Good for IBS?

You have heard the song “beans, beans they’re good for your heart”, and it ends with a less than fortunate encounter on the toilet seat. While there may be some truth to that anecdotal hymn, not all beans are created equal. There are over 150 bean varieties and some beans are actually really good for your digestion. They can really help those suffering from digestive complaints like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

That’s because your body does not process all beans in the same way. Have you heard of FODMAP? No? Ok, take a deep breath because it’s quite a mouthful. It stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. Prefer FODMAP? We thought so.

What is FODMAP? 

FODMAP relates to a diet that categorises and temporarily eliminates food items based on how easily or not the food’s sugar component is absorbed and how easily it passes through the lower intestine. The lower the FODMAP score, the safer it is to eat that particular item of food. This of course assumes that you have a digestive complaint like IBS.

Once you have eliminated all of the high-scoring FODMAP foods for a period of time, you slowly reintroduce them to see which ones cause you issues. The FODMAP diet has proven to be successful in reducing symptoms in approximately 86% of patients that tried it under the direction of a qualified physician.  

Why does it matter to people with IBS?

Well, one of the ways in which your body creates energy is through the process of fermenting carbohydrates. This process produces a gassy by-product, which lends itself to the song mentioned above. Some people have difficulty breaking down and absorbing the sugars, so the fermentation process goes into overdrive and causes discomfort.

Part of this process relies on the osmosis of water from the colon, which means that water is absorbed to help the digestion process along. For those that have difficulty digesting high FODMAP foods, more water remains in their poop than it would normally, which explains the diarrhoea symptoms that people with IBS sometimes experience. 

Portion size plays a big part. Smaller portions may be tolerable even to those that are sensitive. At the same time, large portions of low FODMAP foods can still cause irritability. Like all diet-related issues, it is important to pay attention to your own body and work out your own thresholds.

Giving yourself a break from certain foods can also improve tolerance in some people, but this is considered to be because of the effect of portion size and giving your body the additional time it needs to break down and absorb the food. Remember, even eating small portion sizes too frequently can have a negative impact because those with IBS take longer than normal to break down and process certain foods. It’s like stacking lots of smaller complicated tasks on your body before it has finished completing the earlier ones. 

Back to beans

A regular-sized cup of green beans contains approximately 4 grams of fiber. This provides around 16% of your daily fiber requirement. Fiber is essential to maintaining your gut health, so make sure not to leave this important macronutrient out.

The good news is that green beans qualify as a low FODMAP food. Of course, if you eat too much of them, you will likely still respond with an upset tummy. Like anything, balance is important. Don’t let that scare you though. Green beans have an abundance of nutrients; they provide a source of vitamins A, C, K, B6, and folic acid. They also contain calcium, silicon, iron, manganese, potassium and copper. The list doesn't stop there. 

Green beans have been linked to several health claims. These include more energy, better cardiovascular health, improved skin and hair,  and longer living. But, how can these little green beans pack such a mighty punch? The answer is their high concentration of nutritious value and greater bioavailability compared to alternative sources. Bio-availability measures how easy it is for your body to absorb the nutrients. This has nothing to do with how well your body processes the sugars that cause IBS. 

Take iron, for example: green beans contain twice as much as that of spinach (if only Popeye knew). According to the book ‘Healing Foods’, green beans are abundant in vitamin K, which activates osteocalcin - the main non-collagenous protein found in bones. This compound strengthens your bones from within by locking in calcium molecules together. 

Also rich in flavonoids, antioxidants, and easily absorbed silicon, you can’t afford to miss out on the benefits of eating green beans. But, if you struggle to incorporate greens into your diet, don’t worry, there are lots of recipes to convert you from mean bean to keen bean in no time. 

Try this one on us: 

Green beans with tomatoes and herbs: 

What you need: 

  • Approximately 1 kg of your new favourite green beans
  • 1 and a half teaspoons of dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • 1 quarter of a cup, plus a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of of snipped chives 
  • Half a teaspoon of chopped thyme leaves 
  • Half a kg of halved cherry tomatoes.

Step 1 

Bring a pan of hot water to the boil. Add your salt and the green beans. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, until they are crispy and tender, but not soggy. Drain the beans using a colander, place under running cold water until they are chilled. Then remove any excess water with a towel or kitchen paper. Step 2 

Add the dijon mustard and red wine vinegar to a large bowl and whisk. Add some salt and pepper. Add the olive oil gradually, while whisking to spread the flavour. Add the green beans, making sure that the oil is distributed equally over all the beans. Add the chives, thyme and tarragon to coat the beans. Then add the halved cherry tomatoes and gently toss, so all the ingredients are equally distributed. 

Step 3

Enjoy!  

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