save my relationship with beans
January 6, 2017 2:36 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone successfully prevented a food intolerance from worsening? Or reintroduced a food that their body had previously started rejecting? Digestion chat abounds within!

This is the second time that I've had a slow buildup of discomfort that fell off a cliff into painful intolerance with a food. Last time was bell peppers, around 2012, with a similar progression - a few months of "hmm something is irritating my gut, not sure what" followed by a sudden "oh holy hell it's these guys [terrible gastric things ensue every time I try to eat them]".

Bell peppers I can happily live without; I find them kind of bitter and gross anyway. It's mildly inconvenient because they're in a lot of vegetarian food by default, but I can work around that. But now it's beans and that's a much harder ask because I love them and they're a core part of my diet.

Similar intolerance progression this time - four or five weeks ago I was eating bean chilli or edamame salad every night and only feeling mild symptoms the next day, nothing that I wasn't prepared to deal with. Over Christmas I went to my mother's house and ate mostly cheesy nonsense and not a lot of fibre, and then the first time I came home and tried to eat edamame salad again (soy beans, broad beans, sugar snap peas, scallions & dressing) I was awake until 4am with some of the most painful gas and cramping of my life - whimpering & chills levels of pain and discomfort.

In the interest of science and also out of stupidity, I tried the same thing again two nights later (armed with painkillers, simethicone etc. this time) and it was exactly the same, possibly marginally more painful (the medicines did not help). This morning I ate 2-3 bites of baked beans at breakfast and immediately felt my system inflate with gas the second the beans hit it (which is exactly the same sensation I used to get from bell peppers - instant inflation & feeling like I was constantly re-inflating as soon as I passed any of the gas).

I have a lazy NHS diagnosis of IBS; lazy in the sense that it's a diagnosis of exclusion but the only exclusion that was done was a negative blood test for coeliac and I only saw a doctor about it once four years ago. I'm used to dealing with more gas, loose stool and discomfort than the average person seems to get but it's not super bad and most of the time I just roll with it. However, the level of pain I've been getting from beans this week is intolerable. (Given that I struggle to go to the doctor for my more serious ailments, taking a medical route is just not likely to happen right now, and I don't have a lot of faith that anything useful would happen if I did.)

Here's the problem: I have super limited control over two out of the three meals I eat every day because they're catered at work (and the catering can only just about handle leaving bell peppers out of stuff for me, plus they're consistently terrible at getting enough protein into the vegetarian food and when they do manage it it's often bean-heavy). This has also been a big impediment to trying any kind of low-FODMAP diet - I just can't guarantee I'll get anything decent to eat all day if I have too many constraints, and hunger/spiky blood sugar has knock-on effects for the ol' mood disorder.

My partner and I also eat a lot of bean-based foods at home - they're quick, convenient and nourishing and neither of us has the kind of time/energy/exec. function to cook things that aren't super easy and fast. The same time/energy/exec. function issues also mean that bringing my own food to work instead of eating the catered food would be a world of planning and pain that I can't handle right now.

I fundamentally do not want to have to re-engineer my life again around another (this time much larger/more significant) food group that my fucking useless body has decided to reject. I'm not doing all that well mental health-wise at the moment - maybe a two or three out of ten on the "life is enjoyable and worth living" scale - and having to start entirely avoiding beans is only going to erode that further*. But I also can't keep eating them if they're going to cause me this much pain.

Which brings me to the actual question: is there anything I can do to make my system more able to handle beans? Supplements, probiotics, fancy butt yoghurts? My reasoning is that this was not always a problem until something changed, so there might be some way to change it back.

I also understand that, as with all of the mysteries of digestion, this might not actually be true. In which case: does anyone have tips on living a bean-free life that isn't just utterly miserable, ideas for bean substitutes that are less likely to cause me significant pain etc.? Currently the thought of never eating a bean-laden burrito again is crushing, and I already thought life was horrifying and unfair.

[obligatory beanplating joke]

*never in my childhood dreams about being a grownup did I imagine I'd be pleading with internet strangers that beans are important for my mental health, so this is an interesting version of the future I guess
posted by terretu to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say it's worth seeing the doctor again. 4 years is long enough that it's OK for another visit about the same/similar problem, and although it seems like it's the same situation as last time (food intolerance), there's always the chance it's something different. Digestive problems can have a range of causes.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:58 AM on January 6, 2017

Edamame (unfermented) soy beans are not considered food safe by some folks + soy is an allergen for a lot of folks. Lay off the edamame. I'm not trying to be flip. Your consumption of soy beans jumped off the page for me.

You could also have something else going on, like leaky gut, which I think is not medically accepted yet? There are folks who believe leaky gut is responsible for all sorts of autoimmune troubles, which makes a lot of sense. Also, candida infection.

Overall, it sounds like maybe your gut flora is not optimal? Maybe start investigating there? I have known folks with symptoms like yours. It seems to get better over time, which really leads me to think it has something to do with your intestinal flora. Hope that gives you a place to start.
posted by jbenben at 3:00 AM on January 6, 2017

Are you drinking enough water when you eat beans? I notice that my tolerance for them can change depending on my water intake; same goes for anything high in fiber.
posted by phatkitten at 3:47 AM on January 6, 2017

armed with painkillers, simethicone etc.

This seems too obvious to mention, but does "etc" include the enzyme alpha-galactosidas? It's the active ingredient in two US OTC products, Beano and Gas-X. You take a pill when you start your gassy meal and I find it works really well with little fuss other than remembering to take it.

(And of course, continue to explore any medical concerns.)
posted by Room 641-A at 4:13 AM on January 6, 2017 [7 favorites]

The good news is that FODMAP intolerance isn't diagnosed by diet, it's diagnosed by going to seeing a gastroenterologist or a registered dietician and doing a series of breath tests. So there's no reason why you can't pin down exactly which food components you're reacting to, thus making it a lot easier to exclude them from your diet. The dietician can also work with you on how to reintroduce things in a controlled way so that you may be able to build up a tolerance to them again. But that's step two after diagnosing then excluding the troublesome ingredient (assuming this is an intolerance, it may not be, or may be a combination of things making the intolerance worse, which is why proper diagnosis will be helpful here).

The other good news is that IBS is no longer a diagnosis of exclusion, hasn't been for a long time. There are specific criteria for IBS, including yes, the exclusion of celiac disease and intestinal inflammation but other active inclusion criteria as well. There are different treatment options available depending on your specific form of IBS and some other factors (some people respond to certain medications or lifestyle interventions, some people just don't). FODMAP testing should be part of this particularly given your history with food. It sounds like a referral to an even half-decent gastroenterologist will get a lot further than you currently are. They should be able to refer you to an appropriate registered dietician as well.
posted by shelleycat at 4:20 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I also came here to recommend Beano. My mom started taking it a few years ago because she was having a similar problem with some foods. She told me that as you get older, some foods just start to make you more gassy. Not sure how true that is but Beano worked for her.
posted by Polychrome at 4:21 AM on January 6, 2017

Are you sure it's beans generally, or is it specifically unfermented soybeans?

I have food intolerances for dairy, wheat, and soy. It sucks. I am unaware of any way to restore tolerance - I had gastric distress and vomited daily for maybe 8 years before I figured out what the problem was.
posted by cnidaria at 5:12 AM on January 6, 2017

My sister (and more rarely I) sometimes wind up with similar symptoms, but it's usually triggered by almost all food, so I'm not sure if it's at all similar to your situation. Just in case you want to give it a shot: we switch to a very bland diet of brown rice (can be cooked in chicken stock) and boiled eggs (for my sister) or bland chicken breast (for me, eggs upset my stomach in general) for a few days to a week. If eggs aren't an acceptable protein source, you just want a protein source that isn't like to irritate your stomach (like beans, since they're notoriously gassy). It'd suck, but at least it's just a change for one week. Or maybe try over the weekend.

Nthing Beano just I'm case that wasn't in your regiment. Also, make sure the painkiller you took isn't one that irritates stomach lining since that could compound any irritation from the change in diet (going from minimal fiber to a lot).
posted by ghost phoneme at 6:23 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

When my father found that he could no longer eat any dark colored beans (pinto beans, kidney beans, etc.), he was still able to eat white beans.

I was able to reverse a number of food intolerances, but I can't recommend the process. After I broke my femur and had it surgically repaired, I was again able to eat raw onions, pinto beans, lentils, and canned pineapple, all of which I had previously had to eliminate or severely restrict. My theory is that the antibiotics I got for surgery gave me a gut biome reset
posted by Bruce H. at 6:48 AM on January 6, 2017

I asked a vegan friend about farting and she said the answer is Beano. She was emphatic about it. However, Beano (I believe) will kill the bacteria that lives in your digestive tracts. This made me think twice about taking it, because a lot of that bacteria is supposedly good for you.
posted by xammerboy at 7:00 AM on January 6, 2017

Thanks everyone for your responses - Beano (well, BeanAssist, which looks like the cheapest UK generic) is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for and something I'm definitely going to try.

To answer some of the questions people asked, I definitely drink enough water (usually 3-4 litres a day; I'm taking lithium and need to drink a lot or else it will stab me in the kidney function) and I've noticed this effect with black and haricot beans as well as soy beans.

On the medical side, a FODMAP breath test etc. & further investigation would be wonderful but the thought of trying to get an NHS referral for that is just too much right now - GPs actively encourage you to go home with a list of high FODMAP foods and do it yourself via exclusion diet because specialist referrals are expensive (you can't self-refer to a specialist in the UK unless you pay for it yourself) and the system is overloaded everywhere. I've got a bunch of other medical problems that I already struggle to get adequate treatment for - in an ideal world I'd be pursuing this but in reality it's unlikely to happen any time soon.

Thanks again!
posted by terretu at 7:36 AM on January 6, 2017

1) Yes to Beano.
2) Try kombucha for happy & delicious probiotic infusions.
3) If actual soy intolerance is not the problem, try less edamame and more fermented/processed soy products like tempeh.
4) Seitan is very protein-rich and can be delicious. Try seitan sausages for breakfast!
5) Other commercially available meat replacement products are also delicious and will provide plenty of protein.
6) Cooking large portions of simple meals (stir-fry, curry, pasta & sauce, etc.) ahead is not as hard as you think. Buying frozen meals (breakfast burrito, curry bowl for lunch?) could also be an option.
7) Yes to seeing a gastroenterologist!

Good luck.
posted by acridrabbit at 7:37 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I wanted to pipe in with some gas-related anectodal evidence.

I've noticed that when i eat beans (white, garbanzo, pinto, kidney) beans that I've made in the rice cooker (in white rice mode 2.5:1) I don't get any gas at all, compared to pressure cooker, soaking then cooking, or slow cooker methods.

I've had a couple friends who are also on the gassy side try it, and they confirm as well. As for why? I don't know, but give it a try.
posted by tedious at 8:06 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

For me the liquid that comes with beans (or the cooking liquid, if you cook them at home) is a much bigger problem than the beans themselves. I dump the liquid and rinse the beans thoroughly with water before using them. It's a bit sad because the liquid is tasty, but not as sad as the horrible gas pains (which you describe so well. The never ending reinflation no matter how much gas you pass--ugh!!).
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 9:49 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

(Minor correction: the active ingredient in "Gas-X" is simethicone; it's not like Beano)

My kid is a third-generation vegetarian so we have lots of experience with finding protein/b12/iron sources around here, and the bizarre thing is that beans were not much of a thing for me growing up and I did not really eat beans until my 20s, more in my 30s; my mother eats none. (My daughter, phew, thinks a bowl of salsa-topped black beans is a first-rate snack.) How are eggs for you? When I was growing up the contemporary thinking on vegetarian children was that we needed to be stuffed with eggs; we were a bean-ignoring family. This apparently worked out okay as I did not perish in childhood. Interestingly when I did figure out "beans = awesome," I...well, I still don't understand the "beans = hard to digest" issue. I thought decades of beanlessness would have left me a great candidate for that, but no. I mention just in case you take them out of your diet for an extended period and end up fearful of worse reactions on trying to re-introduce them; turns out it's possible to tell your body "Hey -- beans," and not have a bad reaction despite decades of no beans.

You mention cheesy nonsense and I know what you mean, but, do you like paneer? Its protein content is roughly on par with garbanzos and black beans.

As for burritos: I really like loading my freezer with "breakfast burritos" that contain nearly no beans and which have mostly marinated and grilled veg (zucchini is the best), salsa, cheese, sour cream, and chunks of baked potato and scrambled egg. No rice, often no beans, still somehow rings in as "burrito" with the egg/potato/veg & burrito-accessories mixture. Can you do quinoa, which is also burrito-friendly?

Rice and/or quinoa salad with feta and chopped nuts (and if you're eating it ASAP, chunks of avocado) is pretty protein-y -- if you have a store near you with a really good, elaborate salad bar, it's easy to stuff a container with things like that, buy a sack of pita bread, and have protein-heavy salad bar whatnot sandwiches. I would not have thought "What I'd really like is a pita sandwich with sliced egg, a chickpea salad, chopped walnuts, cheese, a quinoa salad with cranberries in it, and some lettuce and tomato," but, here I am craving that. It's a pain to have all those sorts of things on hand homemade or bought in regular serving sizes, but better salad bars are my friend.
posted by kmennie at 11:11 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

In addition to Beano or similar, try eating smaller servings or bean-based meals fewer times per week. I LOVE beans of all sorts, they're one of my favorite foods. When I make a bean salad or stew, I'm inclined to make a lot and eat it over a few days. In the last year or so, I've noticed that when I do so, I tend to end up painful bloating and gas like you described. If I take it easier by padding out bean salads with whole grains and other vegetables, using beans in a soup, not as the basis for the soup, and not eating the same bean-based food two or more days in a row, it helps.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:39 PM on January 6, 2017

For me the liquid that comes with beans (or the cooking liquid, if you cook them at home) is a much bigger problem than the beans themselves. I dump the liquid and rinse the beans thoroughly with water before using them

Oh yes this is a thing. This sounds science-y but do your own research. If this adds too much to the prep time try using a pressure cooker.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:16 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

When my IBS is acting up I have to be very diligent about avoiding FODMAPs. Your best bet for enjoying beans in the future may be eliminating beans and other FODMAPs until your digestive system settles down. There's no way to know whether a specific food is tolerable or a hard no until you've established a healthy baseline.

The three things that have improved my IBS the most are psyllium husks, enteric coated peppermint capsules, and taking immodium daily. For all three it took my GI doctor and I some time to figure out the right dose and time of day to take each of them. Peppermint capsules in particular are amazing for gas, I would recommend Pepogest if it's available where you are. Probiotics are kind of a crap shoot in terms of which ones will work for you and which won't; Align and Culturelle have been recommended to me by doctors the most. Activia yogurt is surprisingly effective.

I hear you on the doctor situation, but since you're in acute distress right now you may be better positioned to advocate for a colonoscopy to rule out more serious disorders. If it's been four years you have nothing to lose by giving it another go.
posted by fox problems at 3:42 PM on January 6, 2017

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