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Corn, Beans, and Rice: Where Do They Fit on Low-FODMAP Diets?

Corn, beans, and rice form the core of the Latin American diet. If you and your family rely on these foods for everyday nutrition, you may be wondering how they will fit into a low-FODMAP diet. 

Your use of these foods might be different depending on whether you are doing the low-FODMAP phase of an elimination diet protocol (like the one in The IBS Elimination Diet and Cookbook), or just trying to avoid foods that are especially high in FODMAPs. Read the article below carefully for advice about both situations.

Key Point

A FODMAP elimination diet does not omit all related foods. For example, a low-FODMAP diet is not “corn-free.” There is not a rule that says “no beans.” Instead, decisions about foods are made on a food-by-food basis depending on the FODMAP content. And the FODMAP content varies depending on the variety or cultivar of the plant food as well as how it is processed or cooked.

Corn

 Some corn products are higher in FODMAP than others. The type of corn pictured, which is intended to be eaten as a vegetable, is a source of sorbitol.

Some corn products are higher in FODMAP than others. The type of corn pictured, which is intended to be eaten as a vegetable, is a source of sorbitol.

The main FODMAP of concern in corn (also known as maize or elote) is sorbitol. Sorbitol is the naturally occurring substance that makes corn sweet. So you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the type of corn which is grown to be eaten as a vegetable is a source of sorbitol. I recommend avoiding corn as a vegetable during the elimination phase of the diet. That includes corn on the cob (sometimes called sweet corn), canned corn, and frozen corn kernels. (I know that some sources say small portions of corn as a vegetable are OK, but based on my clinical experience with my patients here in North America I do not recommend it. Maybe our corn has more sorbitol in it?) On the other hand, the varieties of corn that are meant to be ground into cornmeal (also known as corn flour, masarepa or masa harina) are lower in sorbitol and higher in starch. Starch is not a FODMAP. So corn tortillas, corn pasta, grits, polenta, tamales, pupusas, arepas and other foods made from ground corn are OK to eat during the elimination phase of the diet as long as other high FODMAP ingredients have not been added. Corn bread and muffins are usually made with a good deal of all-purpose wheat flour in addition to cornmeal, so they are not likely to be low in FODMAPs. I am also seeing commercially made corn tortillas that include wheat more frequently than in the past.

Its difficult to figure out how flakes of corn—the breakfast cereal—fit into a low-FODMAP diet. Some of the corn flakes that have been tested for FODMAPs in the laboratory at Monash University are high in oligosaccharides, while others are not. I really can’t explain why. Erring on the side of caution, I recommend limiting corn flakes to a 1/2 cup portion.

One last "interesting" thing about corn: it passes through most people's digestive systems intact, if it isn't very well chewed. You will definitely see corn kernels coming out the other end, even if you don't have IBS. When you do eventually try reintroducing corn as a vegetable, you will need to monitor the effect it has on your IBS symptoms (bloating, gas, and bowel habits) to check for tolerance. The sight of corn kernels in your poop is normal.

Beans

Beans eaten in Latin American include black beans, red beans and pinto beans. The primary FODMAP of concern in beans is GOS, which stands for galactooligosaccharide. GOS is a type of fiber that is well-known for promoting the formation of gas. While no cooking method can turn these types of beans into a low-FODMAP food, there are some ways to reduce the amount of GOS in the beans. In fact, some of the traditional cooking methods you already use will make beans less gassy. This is possible because GOS is “water soluble.” In other words, it leaches out into the soaking and cooking water. So any time you can and drain, soak and drain, or cook and drain beans, you are reducing their FODMAP content. I don’t generally recommend eating black, red or pinto beans during the formal elimination diet process. But if you are just trying to eat fewer oligosaccharides because you know they are a trigger for your IBS symptoms, consider the following.

  • Small portions of canned, drained, rinsed beans will be lowest in FODMAPs. They have had the benefit of an extended soaking time in the can. The FODMAPs leach out into the canning water, and are discarded when the canning liquid is discarded. Canned, drained lentils and chick peas (also known as garbanzo or cici beans) can even fit into the elimination phase of a FODMAP-elimination diet; I suggest portions of 1/2 cup of these (per meal or snack).
  • The next-lowest in FODMAPs will be beans which have the soaking and cooking water discarded. Soak dry beans overnight in plenty of water. Drain the soaking water, and add plenty of fresh water for cooking. Drain and discard the water used to boil the beans. Black beans, red beans and pinto beans cooked this way will not be low enough in FODMAPs to include on the elimination phase of a low-FODMAP diet, but I encourage my patients to try some of these during FODMAP reintroduction and beyond.
  • Beans that have the cooking water added back to them, such as refried beans or commercially made hummus, will be highest in FODMAPs. Beans that are served right out of the pot in a sauce of their own cooking liquid will also be high in FODMAPs. This includes bean soup and lentil soup, which are often served in large portions, in addition to the fact that the cooking water is actually consumed.
  • Adding garlic  or onion to the beans will add FODMAPs, of course.
  • The bigger the portions, the more FODMAPs.

The enzyme supplement alpha-galactosidase helps some people tolerate beans more easily.

For details about the FODMAP content of beans, see Caroline Tuck’s recently published paper, which includes facts about the FODMAP content of various beans, and the effects of cooking on them.

Rice

 Rice is a low-FODMAP food. You can enjoy it at any time during the FODMAP elimination diet process.

Rice is a low-FODMAP food. You can enjoy it at any time during the FODMAP elimination diet process.

Rice is a low-FODMAP food. Serve it steamed, boiled, or fried without added onion, garlic, or beans to keep it IBS-friendly. Both white rice and brown rice are low in FODMAPs. Coconut rice is also low-FODMAP, if prepared with coconut oil or coconut milk. Avoid coconut water, which is not low-FODMAP. In some households, rice might be cooked once a day, cooled and reheated later at meal-time. This might cause some “resistant starch” to develop in the rice. But resistant starch is not a FODMAP, so reheated rice is OK to eat on a low-FODMAP diet. It might even have some benefits for IBS patients!

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