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If beans give you gas, you’re not alone (hey it’s so common we even have a song about it!).
Many people also get gas or bloating from:
- Whole grains (wheat, barley, rye, corn, and more)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and more)
- Legumes (black beans, kidney beans, lentils, peas, and more)
(these are all commonly known as high FODMAP foods as well)
So Why do these foods normally considered healthy cause our tummies so much trouble?
Yes, these foods are technically considered “healthy.” Many of them are full of nutrients, fiber, and prebiotics that feed our friendly gut bacteria…
But they’re only healthy for YOU if you can fully digest them!
And the truth is, many people can’t.
See, this group of foods has one thing in common that’s really hard for human digestive systems to break down (I’ll tell you all about it)—and our ability to digest it depends on the presence of a specific enzyme:
So if you’ve ever wondered what causes “bean toots” (or “broccoli toots”), if it’s normal, and if supplementing with alpha-galactosidase can help, keep reading. In this post, we’ll cover:
- What is alpha-galactosidase
- What is it about beans, grains, and veggies that cause so much trouble
- How you can naturally help your body digest them
- If supplementing with an alpha-galactosidase enzyme can help
What Is Alpha-Galactosidase?
Alpha-galactosidase is a digestive enzyme needed to break down complex carbohydrates like grains, legumes, and cruciferous vegetables.
And as I mentioned, alpha-galactosidase is especially important for digesting one thing all these “gassy” foods have in common: RFOs.
(Not to be confused with the alien aircraft, UFOs.)
RFOs stand for “raffinose family oligosaccharides”, and consist of the sugars raffinose (the most common) as well as melibiose, stachyose, and verbascose.
RFOs are especially high in foods like (study):
- Whole grains
- Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, etc.)
Yep, these are the same foods that can cause tummy troubles for a lot of people…
This is because RFOs can be difficult for the human digestive system to break down, and alpha-galactosidase appears to be the missing link.
Alpha-galactosidase helps us break down oligosaccharides (many sugars) into monosaccharides (simple sugars), which our cells can then use for energy.
When we don’t have enough of it (for reasons you’ll learn about), that’s when serious digestive distress can happen.
Do Humans Make Alpha-Galactosidase?
Now, some people think foods high in RFOs make us gassy because humans don’t actually make the alpha-galactosidase enzyme.
But that doesn’t make any sense… Why would these foods be considered “good for us” if we couldn’t actually make the enzyme to digest them in the first place?
Here’s the truth: Your friendly gut bacteria make alpha-galactosidase!
(This is why it’s classified as a “microbiome enzyme”.)
Alpha-galactosidase is produced by the microbiome species Ruminococcus gnavus. (study)
But here’s where things get interesting (and maybe where some of the confusion comes from)…
The alpha-galactosidase-producing bacteria mostly hang out in the large intestines, not in the stomach or small intestine…
Which is maybe why a lot of people think we don’t make alpha-galactosidase—because it’s not really present in the upper GI tract.
But we DO have it in our large intestines, so long as we have the bacteria there to make it.
Unfortunately, our microbiomes are under constant assault from antibiotics, chemicals, and our stressed lifestyles.
This could lead to a reduction or elimination of the Ruminococcus gnavus bacteria, leading to not enough alpha-galactosidase to properly break down normal healthy foods.
But first, how are these healthy foods normally digested?
Why Raffinose Family Oligosaccharides Can Make Even Healthy People Gassy
This mostly has to do with how RFOs are broken down.
Because we don’t have alpha-galactosidase in our upper GI tracts, when we eat foods high in raffinose, these complex sugar molecules make it to our large intestines mostly undigested. (study)
Once they get to the large intestines, our friendly gut bugs go to work. They digest—or “ferment”—RFOs and break them down into simple sugars. (study)
In other words, RFOs feed our friendly bacteria, which is why they’re considered to be healthy prebiotics. (study)
BUT, during this fermentation process, these bacteria also release gases like methane, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide.
These gasses can build up in our bellies like a balloon, making us feel full and bloated, and our body has no choice but to release them…
Yep, that’s when we fart.
It’s completely natural.
A few odorless farts after a big bowl of broccoli isn’t something you need to worry about. It’s just the result of your gut bacteria doing their jobs.
However, if you get more serious issues like:
- Undigested food in your stool
- Uncomfortable cramping or bloating
- Excessive gas (super smelly or goes on for hours)
Or just feel like your digestion is completely wrecked for days after eating these foods…
That might be a sign your gut needs more support in digesting RFOs, possibly because you’re:
- Low in alpha-galactosidase enzyme
- Low in the alpha-galactosidase-producing bacteria
- Potentially low in the other carbohydrate enzymes required to fully break down foods before they get to the microbiome
So what can you do about it?…
How to Help Your Body Digest RFOs
First, there are ways you can actually reduce the RFO content of your food that don’t require you to buy or take anything.
In fact, there’s one three-step process that’s been shown to eliminate RFOs in grains and legumes by up to 100% (study):
- Cooking removes RFOs by ~50%
- Soaking in water reduces by up to 25%
- Germination (sprouting) can eliminate up to 100%
So if you wanted to remove as much of the gas-producing properties as possible, you could 1) soak, 2) sprout, and 3) cook all your grains and legumes.
It takes a lot more time, but this three-step process basically “pre-digests” complex carbohydrates, which means your gut doesn’t have to work as hard and you can absorb more nutrients. That also means less gas and bloating!
This also means that cooking your cruciferous veggies is going to make them way easier to digest than eating them raw (most people don’t soak or sprout these).
Additional Digestion Tips
Even if you don’t use this process, I’d highly recommend following these simple tips to digest ALL of your food a little better:
- Avoid snacking: Snacking throughout the day constantly stimulates your digestive processes, which can tax your enzyme stores and make your digestion less effective when you sit down to eat a full meal.
- Manage your stress: Stress raises cortisol, which can alter digestive motility and enzyme production.
- Chew every bite at least 20 times: There are salivary enzymes in your mouth, and chewing also “pre-digests” your food, making the rest of digestion much easier on your system.
- Avoid too much liquid with meals: Drinking a ton of liquid with your food can “dilute” your stomach acid.
- Try the HCL Challenge: Low hydrochloric acid (HCL) is one of the major causes of digestive distress, bloating, acid reflux, and heartburn.
If you can start using just a few of these strategies, you’ll be well on your way to digesting RFOs better and saying “sayonara” to broccoli farts.
But if that all sounds like too much work or if you try these strategies and are still having problems, you might benefit from supplementing with an alpha-galactosidase enzyme.
Should You Supplement With an Alpha-Galactosidase Enzyme?
If legumes, whole grains, or cruciferous veggies cause you more problems than just a little bit of harmless gas, you can probably benefit from supplementing with an alpha-galactosidase enzyme.
Taking an alpha-galactosidase supplement will help break down oligosaccharides into simple sugars before they reach the colon—helping your body digest them much easier.
In one double-blind placebo-controlled trial (the “gold standard” in Research), alpha-galactosidase supplements significantly reduced bloating, abdominal pain, discomfort, flatulence, and diarrhea after a meal high in oligosaccharides (Study).
Ever Heard of Beano?
Beano has been shown to prevent gas and bloating from beans, legumes, high-fodmap vegetables, and certain whole grains (Study).
But before you just go out and buy some Beano, you should know there are two major issues with it…
First: Beano contains over 50% inactive ingredients
What I mean is they pack it full of things like cornstarch, maltodextrin, artificial colors and flavors, and other things you don’t really need or probably want in a supplement.
In fact, check out the “Other Ingredients” on the label:
I’m not putting all that extra junk in my body and I hope you don’t either.
Here’s my other problem with Beano — it didn’t help me when I tried it for my gas and bloating issues. Which seems so odd considering I took more than the recommended dosage and the research studies show such benefits.
But now I know exactly why Beano didn’t work for me… It has to do with the second reason.
Second: Beano only contains alpha-galactosidase.
Now, that might be confusing to read…
We just talked about how alpha-galactosidase has been shown in studies to help reduce issues with RFOs!
It’s true that it can definitely help some people that are JUST low in alpha-galactosidase enzyme…
But I rarely see someone low in just ONE enzyme.
Plus, newer research shows that we also need the Sucrase (Invertase) enzyme to fully breakdown RFO’s (study)
And that’s not counting the important pancreatic amylase enzymes that help break down starches and complex carbohydrates into smaller-sized chunks like RFO’s so enzymes like sucrase (Invertase), cellulase, and alpha galactosidase can do their work.
This is what most experts miss and why Beano only works part of the time.
If You Need Alpha Galactosidase, You Probably Need Even More Support
In other words, if you struggle with high raffinose foods or any of the foods mentioned in this article you’re unlikely to get the relief you want by just taking an alpha-galactosidase-only supplement like Beano…
Because what your body is really asking for is full-spectrum carbohydrate digestion support!
To fully digest, metabolize, and absorb foods high in starches or oligosaccharides and prevent any digestive distress, gas, or bloating — we need adequate amounts of these four enzymes:
- Surcase (Invertase)
This is why alpha-galactosidase alone just won’t give your gut the full digestive power it needs to break down the cell walls of cruciferous vegetables and other problematic sugars.
It’s better to take alpha-galactosidase along with a full spectrum of digestive enzymes that addresses all three levels of common enzyme deficiencies (pancreatic, brush border, and microbiome).
In case you’re wondering, HoloZyme is my digestive enzyme of choice. It contains 400 GALU of alpha-galactosidase per serving, all 3 extra carbohydrate enzymes, plus 6 other fully activated enzymes encapsulated using patented AES absorption technology. And unlike Beano there are ZERO unnecessary inactive ingredients.
Alpha-galactosidase is a digestive enzyme produced by our friendly gut bugs.
It helps us break down complex sugars (RFOs) in healthy foods like whole grains, legumes, and vegetables.
It’s common for high amounts of any RFO heavy food to cause some gas..
However, if legumes, grains, or veggies give you excessive gas, bad bloating, or indigestion, there could be other issues…
You might be low in alpha-galactosidase enzyme, the bacteria that make it, or one of the other important carbohydrate-digesting enzymes.
Supplementing with an alpha-galactosidase-only enzyme can help some people in the short-term (but not everyone—it didn’t help me)…
To get even better results, the research studies show that you also need the sucrase (invertase) enzyme to fully break these high raffinose foods down.
And since you are already getting two enzymes make sure to find one that includes amylase and cellulase (like HoloZyme for example).
All fart jokes aside, just avoiding foods that make your tummy upset is no way to live. A healthy human digestive system should be able to break down these high raffinose foods.
If you’re one of those people that has a hard time with beans or brussels sprouts, now you know there’s hope and ways to bring your digestive system back in balance.
Remember: At the end of the day, no matter how clean your diet is, you’re only as healthy as the food you can digest.