If you’ve suffered with digestive issues, you might have been told to follow a low-FODMAP diet. As with any new diet, it can take a while to get to grips with what foods are allowed, and what foods are off limits. Are chickpeas low-FODMAP? And what about beans and lentils? Here’s everything you need to know!
Chickpeas and other legumes like beans and lentils aren’t generally considered low-FODMAP, as they are high in oligosaccharides. However, there are ways to include legumes in a low-FODMAP diet, such as using canned chickpeas, rinsing them thoroughly, and eating them in smaller quantities.
As you can see, it’s not quite as straightforward as just saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – a low-FODMAP diet is a little more nuanced than that. Let’s start by looking at the low-FODMAP diet itself, and why it can be important for some people to be mindful of the types of foods they eat.
Please remember that you should always consult your doctor if you’re having digestive issues, and never change your diet in a significant way without seeking medical advice first.
What is the low-FODMAP diet?
The low-FODMAP diet is often recommended for people who suffer from digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome.
FODMAP is an acronym that stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. It might look like gobbledygook at first glance, but it’s essentially a list of carbohydrates that our bodies can’t digest. They pass through the digestive system without interference, until they reach the large intestine.
Here, these sugars begin to ferment (hence the ‘f’ in FODMAP!), creating gas which can cause painful bloating and stomach pains. They are also prone to absorbing water, causing the abdomen to expand in an uncomfortable way.
To help minimise these uncomfortable symptoms, some people are advised to limit the amount of FODMAPs they consume in their diet. Some foods are very high in FODMAPs, so may be completely off limits, whereas other foods contain no FODMAPs at all – here’s a pretty comprehensive list of foods to avoid on a low-FODMAP diet, and also foods that can be eaten with no worries.
And then… there’s chickpeas. And beans. And lentils. Which are all a bit less straightforward.
Are chickpeas low-FODMAP?
Chickpeas and other legumes are actually fairly high-FODMAP foods. They contain oligosaccharides, which, as you may remember, forms the ‘o’ in FODMAP. Eating legumes may cause gas and abdominal discomfort, as detailed in my last post (Why do chickpeas upset my stomach, and how can I prevent it?). There’s a reason beans are known as the ‘musical fruit’!
Not everyone is sensitive to all of the types of carbohydrate listed in the FODMAP acronym, so sometimes the diet requires a bit of trial and error, to determine exactly which types of sugar your digestive system is most sensitive to. But if you do experience stomach issues after eating oligosaccharides, you may need to limit your chickpea consumption.
However, if you don’t want to give up chickpeas altogether, there are several steps you can take to limit the amount of oligosaccharides you consume, as you may be able to find a way to incorporate chickpeas, beans and lentils into your low-FODMAP diet.
Here are a few ideas!
How to make chickpeas, beans and lentils suitable for a low-FODMAP diet
1. Use canned chickpeas
Funnily enough, canned chickpeas are actually much better to eat on a low-FODMAP diet than dried chickpeas that you’ve cooked yourself. The same goes for canned beans and canned lentils.
This is because FODMAPs are water soluble, so as the legumes are being cooked and canned, a lot of the oligosaccharides are leached out into the water.
As long as you rinse your chickpeas thoroughly before using them, you will be washing away any of those pesky FODMAPs that have collected in the liquid in the can, and a much lower level of gas-inducing FODMAPs will remain in the chickpeas themselves.
Depending on how sensitive you are to oligosaccharides, you should be able to eat around 1/4 cup of canned lentils, black beans or chickpeas at a time, while still considering your diet to be low-FODMAP. Just be aware that you wouldn’t want to pair a portion of legumes, however small, with lots of other medium-FODMAP foods, as the quantities could add up to cause that discomfort you were trying to avoid.
Obviously, once you’ve rinsed your canned chickpeas, you can then go on to use them in whatever recipe you wish – make homemade hummus, falafel, and whatever other chickpea recipes you fancy.
2. Make sure you soak your chickpeas thoroughly
If you don’t have canned chickpeas available, you might be able to get away with using dried chickpeas if you just make sure to soak them very thoroughly before use.
As mentioned, oligosaccharides are water soluble, so a lot of the indigestible sugars will leach away into the soaking liquid. You’ll then need to discard this liquid before cooking the beans. One study (Njoumi, Amiot, Rochette, Bellagha & Mouquet-Rivier, 2019) found that soaking chickpeas actually reduced their oligosaccharide content by 40%! It was also helpful for reducing the oligosaccharides in lentils and fava beans, though to a lesser extent (more like 10%).
If possible, soak your chickpeas overnight – up to around 18 hours is ideal. Adding some baking soda to your soaking water too can be helpful to soften up your chickpeas.
3. Limit the quantity you eat
If you suffer from digestive issues after eating chickpeas, it’s always a good idea to be mindful of the quantity you consume.
For example, if you eat half the amount of chickpeas, you’ll be taking in half the amount of oligosaccharides, which may mean your digestive issues are relieved – or at least reduced to a level you can cope with.
Try looking for recipes that will make a small amount of chickpeas go further, perhaps bulking them out with plenty of vegetables or grains. This chickpea bolognese pasta bake, for example, uses just one can of chickpeas to feed 6 people, so you actually end up with quite a small amount of chickpeas on your plate, but they still make a great impact on the dish.
Why should we bother eating chickpeas on a low-FODMAP diet?
You may think it sounds like just a bit too much hard work, going through all this just to get a few chickpeas into your diet. Soaking dried beans (or even avoiding them altogether), thoroughly rinsing canned chickpeas, carefully measuring quantities… why bother? Why not just stop eating legumes altogether?
Well, why wouldn’t you want legumes in your diet? Chickpeas are packed with nutrients like iron and magnesium, and are a great source of plant-based protein. They also have a low glycemic index, meaning they won’t cause a huge spike in your blood sugar level, and they’ll keep you feeling full for a long time.
Legumes count towards your recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day, so unless you suffer from extreme digestive issues after eating legumes, they’re a great type of food to incorporate into your diet. The GNLC recommends eating legumes at least 2-3 times per week to really benefit from their goodness.
Fibre on a low-FODMAP diet
If you’re following a low-FODMAP diet, it can be easily for your fibre intake to drop, as a by-product of reducing your FODMAP intake. Fruits and vegetables are generally really high in fibre, so when you start cutting certain veggies out of your diet, you may be accidentally cutting your fibre intake too.
Legumes are actually a great source of prebiotic fibre, which provide fuel for the healthy bacteria in your gut. There is also strong evidence that a diet which is high in fibre is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and bowel cancer.
So basically… eat your fibre!
Just make sure that you take steps to limit your FODMAP intake if necessary, and chickpeas, beans and lentils can still feature in your low-FODMAP diet.