Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot
The more you toot, the better you feel
So let’s have beans at every meal!
My Bean History
It is revolutionary for me that am featuring a lot of bean recipes on Table Karma. I have had a love-hate relationship with beans. My earliest memory of beans is from my childhood in the Midwest when my grandmother would make a cloying but addictive concoction of baked kidney beans in a brown sugar tomato sauce baked with lots and lots of fatty pork. This was standard summer picnic fare along with fried chicken (laced with “Accent” aka MSG) and creamy slaw and homemade biscuits and of course dessert. Is it surprising that I became a pudgy child? Except for green beans, those are the only beans I remember from my early days. As a young adult with hypothyroid issues, I was advised by nutrition “experts” to avoid all starchy foods, including beans. So, I banished beans completely. Somewhere along the line, I had been informed and believed that beans were hard to digest, made you fat, caused flatulence, and even inhibited mental and spiritual development (see notes below about Pythagoras)! As a result of this, I have avoided beans for most of my life, until recently.
After deciding to embrace a plant-based lifestyle, I have become a voracious researcher of nutritional studies, and now I believe that for most of my life, I didn’t know beans about beans!
What are Beans
Okay, lets begin with what foods are included in the general “beans.” When I use the term beans, I am including not only black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, navy beans, cannellini beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas or garbanzo beans and legumes, such as lentils, split peas, etc., etc.
Nutritional Benefits of Beans
Beans are good source of protein in plant form, and a relatively “cheap” one at that. They also provide fiber, iron, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. For a great reference on the nutritional value of beans, read “Why We Should Eat More Beans” by Michael Greger M.D. FACLM, March 11th, 2014. Dr. Greger calls beans one of the two healthiest foods on the planet, second only to greens, and bemoans the fact that although the U.S. government recommends daily consumption of at least a half cup of beans per day, 96% of Americans do not manage to meet that recommendation. According to Dr. Gregor, who reports daily on the most current scientific nutritional research, beans are super powers—“packed with potassium (Preventing Strokes with Diet), mad with magnesium (Mineral of the Year—Magnesium), and a preferred source of protein (Plant Protein Preferable). They improve breast cancer survival…, reduce hot flashes…, [and] delay premature puberty….” They also have an exceptionally low glycemic index. “You give someone cooked beans, peas, or lentils and they don’t even get half the blood sugar spike that they would get with the same amount of carbs in the form of bread, pasta, or potatoes. So if you’re going to eat some high glycemic food like white rice, consider having some beans with it, and the more beans the better.” Beans also have been proven to have an amazing effect—called the “second meal effect” — of carrying over these glycemic control benefits to subsequent meals even if beans are not consumed. According to Dr. Greger, “Eat lentils for dinner, and then for breakfast, even if forced to drink sugar water, we have better glycemic control. Beans moderate your blood sugar not just at the meal we eat them, but even hours later or the next day.” (Watch his video explaining this–https://youtu.be/NYdi0RpI1SU). Beans, especially black beans, also are packed with healthy antioxidants. Bean-eating may also increase longevity!!! Studies report that the longest lived civilizations have been regular bean-eaters. Contrary to my long-held beliefs, beans are actually an aid to weight loss! Dr. Joel Fuhrman includes beans among the healthiest, meaning most nutrient-dense, foods we can consume. He has an acronym for these foods called G-BOMB, referring alphabetically to Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, and Berries. I refer back to these food categories in many of my Table Karma recipes, and my eating habits have been influenced by trying to include these foods every day as much as possible. So—as the rhyme goes, “Let’s have beans at every meal”!!
The research I have seen indicates that while flatulence may be a true side effect of eating beans, the effect is greater when beans are eaten infrequently and in combination with a meat based diet. Referring again to Dr. Gregor, he cites studies indicating that regular consumption of beans by vegans actually changes the gut flora and gradually any symptoms are greatly reduced or eliminated—no pun intended. Personally, going from a standard diet to a vegan diet including lots of beans for the first time in years, I have not experienced any discomfort. If bloating or gas occur from bean consumption, introducing small amounts at first—a few spoons—and gradually increasing consumption should help.
Dried or canned?
So far, I have not forayed into cooking dried beans. Cooking dried beans takes time and patience and perhaps I have more of a spontaneous nature. Maybe I am just not the plan-ahead type. I have noticed a lot of plant-based cooks touting the merits of pressure cooking devices such as the popular “Instapot,” which cooks dried beans in mere minutes, but I haven’t joined their ranks yet. Maybe it’s the memory of my grandmother using a scary stovetop pressure cooker that threatened to blow up all over the kitchen spewing boiling liquids like volcanic lava. We’ll see. For now, I am buying beans either in cans, looking for BPA free brands, or in acetic containers, and always choosing organic, oil-free, and low-sodium options. Apparently, the nutritional value of canned beans is just as high as dried, except for possible high sodium levels—so watch out for the salt! If you can’t find low sodium canned beans, drain and rinse the beans. If you do have low sodium beans, keep the broth. There are amazing uses for this liquid—“aquafaba”—that I am just learning about. I haven’t experimented a lot yet, but I will. See my recipe for Oil-free Spinach Walnut Basil Pesto, which includes aquafaba.
Side Notes–Beyond the Physical Effects of Beans–I have revolutionized my diet by adding lots of beans based solely on the research I have seen on the nutritional benefits of beans for the physical body and on the benefits of reducing risks of chronic physical diseases. I am still interested in researching further the potential impacts on mental and spiritual development. According to the Austrian philosopher and spiritual scientist Rudolf Steiner, “In the case of plants which are strongly imbued with astrality, for example, in the pod-bearing plants, their products remain in man’s lower organism, and are unwilling to rise up to the head, with the result that they produce a heavy sleep, and dull the brain on waking. The Pythagoreans wished to be clear thinkers and not introduce digestion into the functions of the head. This is why they forbade the eating of beans.” Here are some interesting quotes from Wikipedia— “Some stories of Pythagoras’ murder revolve around his aversion to beans. According to legend, enemies of the Pythagoreans set fire to Pythagoras’ house, sending the elderly man running toward a bean field, where he halted, declaring that he would rather die than enter the field… It has been suggested that the prohibition of beans was to avoid favism; susceptible people may develop hemolytic anemia as a result of eating beans, or even of walking through a field where bean plants are in flower…. It is more likely to have been for magico-religious reasons,…perhaps because beans obviously demonstrate the potential for life, perhaps because they resemble the kidneys and genitalia…. There was a belief that beans and human beings were created from the same material….According to accounts from Diogenes Laertius, and or Eustathius, it is thought that the fava bean was particularly sacred to the Pythagoreans; this is because fava beans have hollow stems, and it was believed that souls of the deceased would travel through the ground, up the hollow stems, into the beans where they would reside….Callimachus is quoted: Keep your hands from beans, a painful food: As Pythagoras enjoined, I too urge. Additionally, Empedocles is quoted: Wretches, utter wretches, keep your hands from beans.”
More to come…