Gluten-Free Beans for the Super-Sensitive

Beans and legumes

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Beans are naturally gluten-free. However, many people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity report that beans have made them sick. While it's possible to be sensitive to beans, in many cases, the problem for those with celiac and gluten sensitivity is not the beans themselves. Instead, it's gluten cross-contamination in the beans.

Beans, of course, are well-known for causing gas and potentially other stomach discomforts such as bloating. But those who have been gluten-free for a long time can generally tell the difference between that type of reaction and a gluten reaction. Those who are particularly sensitive to trace gluten may be more likely to experience a reaction from gluten cross-contamination in beans, but the problem can potentially affect everyone in the gluten-free community as well. 

For example, it's not unusual to find a grain kernel that looks like barley in your beans, especially if those beans were purchased from the bulk bin at the store. Fortunately, you're far less likely to run into this issue with a prepackaged bag of beans that are certified gluten-free, since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued strict regulations on gluten-free labeling requirements back in 2014.

How Beans Get Cross-Contaminated

Beans—especially lentils, but also other varieties of legumes—are frequently grown in the same fields in rotation with gluten grains like barley. Many farmers will also alternate their crops of garbanzo beans and green peas with wheat. Then, they will often use the same equipment to harvest both.

This means that even certified gluten-free suppliers can't always guarantee the purity of their products—they only can guarantee that the beans haven't been exposed to gluten once they've arrived at their gluten-free certified facility.

Distributors can ask questions to assess whether farming practices meet specific protocol that would mitigate the potential for cross-contaminated crops in their products, and some may even disclose this information on their labels.

Can Washing the Beans De-Gluten Them?

You might think you could simply wash off the traces of gluten grains; some folks in the gluten-free community will say that running your beans under a stream of cold water should be enough to remove the trace gluten from them.

The problem is that gluten is a very sticky, stubborn molecule. Some people have found that you can lessen—though not eliminate—gluten cross-contamination in beans by washing them repeatedly in a few changes of water. If you're using dried beans, it's advisable to wash and rinse them thoroughly before soaking.

A Word From Verywell

You don't need to eliminate beans from your diet because of cross-contamination, in part, since it's not a problem for everyone. For example, if you can pick the croutons off a salad before eating it and not get glutened, then you can probably enjoy all the beans you want without experiencing a reaction, since it's likely that you're not sensitive to trace gluten.

If you've been enjoying beans and you're not suffering from glutening symptoms afterward, then add beans to your list of things you just don't need to worry about.

However, if you find you do react to beans, there are a few options for safe beans for those who are particularly sensitive to trace gluten.

Washing beans thoroughly might be enough to forego a glutening for someone who's somewhat, but not extremely, sensitive to trace gluten. But if you're especially sensitive, washing might lessen your reaction to cross-contamination, but is unlikely to eliminate it entirely.

You can also avoid bean varieties that are more likely to contain trace levels of gluten grains. These include lentils and green peas, since they are rotated with crops like barley and wheat. Larger beans such as white beans and kidney beans may be less susceptible to accidental gluten cross-contamination since they are larger and easier to sort through—though of course there is no guarantee.

Finally, consider finding a local or organic farm that harvests beans by hand or uses special equipment. If possible, talk to the farmer directly about how they grow and handle their beans. Some smaller farms may grow only one or two types of beans such as butter beans, and won't sow them in the fields they use for other crops. If you find this type of farm, consider buying a large amount of beans and then freezing or dehydrating them so you have plenty on hand for the long haul.

All in all, you don't need to give up beans even if you're very sensitive to gluten cross-contamination, but you may need to put some extra effort into sourcing where they come from and ensuring safe preparation.

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Article Sources
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