The Magic of Beans
by Dr Kyle Christensen
Perhaps of all the foods, which have graced our palate, beans are the most magical. Beans, including all of the legumes (beans, peas, lentils, peanuts and alfalfa), have the potential to do for our bodies what few others do, as we will discuss in this article.
Beans are a super healthy, super versatile and super affordable food. Beans are high in antioxidants, fiber, protein, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and zinc. Eating beans regularly have been shown repeatedly to decrease the risk of diabetes, heart disease, colorectal and breast cancer, and help with weight management. Beans are hearty, helping you feel full so you will tend to eat less.
As we get older, we need fewer calories and beans are a great way to boost the nutrition power of your meal without boosting the calories. A half-cup of beans has only about 100 calories.
Some in the current dietary world, however claim there is a dark side to beans - in a word "Anti-Nutrients". Anti-nutrients are chemicals that interfere with the absorption of important nutrients as well as cause digestive problems. The primary ones found in beans are Phytates and Lectins. But not to worry, our ancient forbearers have figures this one out. Yes, Phytic acid (a phytate) can prevent the absorption of some minerals (Ca, Mn, Fe, Zn, Mg) and Lectins can interfere with digestion and damage the lining of the gut, but one thing our modern Keto/Paleo friends may not have considered in their research is how this magical superfood is prepared and eaten. So how do you make beans healthy and not the flatulent bad guy some say it is? Sit down, hold on and prepare yourself. Here it is: We cook the beans before we eat them. I know, I know. This is brilliant. We don't crunch on hard dry beans. We put them in water. We boil them and then something quite magical happens. Viola! They soften up - the phytic acid goes away - dissolved into oblivion. The Lectins break apart crumbling to humus (humus is rotten plant matter, not to be confused with hummus the delicious and nutritious dip made from what else - garbanzo beans). Yes, a few percent of the lectins remain but a couple percent of lectins wisely stick around to fight cancer in the digestive tract. Yes, this once potential lectinish villain has now become the major crime fighter in colon cancer. And as the humble bean unleashes its magic, health is restored and all with a smile of deliciousness.
Science can sometimes be so myopic as to overlook that nature really has figured out more than the laboratory bound researcher considers. It is kind of like the high school kid (modern science) playing chess with the grand master (nature) and arrogantly thinking he's got it all figured out.
So in a nutshell (peanut shell, of course), legumes are good, Good, GOOD! But you've got to cook them - duh! (ever eat a raw peanut?) Seriously eating uncooked dry legumes not only doesn't taste good and could crack a tooth, but also can cause some serious digestive harm and distress. So cook your beans.
So what about snap beans or green beans fresh from the vine? Well, apparently, the lectins and phytates form during the maturing and drying phase and so eating fresh crisp legumes is not a concern. Whew! We can keep snacking in the garden.
So What Can Beans Do for You:
1. Nutrition: Beans are high in protein and low in fat, high in minerals (potassium and magnesium) and vitamins. Most legume varieties are high in micronutrients like folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and potassium. The fiber in beans promote the growth of and feed the healthy intestinal bacteria (probiotics) and are considered to be important pre-biotics (black beans have been tested to be the healthiest).
2. Prevent Cancer: Including beans in your diet several times a week may decrease the risk of colorectal adenomas (polyps), which may in turn lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Beans improve breast cancer survival rates as well as reduce hot flashes and delays pre-mature puberty in young girls.
3. Heart Health: Eating beans regularly is shown to lower the risk of coronary heart disease. Beans are a hearty and good alternative to high-fat protein sources like red meat. Beans lower cholesterol - both total and the bad cholesterol. Beans also help to lower high blood pressure, high triglycerides and reduce inflammation.
4. Diabetes protection: Beans are proven to stabilize blood sugar in what is known as the Second Meal Effect. Eating beans will slow the rate that sugar enters the bloodstream, not only with the meal you just ate, but this benefit carries over to the next meal and even the next day. Eating beans (even a few tablespoons) will help to maintain healthy blood sugar level and greatly benefit those with type 2 diabetes or those who are pre-diabetic. Bean or legume consumption decreases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The more legumes people ate, the lower their risk of getting type 2 diabetes.
5. Weight Loss: Not only are legumes high in fiber and protein, both of which can help promote satiety and ward off hunger, but legume consumption has also been associated with weight loss.
6. Live Longer: Bean intake recurs in scientific studies as an important factor promoting long life. The conclusions of an important study shows that a higher legume intake is the most protective dietary predictor of survival among the elderly, regardless of their ethnicity. The study found legumes were associated with long-lived people in various food cultures, such as the Japanese (soy and tofu), the Swedes (brown beans and peas), and the Mediterranean people (lentils, chickpeas, and white beans). Beans and greens are the foods most closely linked in the scientific literature against cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and dementia.
All legumes such as kidney, black, white and red beans, chickpeas and lentils confer health benefits. Black beans and red lentils appear to be the healthiest - according to some studies.
What about gas?
You know the song:
"Beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot!"
So here's the medical truth. Having and passing gas (medically known as flatulence) is normal. Passing gas 14 to 22 times per day is considered the average. Gas is caused by not fully digesting what you have eaten. If you don't digest protein sufficiently, then your gas will smell bad. I mean really bad, rotten eggs, clear-the-room-out bad. Undigested or incompletely digested carbohydrates produce "normal gas" and sometimes a lot of it. And here's this from the revered Merck Manual which many a medical, naturopathic and chiropractic spent hours studying from, here is what is says about gas or flatulence described as follows: Among those who are flatulent, the quantity and frequency of gas passage can reach astounding proportions. One careful study noted a patient with daily flatus frequency as high as 141, including 70 passages in one 4-hour period! This symptom, which can cause great psychosocial distress, has been unofficially and humorously described according to its salient characteristics: (1) the "slider" (crowded elevator type), which is released slowly and noiselessly, sometimes with devastating effect; (2) the open sphincter, or "pooh" type, which is said to be of higher temperature and more aromatic; and (3) the staccato or drum-beat type, pleasantly passed in privacy.
So how do you deal with the gas? There are specific probiotics that live in the colon (large intestine) that help to break down some of the more difficult carbohydrates found in legumes. As you eat more beans, you will have less gas. But some find they need to acclimate slowly to any significant dietary changes. You may consider adding a tablespoon of beans to your daily diet and gradually increase over the next few weeks. Soon you'll be improving your health with those glorious, delicious and satisfying beans. The de-gassing product Beano™ or Gas-x™ can help, but they are more of a quick fix rather than a healing remedy. We'd do much better to slowly add beans to the diet so your digestive tract will establish the probiotics necessary for bean digestion and develop the ability to digest better. But what can you do today as you begin to nourish and heal the gut? Many find substantial relief with digestive enzymes. Particularly those that focus on the large intestines (which by-the-way should be acidic - so those of you who think we need to constantly alkalize the body in all we eat, may want to gain a better understanding of the complexity of our physiology).
What to Do with Beans
- You can buy dry beans and soak them overnight and cook the next day.
- You buy canned beans, but be sure to rinse them before using to remove some of the added sodium (salt). In fact, canned beans show the same health benefits as home cooked from dry beans.
- As a dip, such as hummus, white or black bean dip. Serve with toasted whole wheat pita triangles and fresh vegetables for dipping.
- Add to soups, salads, stews and chili
- Add to pasta
- Serve as a side dish
- Or simply enjoy a bowl of beans in its tasty broth with a slice of sourdough bread.
One of the great recent discoveries I've made is heirloom beans. These go way beyond the navy, kidney, pinto, garbanzo or black beans you buy in the grocery store. They come with names like 'Eye of the Goat', Jacob's Cattle, Painted Pony, Flageolet, and it goes on and on. There are hundreds of varieties of beans each with their own unique texture, flavor, culture and tradition.
So here's some basic advice and instructions on making your very own delicious beans from dry beans you've either grown or purchased.
- Use the best beans you can find. Dry beans are considered fresh when under 2 years old. Old stored beans can be softened and made into deliciousness, but they take a little more care. Fresh dry beans do taste much better.
- Dry beans expand to about 2 ½ times their original size when soaked.
A cup of dry beans yields 3 cups cooked.
A pound of dry beans yields 5 to 6 cups, cooked.
A pound of dry beans makes about 9 servings of baked beans or 12 servings of bean soup.
One (15 ounce) can of beans equals 2 cups of cooked beans
- When cooking: if you don't have enough water, you will need to keep adding more so the beans will cook
- Too much water and your broth or pot liquor will be too diluted - the pot liquor should be the most tasty part of the meal. Pot Liquor is the broth left from the beans, which is nutritious, delicious and used in soup, etc. 'Ha, Ha', when I first 'heard' the term pot liquor on a video, I heard Pot Licker. I just figured this liquid was so good (and it is), you would want to lick the pot clean. (Caution: Don't lick hot pots.)
- Boil too long, too much, then the beans can turn to mush. So you've got to keep a casual eye on them.
- DO NOT ADD: salt, vinegar, lemon, wine, tomatoes, lime, pineapple or any acid based seasonings or ingredients until after they are softened through cooking. This can keep skins hard and they may never soften making it difficult for them to cook. This is especially true with older beans.
- ADDING SALT: Don't add salt to your beans until they are almost done (soft and creamy) or until after they are done. 1 pound of beans (about 2 cups of dry beans) will need a heaping teaspoon of salt.
- DO ADD: herbs and veggies, such as oregano, bay leaves, garlic, onion, etc.
- You can add ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon baking soda (no more) per pound of beans when cooking in hard water to shorten cooking time. A pinch of Sal Mixteca , which is an alakline cooking salt from Mexico will help to soften your beans. Sal Mixteca is available from Rancho Gordo.
- At high altitudes beans take longer to cook.
Stove top method
- To prepare beans: Rinse beans, then Soak beans in an uncovered pot (3-4 cups of cold filtered or spring water per cup of beans - chlorinated tap water can make bean skins tough). Soak them over night or at least 4 to 6 hours. They absorb water through their little bean belly buttons called a micropyle (you can find it if you look real close). The micropyle is at one end of the hilum (the obvious white dash) where the bean was connected to the pod.
- After soaking, as a general rule: Add water to 2 inches above your soaked beans before you start cooking.
- Heat to a full hard boil for 10-15 minutes. Then lower beans to a gentle simmer. Simmer as low as you can go. Budget 2 to 3 hours. Keep an eye on them and add water (from the teakettle boiled water is best) as necessary. Keep the water about 1 inch above beans. Test the beans. Taste or put a bean on your hand and blow on it. If the skin blows away or wrinkles - they're done. Your beans should be soft and creamy without any grit or graininess. Salt ½ teaspoon per 1 cups of dry beans you began with.
Then sit down to a perfectly cooked bowl of heirloom beans. This is comfort food. And food really is all about emotion.
My favorite resource for dry beans has become Rancho Gordo.com. I have also been enjoying their book: The Rancho Gordo Vegetarian Kitchen. Great recipes for the unique varieties of heirloom beans they grow and sale.
So there you have it. The magic of beans. Many of us were raised on beans and coming back to them is comforting as well as delicious. Whether you begin with canned beans (be sure to rinse them), or discover the expansive world of heirloom beans, I invite you to jump in and make beans a major staple of your diet and plan and prepare for a long and healthy life.
Dr Kyle Christensen