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... the more you eat them, the more you ...

“Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart

The more you eat them, the more you fart…”

Remember chanting that rhyme and capping the hilarity with farting noises?  The bean lyric has been a reliable source of a few giggles for young children. Adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), in particular, may find pearls of wisdom in those two little lines.

For some people with IBS, certain foods that contain specific carbohydrates called “FODMAPs” (short for fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols) are poorly absorbed. A big bowl of pinto beans consumed by those with insufficient enzymes to break down the oligosaccharides can be an unpleasant validation of the above rhyme. The poorly digested sugars draw water into the digestive tract and are fermented by gut bacteria, resulting in digestive distress. Foods high in FODMAPs in sensitive individuals can cause symptoms such as:

  • Cramping

  • Gas and flatulence

  • Bloating

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

What foods are high in FODMAPs?

It’s not just beans. High FODMAP foods include:

  • Dairy products (milk, ice cream, yogurt)

  • Wheat based products (cereal, bread)

  • Legumes (beans, lentils)

  • Some vegetables (artichokes, asparagus, onion, garlic)

  • Some fruits (apple, cherries, pears, peaches)

Wait. Why is a FODMAP diet recommended for some people with IBS?

A FODMAP diet means eating foods low in FODMAPs. Studies have shown an improvement in IBS symptoms on a low FODMAP diet. One study found decreased bloating, abdominal pain, and flatulence in participants with IBS while on 21 days of a diet low in FODMAPs compared with their diets at baseline.

Does this mean I have to stop eating beans, dairy, wheat-based products, vegetables, and fruit?

No. Since many high FODMAP foods are healthy and may not pose a problem, it’s important to identify and eliminate only those foods that produce symptoms. The FODMAP diet plan should be done under the supervision of your doctor or dietician. This FODMAP discovery process involves three steps:

  • Restriction: Under an expert’s guidance, you’ll stop eating certain foods for 6-8 weeks.

  • Reintroduction: You can bring back foods one at a time at a rate of one item per week to determine which ones are troublesome.

  • Personalization: Once you identify the foods that cause symptoms, you can avoid or limit them while enjoying everything else. The goal is create a diet that gives you all the nutrients you need but includes only the FODMAPs you can handle.

Remember, beans are good for you, fart withstanding. Even as children, we’re taught:

“...The more you fart the better you feel

So eat your beans with every meal.”

If you suspect that you may have trouble digesting FODMAP-rich foods, work with your doctor or dietician to identify the culprits so that you can feel good with every meal.


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