Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Good news for bean lovers

Beans, beans are good for your heart

Despite the fact that legumes like kidney beans and lentils are linked to lower risk of heart disease and some cancers, many people don’t eat them for fear of increased gas. But a new study from the US suggests that not everyone is affected and most people adjust after just a few weeks of eating them.  

In a recent study, data from three randomized controlled trials was analysed to determine if the levels of gas and discomfort people experienced when they ate legumes changed when they ate them regularly for a number of weeks.

Healthy adults were asked to eat half a cup legumes (pinto beans, black-eyed peas or navy beans) or carrots each day for 8-12 weeks. They were also asked to complete weekly questionnaires about perceived flatulence, bloating and stool frequency or consistency.

 In the first week of each intervention the percentage of subjects reporting increased flatulence varied by bean type (baked beans 47%, pinto beans 50%, black-eyed peas 19%) and all were significantly higher than those eating carrots (3%). However in all three studies this percentage declined steadily with time so that by week 8 only 3% of participants still reported increased flatulence. Seventy percent or more of participants who experienced flatulence no longer felt it by the second or third week.

Reported stool changes were fewer than for flatulence, with only 10% reporting changes in the first week, which also declined with time.  Reports of bloating also varied by bean type but declined over time to a level equivalent to controls (3%) by week 7. The highest reports of bloating were from pinto beans, followed by baked beans and then black-eyed peas.

For each of the symptoms, black-eyed peas (with a lower fibre content) resulted in generally lower responses than the pinto or baked beans.  Age, BMI and macronutrient intake were not associated with symptoms, but more women than men reported increased bloating and stool changes. A small proportion of subjects reported increased flatulence even on control diets.

The authors conclude that people’s concerns about excessive flatulence from eating beans may be exaggerated, and varies by bean type across individuals. They state: “After a few weeks of daily bean consumption, people perceive that flatulence occurrence returns to normal levels”, although “a small percentage of individuals may be bothered by increased flatulence regardless of the length of time they consume legumes”.

The Australian dietary guidelines recommend eating legumes regularly and the research suggests there are many long-term health benefits to eating 2 – 3 serves per week. As with any high fibre food, it is best to eat small amounts at first and remember to drink water and get exercise to help reduce the chance of gas. For ideas on how to add more beans to your week, click here.   

Winham DM, Hutchins AM.Perceptions of flatulence from bean consumption among adults in 3 feeding studies. Nutrition Journal 2011;10:128.

A twist on traditional grains

Wheat but not as you know it

You may have noticed a new ‘ancient grain’ popping up on the menu of restaurants and cafes lately: freekeh (pronounced free-ka). It looks a little like burghul and has a nutty, roasted flavour. But the freekeh on the menu is actually a grain that is more familiar than you might think...

Freekeh has been a part of the diet in Egypt and the Middle East since ancient times where people harvested grain early, burnt it and then rubbed the grain to remove the husk. ‘Freekeh’ comes from the Arabic word meaning “to rub”, so it is not the name of the grain but the name of the process. While wheat is the grain usually used, other grains may also be used.

So, the grain in your freekeh salad is in fact wheat which has been harvested when it is green, roasted and then rubbed.  An Australian company based in Adelaide has developed a modern system for producing freekeh and it is this Greenwheat FreekehTM that you can buy in the supermarket. The manufacturers of Greenwheat FreekehTM are working on using the same process on other types of grains such as barley and triticale.

Two different varieties of Greenwheat FreekehTM are available: wholegrain and cracked. According to Tony Lutfi, owner of Greenwheat FreekehTM, both are technically wholegrain as they contain the bran, the germ and the endosperm. The cracked variety cooks more rapidly but, both varieties are low GI.

There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that people with intolerance to gluten may be able to tolerate Geenwheat FreekehTM. Tony Lutfi  explains that, “Research has indicated that early harvesting and roasting techniques denature the wheat gluten”. However, the effect on people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance has not yet been proven by clinical trials.

Greenwheat FreekehTM is higher in fibre than regular wheat. A study by the CSIRO of 20 adults found that, compared to white rice or cous cous,  Greenwheat FreekehTM improved markers of bowel health including increased numbers of healthy bacteria. In particular it increased the production of butyrate, which is formed when the healthy bacteria in the bowel break down fibre in food.1 Butyrate is thought to promote the death of colorectal cancer cells and so lower risk of bowel cancer.2

Freekeh can be cooked in the same way as rice and it can be added to salads, soups or stews. Just like brown rice, the wholegrain variety takes a little longer to cook.

1. CSIRO Health Sciences and Nutrition. Effects of Greenwheat FreekehTM on biomarkers of bowel health and cardiovascular health. http://www.greenwheatfreekeh.com.au/csiro_ex.pdf
2. Bird et al. Resistant starch, large bowel fermentation and broader perspective of prebiotics and probiotics. Benef Microbes. 2010; 1(4):423-31