When you think of beans and lentils, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A nutritional staple full of fiber, anti-oxidants, protein and B Vitamins? OR an anti-nutrient, toxic laden, stomach bloating and inflammation-causing food?
There’s no doubt that beans and lentils are high in calcium, potassium, zinc, iron, B-vitamins, fibre, protein and even omega fats, BUT how you react to them depends on a few things. Your genetic make-up, how they’re prepared and even the type of bean you select can have a profound effect on whether they’re part of the The Good, The Bad or The Ugly of beans and lentils.
Ancient civilizations and cultures who consume lots of beans and lentils have always prepared them with a lot of steps and care. This involves four steps: soaking, cooking (or canned), skimming and “spicing”.
Soaking: When preparing dried beans, which I prefer, soak with water with an acidic medium, such as lime juice, baking powder or vinegar to break down the compounds that will inflame you and cause bloating and flatulence (which isn’t pleasant for anyone). Soak beans anywhere between 12-24 hours and soak lentils for about 7 hours. Try your best to change your water a few times over the course of the soaking period for maximum digestibility.
Cooking (or canned): Recent studies have shown that cooking in a pressure cooker is considered the most effective method, as it increases digestibility, allows the body to absorb the many nutrients of the beans, and cooks the beans in a short period of time. If a pressure cooker is not an option and you are stuck using a pot, it’s important to get the beans heated to a rolling boil for several minutes before simmering. Really stuck and just can’t commit to cooking your beans? Select BPA-free, organic varieties with no added salt, sugar or other preservatives. Canned beans are obviously a very convenient and time saving way to get some good healthy nutrition without the hassle of a pressure cooker.
Skimming: Ever see the white foam that comes off beans as you are boiling them? Well scrape that off and scoop it out ASAP. It’s undigestible stuff – so don’t eat it.
Spicing: Spices like cumin, coriander, chilli, turmeric, pepper, garlic, onions, hing (asafoetida), lime and lemon – which are commonly combined in delicious bean and lentil dishes – will make the vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants more absorbable. Spices can also help to diffuse any remaining ill compounds I’ve discussed above. Furthermore, Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, mentions that topping your bean and lentil dishes with fermented foods like sauerkraut liquid to increase the absorbability of the nutrients.
Beans and lentils get a bad rating for a few things: poor preparation and personal sensitivities.
Poor preparation: Skipped the above steps? Then indigestion awaits you. And if you think you can cheat and put your beans in a slow cooker, think again. Slow cooking beans won’t eliminate the compounds I’ve discussed, and instead will bring out the toxic compounds. So save your slow cooking for stews and soups.
Extra Warning: In Eating on the Wild Side, Jo Robinson lists the order of the most gas-producing beans to the least. So if you’re sensitive to beans and lentils, consult the list below for beans that you most definitely will want to soak and cook thoroughly. It will be better for your gut, and more importantly, better for your guests.
- Lima Beans
- Pigeon peas
- Kidney beans
- Green split peas
- Black beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Pinto Beans
- Navy Beans
- Great Norther beans
Personal sensitivities: Who should limit bean consumption? In The Encyclopedia of of Healing Foods, the authors recommend that those with Kidney Stones and Gout should limit their consumption of beans and lentils as they contain purines and oxalates.
It’s hard to find ugly stuff about this super-nutritious food, but leave it to our modern culture to find a way to mess up another traditional food by trying to make it convenient, mass-produced, imperishable and cheap. Yes, I’m talking about poor quality canned beans.
Poor quality canned beans are full of sugar, preservatives, chemicals, food colorings and BPA lining. Many common canned bean brands like Heinz, Bush’s, Goya, Old El Paso and so on are basically poison in a can. These toxic ingredients can lead to diabetes, cancer and chronic inflammatory disease like arthritis, heart disease and neurological conditions. Be a label detective and leave those cans on the shelf.
As a healthy foodie, I must say, I love beans and lentils. The prep techniques are a must if you want to stay on the good side of beans, and less on the side of flatulence and gastric distress.