Beans Means Health

red lentilsBeans, pulses and legumes have had a really bad rap over the years. The popular opinion of these foods has traditionally ranged from ‘fart-food’ to bland, unappetising stodge favoured by the ‘alternative lifestyle’ brigade, or as cheap, last resort food of the destitute. This is a great shame, because beans are actually packed with texture and flavour, and they are powerhouses of nutrition. Everyone should, as far as possible, eat beans every day.

Does anyone remember the infamous scene in Mel Brook’s Western-spoof ‘Blazing Saddles’, where the cowboys sit around the camp fire, taking turns passing gas after scoffing pans of beans? Or the anarchic 1980’s English black-comedy series ‘The Young Ones’, where the dour hippy character Neil regularly exhorts his house-mates (without success) to eat his revolting-looking lentil stew?

So what’s the big deal about beans, you might wonder?

Beans, pulses, or legumes are an excellent source of:

  • Soluble fibre
  • Antioxidants
  • Protein
  • Complex carbohydrates
  • Vitamins and minerals such as: copper, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium and zinc.

Beans are low in fat with a low glycaemic index. They also help you to lose weight, lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Beans are cheap, filling, tasty, and incredibly versatile. If any food deserves the over-used title of ‘super-food’, it would have to be beans!

Black Beans Vs Beef (per 100 grams) – source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

  • Black Beans: 130 calories  | Beef: 270 calories
  • Black Beans: Total fat: 0 grams | Beef: 18 grams
  • Black Beans: Saturated fat: 0 grams | Beef: 7 grams
  • Black Beans: Cholesterol: 0 grams | Beef: 80 grams
  • Black Beans: Fibre: 8 grams | Beef: 0 grams
  • Black Beans: Iron: 2.9 micrograms | Beef: 2.3 micrograms

The Year of the Pulse

International Year of PulsesIt wasn’t well publicised, but the United Nations declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses. All around the world people were encouraged to take the ‘Pulse Pledge’, organise ‘Pulse Feasts’ and share their commitment to consuming pulses on social media and YouTube.

As it says on the Pulse Australia website, pulses (including beans) are excellent sources of carbohydrate and protein. For example, chickpeas contain up to 24% protein, and are richer in phosphorus and calcium than other pulses.

Faba (Fava) beans and broad beans are also good sources of carbohydrate and protein, low in fats, and having a crude protein content ranging from 24 to 31%.

Let Them Eat Lentils

let them eat lentils

Far from being ‘new-age’ fare for hippies, lentils are an ancient human food, appearing around 9,500 to 13,000 years ago. You might have seen green or red lentils, but did you know there are about 14 different types?

Lentils have the second-highest ratio of protein to calorie of any legume. They are rich sources of nutrients including folate, thiamine, phosphorus, iron, zinc and fibre.

Lentils are widely used throughout South Asia, the Mediterranean regions and West Asia. Lentils feature in the national dishes of many countries, including Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, India and Pakistan. In Italy and Hungary, eating lentils on New Year’s Eve traditionally symbolizes the hope for a prosperous new year, most likely because of their round, coin-like form.

According Dr Michael Greger, of Nutrition Facts, and author of ‘How Not To Die’, “Legumes may be the most important predictor of survival in older people from around the globe”.

In an article by Dr Greger he reports that “researchers from different institutions looked at five different cohorts in Japan, Sweden, Greece, and Australia. Of all the food factors they looked at, only one was associated with a longer lifespan across the board: legume intake. Whether it was the Japanese eating their soy, the Swedes eating their brown beans and peas, or those in the Mediterranean eating lentils, chickpeas, and white beans, legume intake was associated with an increased lifespan.”

As for the common concern about beans and legumes increasing farts, Dr Greger says people’s concerns about excessive flatulence from eating beans may be exaggerated. He refers to a recent study, (profiled in his video Increased Lifespan from Beans) which involved adding a half-cup of beans every day to people’s diets for months.  While the vast majority of people in the study experienced no symptoms at all, only a few did report increased flatulence. Even among the small percentage that were affected, 70% or more of the participants felt that flatulence dissipated by the second or third week of bean consumption. So the message is keep eating beans, and your body will gradually get used to it.

Health Benefits of Eating Beans and Legumes

  • Beans can prevent heart disease
  • Beans can fight cancer
  • Beans can lower cholesterol
  • Beans can help you lose weight
  • Beans can reduce risk of diabetes
  • Beans can prevent constipation
  • Beans are a great source of protein, complex carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and minerals

Medical doctor and nutrition expert Dr Joel Fuhrman calls beans “the ideal carbohydrate”. Dr Fuhrman advises that beans protect against colon cancer and diabetes, stabilize blood sugar and help you feel full – assisting with weight loss:

“Since beans are high-nutrient, high-fibre, and low-calorie, you can eat them in large quantities without the danger of weight gain. The high fibre and resistant starch content of beans also makes them very satiating, allowing you to feel full longer and stave off food cravings; these properties make beans an effective weight loss tool. Those who regularly eat beans have greater intakes of minerals and fibre, have lower blood pressure, and are less likely to be overweight than those that don’t consume beans.” – Dr Joel Furhman

Soy Beans – Protein Powerhouse

super soySoy beans are native to China, where they have been cultivated for over 13,000 years. The ancient Chinese regarded soy beans as a necessity for life. Soy beans are now the most widely grown and utilised legume worldwide, mainly as a result of being used (in GMO form) for feeding animals bred for human consumption (a shocking waste of land, water, food and resources).

soy beansIt’s important to remember that, despite the controversy about eating soy, soy beans are an extremely nutritious member of the legume family.

Soy beans have the distinction of having the highest percentage of protein of any bean, and they have all necessary amino acids for humans. In other words, soy beans contain ‘complete protein’, that is as usable as protein found in meat and eggs.

According to the Victorian Government’s (Australia) ‘Better Health Channel’ soy beans are a good source of antioxidants, including phytoestrogens such as isoflavones. There is evidence to suggest that that a soy-rich diet helps reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, because the phytoestrogens act like a mild form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Reductions in the rate of hot flushes associated with soy consumption vary from 1.9 % to 45 %.

A meta-analysis of 41 clinical trials found that 20 g to 61 g of soy protein (found in two to three serves of soy products) can significantly reduce total blood cholesterol levels, LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and triglycerides.

Other possible health benefits of whole soy foods include:

  • lowered blood pressure
  • improvements to blood vessels, such as greater elasticity of artery walls
  • reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • protection against various cancers, including those of the breast, colon, prostate and skin
  • management of endometriosis
  • anti-inflammatory effects.

As Dr Neal Barnard of PCRM advises, consumption of simple soy products, such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, or miso, are probably better choices than highly refined soy foods.

Different bean varieties (click on the hyperlinks for more information):

Eat Beans – Not Beings!

eat beans not beings

Eat at least half a cup to a whole cup of beans every day – you can add a beans to your salads; or eat baked beans (navy beans) on wholemeal toast; make bean burgers, a bean loaf, or mix beans into your soup, stew or casserole. You can also consume beans as bean salsa, or bean dip.

Enjoy your fill of healthy, life-sustaining beans, and bean appetite!

Tom Perry