Beans (Part 1) How to Make Them More Digestible


Beans are a near perfect food. Nutritionally, they are high in protein, fiber, and lots of vitamins and minerals including iron and folic acid. They are versatile due to their ability to absorb flavor well. PicsArt_1427141781287-691x1024And there is no denying how extraordinarily economical they are. They might be THE cheapest way to get in nutrients from whole foods.

Despite all of the benefits, I find that the clients I work with avoid beans because they either don’t like the flavor/texture or they worry about upset stomach and excess gas. I totally get it! Beans will definitely cause gas and be all mushy and flavorless….IF you cook them wrong. Let me help you get beans back into your diet with a few small tweaks. Your tummy will be happy and you’ll get to use all that money you saved on something fun.

Steps to Making Beans More Digestible:

1. Start with dry beans. Don’t be intimidated! It is way less laborious that you might imagine. And with just a few exceptions, beans will cook more evenly, tenderly and in less time, if they have been soaked in cool water first. By soaking and discarding the water that the beans have soaked in before cooking, you’ll have removed a good amount of the gas-producing carbohydrate raffinose. Yes, hello happy tummy!

Sort & Rinse: (look for dried, shriveled beans or any non-bean things like rocks so you don’t break a tooth. Rinse the winners in a colander under cold running water).

Soak: in plenty of cold water. Beans will absorb many times their weight in water so aim for more than less. 5+ cups of water for 1 lb of beans is about right. Soak for at least 4 hours but I recommend overnight up to 12 hours. Sometimes, I’ll let my garbanzo beans go as long as 24 hours because those little suckers take the longest. Keep the beans soaking in a bowl on the counter -just cover them with a clean dish towel. Once done, drain and rinse again (gets rid of even more of that pesky raffinose).

Cook: In a large saucepan or pot, cover beans with fresh water by about 1 inch (3-4 cups of water for every cup of beans). Partially cover the pot, bring to a boil, and then lower heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally until the beans are tender. Cooking time varies depending on the bean but is usually around an hour to hour and a half. Here is a handy reference chart.

Note: If you get into cooking beans on the regular, I HIGHLY recommend purchasing a pressure cooker. I have an InstantPot and I love, love, love it. It does a lot more than just pressure cook which is nice too. But in terms of cooking beans, it is a rockstar. Your beans will generally be cooked in 10-20 minutes versus over an hour. And you can just set it and leave. You actually can cook straight from dried beans (i.e. skip the whole soaking process) however, if you are someone who avoids beans because they upset your stomach, don’t skip the pre-soak. That will help to make them more digestible.

KEY To Making Beans Even More Digestible

Ok, soaking, rinsing and draining all helps a lot but the other thing to do is to add one of the following to the water in which you are cooking your beans:

1. Cumin (a pinch or two)

2. 1 Bay Leaf

3. A 1 inch piece of Kombu (a wild sea vegetable in the kelp family that is loaded with vitamins and minerals)

Still having trouble digesting beans?

Have you tried all of the above and still had tummy troubles after eating beans? Try sticking with the easiest bean varieties to digest such as: black-eyed peas, adzuki, anasazi, lentils and mung beans (general rule of thumb is the sweeter the bean, the easier to digest though sweetness is a relative thing!). The most difficult beans to digest are lima beans, navy beans and soybeans.

Also note that beans are extremely high in fiber! That means if you aren’t used to eating them regularly, you probably should sit down with a bit ‘ol bowl of them. Slowly increase them in your diet and let your body get acclimated to the increased fiber (your body will thank you in the long term!).

So in review, you sort & rinse, soak & drain, and cook with a little added cumin, bay leaf or kombu. If that is not enough, stick with the more easily digestible varieties of beans (and away from the tough ones) and slowly increase them in your diet so you can get used to the fiber load. These key steps will give you tender, easy to digest beans. Give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised by how easy it is as well as how much better you feel when you eat beans prepared in this way!

Stay tuned for part 2 of my beans series where I’ll talk about how to make beans more flavorful and delicious.

What questions do you have about beans? I would love ideas to continue this series.



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  1. Rick Durchholz on March 24, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    Love this post. I agree that beans are great because they are cheap and nutritious. I tried soaking beans before and still have the gas issue. I will try the other ideas and let you know how it goes.

    • Ayla Withee, MS, RDN, LDN on March 26, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      Thanks Rick! I actually just added one additional idea to the list for folks who have already tried the soak:rinse method and perhaps even adding one of the key ingredients. Try sticking with the easiest bean varieties to digest such as: black-eyed peas, adzuki, anasazi, lentils and mung beans (general rule of thumb is the sweeter the bean, the easier to digest though sweetness is a relative thing!). The most difficult beans to digest are lima beans, navy beans and soybeans. And also start slow and work your way up. There is a TON of fiber in beans and the body needs time to get acclimated to that.

  2. Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine on March 24, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    I always soak my dry beans and then cook them the next day in my rice cooker with a bay leaf!

  3. Beans (Part 2) How to Make Them Delicious on May 11, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    […] the first part of this series, I talked about how to cook beans to make them more digestible. I think you’ll also find that […]

  4. Claudia Ruffle on July 17, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    I do the long initial soaking, rinsing and draining but have had a problem with green split peas, lentils and black beans never getting soft enough for my satisfaction, even after cooking with plenty of water for 3 – 4 times longer than recommended times. They are edible but still have a crunch to them. I’ve read that this can happen if they were too old to begin with. Can you recommend a reliable source from which to get legumes which will not be too old ?

    • Sarah on March 13, 2018 at 12:57 am

      Rancho Gordo sells beans online. They’re the best.

  5. Martha Ann Mathews on January 16, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    Would a mixture of beans, onions, garlic, hot chilli, hot pepper be easy to digest? I have pneumonia and am living in an old people’s facility so am trying to eat my own things. Just want to make sure they’ll not be like cement but esay to “move out”. ?

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