If beans are not part of your diet you are missing out. If you are looking for ways to improve your health then eating beans and lentils are a good place to start.
Beans and lentils are legumes. They are the seeds of a pod plant. Peas are also part of the legume family. Peanuts are also technically legumes, not nuts. Both beans and lentils have been grown for food for thousands of years in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
Why beans are good for you
There are several reasons that beans are good for you. They are among the best plant based protein sources so if you are looking to supplement or replace your animal protein beans are a good way to go. They are also one of the least inexpensive protein sources.
Lentils are very high in fibre. Beans are also a good source of fibre. More fibre can help to improve digestion and maintain a healthy weight.
Beans and lentils are both good sources of minerals like iron and magnesium. During perimenopause women who have heavy periods often also have low iron levels. Magnesium has been shown to reduce hot flashes, help with sleep, mood swings and bone health. Beans and lentils are also good sources of other minerals like copper, manganese and phosphorus.
Both are also good sources of B vitamins like folate. They contain a large amount of antioxidants as well.
Beans are high in carbohydrates, but they contain the healthy slow digesting carbohydrates that you do want to eat. They don’t cause blood sugar spikes.
Why beans cause gas and what you can do about it
Many people avoid beans because they find they cause gas. Gas is caused by the fibre and resistant starches they contain. This ferments in the gut, causing gas.
You may find that beans are less likely to cause gas if they have been soaked before cooking, or if they are sprouted before cooking. It is also best to ease into eating beans. Start with just a small amount, especially if your diet has been fairly low in fibre.
What are the best beans to eat?
There are so many beans to choose from, they can fit into almost any healthy eating plan. Darker beans usually have higher levels of minerals, but lighter beans are useful for having a milder flavour that takes on the flavour of what is added to them.
Lentils cook quickly and don’t require soaking so they are convenient when you are shorter on time.
Soy beans have the highest protein content, but their use is controversial. Soy has been shown to help with heart health and weight loss, but it may contribute to hypothyroidism and hormonal imbalances. If you eat a lot of processed foods, you may find that your intake of soy is higher than you thought.
How to add beans to your diet
Here are some ways you might enjoy beans and lentils:
- Use chickpeas to make hummus, or ground as a flour for a higher protein, gluten free baking
- Use black beans with Mexican inspired dishes, or blend them into a paste to use in brownies
- Lentils can be added to soups, salads and Indian dishes
- Navy beans and other white beans are great in baked beans.
When you should not eat beans
If you suffer from IBS, have gut health that is compromised or you are on a low FODMAP diet you may need to limit or avoid beans and lentils.
Beans and lentils contain lectins. Most lectins are healthy, but some can cause an immune system response leading to vomiting, cramping and diarrhea. These lectins are found in kidney beans (and some other beans) and are destroyed when the beans are fully cooked. Soaking also helps to reduce leptin levels.
Some people may have immune responses to other lectins so if you are one of these people then beans should be avoided. In any case check to see if the bean you are using is okay to eat raw. (Chickpeas are an example of a bean that can be ground into flour and used safely this way).
Beans are also high in phytates which bind to certain minerals and reduces the absorption of these minerals. But beans are high in these minerals so it is not usually a problem. Add onions and garlic to your foods to increase your absorption of minerals. Phytates may actually have benefits – reducing the growth of cancer cells and preventing osteoporosis.
Unless you have an allergy or are particularly sensitive to beans, then you should be able to add them to your diet and benefit from eating beans. Start slowly and pay attention to how your body reacts to added beans.