You Don’t Know Beans

The truth about legumes

Better Nutrition - - CONTENTS - by Lisa Turner

If you’re a fan of the Pa­leo diet, you may have heard that beans are sec­ond only to grains in their abilit y to da­m­age your gut, in­crease your weight, and gen­er­ally harm your health. But most stud­ies agree that peo­ple who eat beans have a lower risk of heart dis­ease, cancer, and over­all mor­tal­ity. So are beans friend or foe? Here’s what you need to know.

If you’re a fan or a fol­lower of the Pa­leo diet, you’ve prob­a­bly heard that beans are sec­ond only to grains in their abil­ity to da­m­age your gut, in­crease your weight, and gen­er­ally harm your health. But most stud­ies agree that peo­ple who eat beans have a lower risk of heart dis­ease, cancer, and over­all mor­tal­ity. So are beans friend or foe? As with most things, the truth lies some­where in the mid­dle.

Beans con­tain a mul­ti­tude of nutri­ents. They’re low in fat, high in pro­tein ( 15– 20 grams per cup), and rich in mag­ne­sium, fo­late, zinc, cop­per, iron, phos­pho­rous, and other vi­ta­mins and min­er­als. And dark- col­ored va­ri­eties such as red, black, and kid­ney beans are loaded with cancer- pro­tec­tive an­tiox­i­dants.

But fiber is where beans re­ally shine. One cup of navy beans, for ex­am­ple, con­tains 20 grams of fiber, which is about 70 per­cent of the rec­om­mended daily value. Beans also con­tain re­sis­tant starch, which en­cour­ages the growth of ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria, low­ers blood sugar, im­proves in­sulin sen­si­tiv­ity, re­duces choles­terol and triglyc­erides, and may pro­tect against colon cancer.

On the other hand, beans also con­tain com­pounds that can in­ter­fere with nu­tri­ent ab­sorp­tion, ir­ri­tate the gut, and cause di­ges­tive is­sues. Turn the page for a look at each of these com­pounds, and ways to keep them from in­ter­fer­ing with your con­tin­ued en­joy­ment of beans.

1 Phy­tates. Beans and other legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds store phos­pho­rous as phytic acid— called phy­tate when it’s bound to a min­eral in the seed. Phy­tates are an en­ergy source for the sprout­ing seeds, and also pre­vent them from sprout­ing pre­ma­turely. But phy­tates can in­ter­fere with the body’s ab­sorp­tion of min­er­als, in­clud­ing zinc, iron, man­ganese, and, to a small de­gree, cal­cium. They can also make pro­teins, fats, and starches harder to di­gest.

Use your bean: To de­ac­ti­vate most of the phytic acid in beans, com­bine them in a large bowl or pot with wa­ter to cover by 2 inches, then soak for 8– 12 hours. Drain, rinse well, and cook as usual ( soak­ing re­duces cook­ing time). And the upside: phytic acid seems to have some pow­er­ful health ben­e­fits. It’s an an­tiox­i­dant, and may bind cad­mium, lead, and other heavy me­tals, pre­vent­ing their ab­sorp­tion. Foods with high phytic acid con­tent also seem to re­duce the risk of breast, prostate, and colon cancer, and may pro­tect against hard­en­ing of the ar­ter­ies.

2 Lectins, found in high lev­els in beans and legumes, grains, nuts, and night­shade veg­eta­bles such as egg­plant and pota­toes, are pro­teins that bind to cell mem­branes. They act as nat­u­ral pes­ti­cides, pro­tect­ing plants from in­sects, fungi, and harm­ful micro­organ­isms. The prob­lem is, lectins can bind to the in­testi­nal wall, mak­ing it more per­me­able and trig­ger­ing a con­di­tion called leaky gut syn­drome, in which par­tially di­gested pro­tein and tox­ins “leak” through the in­testi­nal walls and en­ter the blood­stream, caus­ing sys­temic in­flam­ma­tion and other prob­lems. Some even say that lectins are linked with Crohn’s dis­ease, coli­tis, IBS, fi­bromyal­gia, and other au­toim­mune con­di­tions.

Use your bean: Thor­oughly cook­ing beans dra­mat­i­cally de­creases their lectin con­tent, and also breaks down some of their com­plex starch into sim­ple carbs, which then bind with the lectins and re­move them from the body. Don’t use a slow cooker; the tem­per­a­ture’s not high enough to de­ac­ti­vate lectins. In­stead, use a pres­sure cooker, or boil beans on the stove­top. Fer­ment­ing and sprout­ing can also re­duce lectins. But don’t sprout kid­ney beans; they con­tain a lectin called phy­to­haemag­glu­tinin, which can cause se­vere gas­troin­testi­nal symp­toms in­clud­ing nau­sea, vom­it­ing, and di­ar­rhea even in very small doses. Kid­ney beans should al­ways be thor­oughly cooked.

3 Protease in­hibitors, found mainly in beans, grains, nuts, and seeds, are com­pounds that block protease, the body’s pro­tein- di­gest­ing en­zyme, thus in­ter­fer­ing with the body’s ab­sorp­tion of pro­tein. Over time, this causes lev­els of en­zymes, es­pe­cially one called trypsin, to in­crease in the in­testines, and can lead to

leaky gut. Soy is es­pe­cially high in these com­pounds, and the protease in­hibitors in soy­beans ap­pear to be more re­sis­tant to cook­ing and pro­cess­ing.

Use your bean: Soak­ing and cook­ing de­ac­ti­vates the ma­jor­ity of protease in­hibitors in most beans. Fer­men­ta­tion has been shown in some stud­ies to com­pletely re­move protease in­hibitors, es­pe­cially in soy— so stick with tem­peh, miso, and other fer­mented soy prod­ucts. On the flip side, some stud­ies sug­gest that the protease in­hibitors in soy may con­trib­ute to their an­ti­cancer ef­fects.

4 FODMAPS, an acro­nym that stands for fer­mentable oligosac­cha­rides, dis­ac­cha­rides, monosac­cha­rides, and poly­ols, are car­bo­hy­drates that are poorly ab­sorbed by some peo­ple, es­pe­cially those who have IBS or other di­ges­tive prob­lems. Be­cause they’re eas­ily fer­mented by gut bac­te­ria, they can cause sig­nif­i­cant bloat­ing, gas, stom­ach pain, di­ar­rhea, con­sti­pa­tion, and other di­ges­tive symp­toms in some peo­ple.

Use your bean: While most beans are high in FODMAPs, chick­peas, lentils, and peas are al­lowed on most FODMAP di­ets. Canned beans are lower in FODMAPs than reg­u­lar beans and, not sur­pris­ingly, soak­ing be­fore cook­ing can re­duce FODMAPs too.

5 Saponins, found in beans, peanuts, legumes, and other plant sources, are thought to da­m­age the mem­brane lin­ing of cells, es­pe­cially in the in­testines. When the in­testines be­come more per­me­able, as in leaky gut, tox­ins can en­ter the blood­stream and cause sys­temic in­flam­ma­tion and other is­sues. In ex­tremely high quan­ti­ties, saponins can de­stroy red blood cells if they en­ter the blood­stream.

Use your bean: Cook­ing beans doesn’t re­duce the saponin con­tent, but soak­ing and fer­ment­ing do. And, like other so- called antin­u­tri­ents, saponins have some health ben­e­fits. Stud­ies sug­gest that they de­crease blood lipids, nor­mal­ize blood glu­cose re­sponse, and re­duce the risk of cancer.

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