Anti-gas enzyme stands out in a crowd

EATING WELL

September 13, 1994|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,Special to The Sun

Inquiring minds want to know, "Does BEANO really work, or is it just another gimmick?" Brenda and Phyllis think it works. In fact, they put it right out on the buffet table, along with all the healthy foods they serve, where those who need it can freely help themselves.

BEANO is a food enzyme, a dietary supplement available in most grocery store pharmacies where you find antacids and other stomach medicines.

The question of BEANO's effectiveness is especially important since we've begun to appreciate the nutritional quality of food almost as much as its taste. Healthier eating emphasizes foods like beans, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, soy products, oats and even onions. Yet for many folks, those foods are difficult to digest, producing gas, distention and bloating. How ironic that these otherwise nutritious foods cause both physical pain and social discomfort.

Historically, folks suffering these indignities would just avoid the offending foods, or indulge occasionally and endure (along with their friends) the consequences.

But beans are great for lowering cholesterol, and a delicious fat-free substitute for meat. Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are among the cruciferous vegetables being explored for their power to prevent cancer. Soy products, too, seem to have cancer-preventive properties. And onions make everything taste better. So simply losing these health-givers is not a great solution.

The problem with these foods is that they contain complex sugars, called oligosaccharides, which require a special enzyme, alpha-galactosidase, for digestion. If your body doesn't make this enzyme, the sugars sit in your intestines and ferment, producing gas and all its subsequent difficulties.

BEANO is nothing but the enzyme, alpha-galactosidase. You put three to eight drops in the first spoonful of food you eat, and it leads the way to your digestive tract. There, it goes to work breaking down the difficult foods as they come tumbling after.

Enzymes are tricky, though. They can be destroyed by heat. In fact, alpha-galactosidase becomes inactive when temperatures reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit. So you can't just stir it into the pot while you're cooking. You have to wait until the food cools enough to eat it.

Also, enzymes are proteins, and can be digested just like the proteins in meat or beans. That means you can't take it an hour ahead of time, say, before you go out to a restaurant. So you're left with a bit of a social problem. You have to take your BEANO right there, in front of friends, family and co-workers. But that's OK. Your digestive difficulty probably isn't a well-kept secret, anyway. And when you come out of the closet with your BEANO, you'll make it easier for others to follow.

One more thing about enzymes. They are very specific about what they do. Each has only one job, and can't do any others. If you have trouble digesting dairy foods, you're most likely missing a different enzyme, lactase. BEANO won't solve that problem. You'll have try either Lactaid or Dairy-Ease.

Dairy foods, too, are worth the effort. Besides bone-building calcium, they provide high-quality protein, vitamin D, and a full array of B vitamins. Because dairy foods are cold, you can buy milk, cheese and even ice cream, under the Lactaid brand, that are already enzyme-treated. In addition, you can get drops to add to your own milk. Better still, both Lactaid and Dairy-Ease make chewable tablets you can carry, to pop whenever the dairy food mood strikes.

All this might seem like a lot of work, and some folks complain they hate to take "medicine" all the time. Enzymes aren't medicine. They're natural workers your body produces when it's working right. They're easy to use and produce no side effects. And they keep a wide array of healthy foods on the menu, even when your body is a little less than cooperative.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant the the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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