Legumes – how to digest them better

I have decided to write this post due to a recent chat I had with a lovely lady who told me she was avoiding legumes because she had all sorts of digestive symptoms when she used to eat them, from gas and bloating to cramps and pain. And I bet she's not the only one...

Common legumes include: all types of beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas and soybeans. They are a rich source of healthy fibres, protein, potassium, calcium, iron, and several B vitamins so they shouldn’t be completely removed from our diet.

As an example, one cup of canned chickpeas provides 11.9 grams of protein, 10.6 grams of fibre, and it is a rich source of folate and vitamin B6.

The downside with these legumes is that they also contain so-called antinutrients such as lectins and phytic acid. Lectins are pro-inflammatory, disrupt digestion and can damage the intestinal lining. Phytic acid binds with minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc, and it inhibits their absorption. If these legumes are eaten in excess and aren’t well prepared, they can lead to mineral deficiencies and health problems.

The flip side is that there are certain cooking and eating techniques which can alleviate most digestive problems when it comes to legumes and can reduce the negative effects of lectins & phytic acid:

  • Soak your legumes overnight as it will help eliminate these antinutirents, aid digestion and will also promote a faster cooking time.

  • Sprouting is another great way to maximise the legumes' digestibility. Lentils, mung and aduki beans sprout very easily. According to the Traditional Chinese Medicine, sprouts are cooling so this method would be better during spring and summer time.

  • Use proper combinations, ingredients and seasonings:

- Cook legumes with fennel and cumin which may help prevent gas.

- Season with salt or miso near the end of the cooking; if added at the beginning, the beans will not cook completely and skins will remain tough.

- If you still feel bloated after eating legumes, add some cider-vinegar into the water in the last stages of cooking them.

  • Chew your food thoroughly. It may sound too simple but sometimes chewing the food well, not rushing through it, may be the only thing that’s needed to improve our digestion.

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