“Beans, beans are good for your heart! The more you eat, the more you….. ” Well I am sure you all know the rest of that one, but it doesn’t have to be the case.
Prepared with time and care there is no reason why beans need cause any more digestive (or social) discomfort than any other food. The trouble is, in our fast paced instant world, we often forget the tradition, the art and the benefit of taking things slowly.
Lentils, legumes and grains are steeped in controversy nowadays, some saying they are not fit to be eaten while others praise them. The truth remains though, ancient cultures have lived on diets heavily dependent on these things for a generations. One size does not fit all when it comes to food but in most cases, with a bit of understanding on how to prepare them they can be not only good to eat but also beneficial.
The biggest issue with beans (and most grains, seeds, lentils and nuts) is that they have been “designed to survive”. This means they have been given natural defense mechanisms that help them to avoid digestion when consumed by animals or humans. So when they eventually see the light of day again, they can carry on their merry way and sprout and grow as if nothing has happened.
It all gets quite complex if you really start looking into the science of it all but the long and short of it is this:
- Beans contain phytates/phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors which prevent them from being digested efficiently.
- The enzyme phytase is needed to deactivate phytate/phytic acid
- Beans contain their own naturally occurring phytase which needs to be activated
- Soaking and sprouting activates phytase which helps to deactivate phytates/phytic acid making them more digestible and nutritious.
The human digestive system produces enzymes to break down foods, but we do not produce a lot of phytase, and some people produce more than others. This is why soaking and activating the naturally occurring phytase is so important. Interestingly, some lactobacilli bacteria also produce phytase, so having a healthy gut/microbiome could mean you may digest beans better than the next person.
Phytates/phytic acid, when not deactivated, binds up minerals and nutrients so that we can not digest them. Instead they will just be passed out of the body. This can lead to mineral deficiencies and other malnourishment conditions.
Phytic acid also binds up or deactivates our bodies own enzymes for metabolizing protein and carbohydrates. This means that food that would normally be broken down in the stomach and small intestines can passed into the large intestines relatively whole. It is then fermented by our gut bacteria and produces gas, so we end up with bloating and digestive discomfort.
Beans are a great, affordable food but they need to be prepared right. There are different methods out there, so play around and see what works, but basically a safe guideline is this:
- Soak beans in warm slightly acidic (a dash of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, whey etc) water for at least 12 hours.
- Drain, rinse and cook SLOWLY in unsalted water until soft
- Use or freeze as desired
So get some beans soaking and try this delicious Autumn Harvest inspired recipe:-
- Serve these beans up for a cosy dinner with a big side of greens. Vitamin C has been shown to counteract the effects of phytic acid which is why a side of greens and the capsicums in the dish are a great combination.
- Vinegar has been shown to increase the uptake of minerals which is why the balsamic in this dish is important. Not just for flavour but also to help counter the effect of mineral binding phytic acid.
- Make a big batch and save left overs in portion size lots in the freezer for a quick meal of beans on toast
Comment and share how your bean cooking goes. Do you have any tricks that really make beans sing?