From U.N. To New U.S. Guide, All Say Eat More Beans, Peas, Lentils — But The Gas?

Lentils and beans and chickpeas (Hermann J. Knippertz/AP)

Lentils and beans and chickpeas (Hermann J. Knippertz/AP)

Pulses are sizzling.

The United Nations has officially designated 2016 the “International Year of Pulses.” Forkful.com calls pulses “one of the hottest food trends of 2016.” The Crop Science Society of America suggests the Matt Damon astronaut character in “The Martian” would have done better to plant pulses than potatoes.

So what are pulses? They’re basically dried seeds in the legume family, from lentils and dried peas to kidney beans and chickpeas (not fresh peas or green beans). Staples since ancient times, pulses’ health benefits are so overwhelming that even the new recommended U.S. Dietary Guidelines, just out this week, mention “beans and peas” twice as part of a healthy eating pattern. Plus, they’re good for the environment, enriching the soil rather than depleting it. They’re cheap. And they may even help with weight loss.

Nutritionists have been praising pulses for years, so “it’s great to see that recognition,” says Linda Antinoro, a registered dietitian at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “They’re chock full of nutrition; they’re a plant-based protein, they’re high in fiber, they’re low in saturated fat — the fat that’s not great for us — they’re loaded with a variety of vitamins and minerals. They’re really a powerhouse of nutrition.”

So why aren’t we all devouring pulses at every meal? Well, you know why. It’s a little awkward to discuss.

“Probably the No. 1 reason is the fear of flatulence,” says Dr. Michael Greger, founder of NutritionFacts.org and author of the new bestseller “How Not To Die.” (It doesn’t promise eternal life — the title refers to not dying prematurely, after a chronic, disabling illness.)

Dr. Michael Greger (Courtesy of Dr. Greger)

Dr. Michael Greger (Courtesy of Dr. Greger)

Consumption of legumes is the single best dietary predictor of how long a population lives, Greger says — from soy in Japan to brown beans in Sweden to lentils and chickpeas in the Mediterranean. “So why aren’t we taking advantage of this dietary fountain of youth? Well, there’s the concern about gassiness.”

But there are also many possible solutions to that concern, he and others say — some culinary and some psychological.

• Nothing to fear but the fear of gas itself

Greger says that when researchers tested the flatulence effect by adding a half cup of beans to people’s diets, “the majority of people experienced no symptoms at all. And even among the people who do get gassy, 70 percent report it being diminished by the second week of the study. So the concerns about excessive flatulence from eating beans really may be exaggerated.”

But let’s say it’s not exaggerated. Let’s say you know your own digestive reactions, even after weeks, and your fear is well-justified. Maybe a rethink could help:

• Reframing: Gas is good — or at least natural

Research shows that the average person passes gas 14 times a day, Greger notes in a NutritionFacts.org post headlined “Beans and Gas: Clearing the Air.”

He writes: “Many people who think they have too much gas fall well within the normal range, concludes famed flatologist Michael Levitt, M.D., and they simply have to be informed of their ‘normality.’” (Fascinating historical note: NASA funded some research on flatulence out of concern for astronauts on long trips in confined spaces, Greger writes.) Continue reading


Ramen And Gatorade: The Inside Picture (In Your Digestive Tract)

Curses. Thanks to this Massachusetts General Hospital combo of art and technology, I’m thinking I have to learn how to make noodles from scratch.

This memorable video was posted in late January on YouTube and has been viewed nearly 1 million times since. The Huffington Post wrote about it late last week and the post has been shared on Facebook nearly 25,000 times. But here’s how I really know it’s gone viral: I was talking about it at the Trader Joe’s check-out line this weekend and a nearby cashier responded that oh, yes, he had seen it already.

The Huffington Post sums it up:

TEDxManhattan 2011 Fellow Stefani Bardin’s video, below, shows what happens in your body when you eat processed foods vs. homemade versions of similar foods, using a tiny “M2A” (that stands for Mouth to Anus, and it’s trademarked, mind you) LED/camera capsule. The project looks at two subjects eating two similar meals: one composed of processed foods (gatorade, ramen, and gummi bears); the other of homemade versions (hibiscus drink, homemade broth with noodles and gummi bears made of juice). What happens to the foods is drastically different; possibly because, as Bardin puts it, Top Ramen is made to survive armageddon, while homemade noodles are made to be eaten.

Some YouTube commenters respond that the video doesn’t really prove that processed foods are bad for you. Readers?

(Hat tip to Tom Mashberg)

Mass. General Studies Probiotics For Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Depression

Irritable Bowel Syndrome seems like an obvious target for a study of probiotics; the “benevolent” bacteria are known to affect the chemistry of the gut.

But depression? Does this fit into the thinking that the gut is kind of a second brain??

Anyway, this from MGH:

BOSTON (November 23, 2010) —A new clinical trial is underway at the Massachusetts General Hospital to assess the safety and efficacy of the probiotic bacteria GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086) in outpatients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and major depressive disorder (MDD). This research is believed to be the first of its kind to examine common factors underlying both gut and psychiatric disorders and the use of probiotics as an intervention in depression.

Details and the rationale behind the study are here. The study’s lead researcher notes that there’s such a huge overlap between Irritable Bowel Syndrome and psychiatric disorders that “it is perhaps more than just coincidental.”

Probiotics are certainly trendy. They’re showing up in everything from yoghurt to supplement powders. Some studies show some benefits — this review found that probiotics shortened the duration of diarrhea. But this assessment of yoghurt claims by the Center for Science in the Public Interest suggests that some of the benefits — at least as touted in food ads and labeling — may be overstated.