Beans are nutritional powerhouses. Not only are they a great source of protein, fibre, and B vitamins (especially folate), but they are also rich in phenolic compounds (with antioxidant properties) and other health-promoting nutrients1, 2. Unfortunately, eating beans is often associated with increased gas and intestinal discomfort.

In today’s article you will learn about: (click to read)

  1. The benefits of adding beans to your diet
  2. The reasons why beans are harder to digest
  3. How to cook beans to get their maximum nutritional value – without the gas!

Benefits of Beans

Plant-based diets have long been known for their health benefits, and are recognized for their role in preventing and reversing many chronic diseases3. The nutritional value of beans is beneficial to overcome such conditions as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer4,5.

Beans possess an abundance of nutrients, including:

Fibre

  • Important for regular elimination and supporting healthy gut bacteria

B vitamins

  • Important for brain and nervous system health

Protein

  • Plays a role in every component of the body, including the growth and maintenance of cells and tissues, forming enzymes and antibodies, and transporting nutrients around the body

Calcium

  • Supports the development of strong bones and teeth and plays a vital role in muscle contraction

Iron

  • Forms part of hemoglobin, the essential oxygen-carrying molecule in the blood

Phenolic compounds (antioxidants)

  • Help protect cells against oxidative damage and are known to be anticarcinogenic

Needless to say, beans offer a variety of nutrients that are important for health and vitality.

The Misconception of Beans

Despite the amazing benefits of consuming beans, many people refrain from eating them due to the association of beans with intestinal discomfort – namely gas. This is due to the presence of compounds such as raffinose-type oligosaccharides, which are hard to digest1. Humans don’t produce the enzyme (called α-galactosidase) that is required to break down this component of beans. As a result, intestinal bacteria digest these compounds, releasing gaseous by-products that contribute to flatulence and bloating.

Another reason some people avoid eating beans is because of supposed “anti-nutrients” that are present. Compounds such as phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors fit into this category, and are in fact important for the survival of the bean plant, as they protect the plant against predators and oxidative damage6.

In humans, phytic acid is known to prevent the absorption of minerals7, while enzyme inhibitors prevent protein digestion1. Thankfully, preparing and cooking beans the correct way will significantly decrease phytic acid levels and enzyme activity8, 9, allowing you to absorb all of the nutritional goodness beans have to offer!

So what’s the secret method? Soaking!

Soaking beans in water addresses each issue mentioned above: oligosaccharide levels are reduced10, there is a significant decrease in phytic acid levels9, and enzyme inhibitors are inactivated8.

How to Soak and Cook Beans

With a little bit of planning, this method is the most effective way of preparing beans to maximize nutritional value. I usually plan meals for a whole week, and therefore can estimate how much beans I’ll need and soak them all in one go.

1) In a large glass bowl, add 1.5 cups of uncooked, dry beans.

2) Bring ~4-5 cups of water to a boil, and then pour over the beans (the amount of water doesn’t matter, as long as the beans are well covered with at least 3-5 cm of water).

3) Replace the water every 8-12 hours (at your convenience) over a period of 24-48 hours. Do this by removing the water, rinsing the beans, and repeating step 2.
Note: Lighter beans (e.g., chickpeas, navy beans, black-eyed peas, etc) only need 24 hours, while darker beans (e.g., black, pinto, romano, etc) need 48 hours.

4) After the last soak, rinse the beans and place in a pot. Cover with fresh water (same amount as before), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and allow beans to simmer for 45 min – 1 hour. Do not add salt while they cook, as this will prevent them from softening. Once cooked, drain the water. The beans are now ready to be added to your favourite dishes!

Try this with my recipe for Vegetable Mix with Black-Eyed Peas! Let me know your favourite way to prepare beans in the comments – I always love trying new recipes.

References

[1] Borowska J, Giczewska A, Zadernowski R. (2003) Nutritional value of broad bean seeds. Part 2: Selected biologically active components. Nahrung. 47(2):98-101.

[2] de Mejía EG, Castaño-Tostado E, Loarca-Piña G. (1999) Antimutagenic effects of natural phenolic compounds in beans. Mutat Res. 441(1):1-9.

[3] Philip J Tuso. (2013) Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets. Perm J. 2013 Spring; 17(2): 61–66.

[4] Hutchins AM, Winham DM, Thompson SV. (2012) Phaseolus beans: impact on glycaemic response and chronic disease risk in human subjects. Br J Nutr. 108 Suppl 1:S52-65.

[5] Bouchenak M, Lamri-Senhadji M. (2013) Nutritional quality of legumes, and their role in cardiometabolic risk prevention: a review. J Med Food. 16(3):185-98.

[6] Ayako Nishizawa-Yokoi, Yukinori Yabuta, and Shigeru Shigeoka. (2008) The contribution of carbohydrates including raffinose family oligosaccharides and sugar alcohols to protection of plant cells from oxidative damage. Plant Signal Behav. 3(11): 1016–1018.

[7] Urbano G, López-Jurado M, Aranda P, Vidal-Valverde C, Tenorio E, Porres J. (2000) The role of phytic acid in legumes: antinutrient or beneficial function?J Physiol Biochem. 56(3):283-94.

[8] Nehad M. A. Moneam. (1990) Effects of presoaking on faba bean enzyme inhibitors and polyphenols after cooking. J. Agric. Food Chem. 38(7), pp 1479–1482.

[9] Helbig E, de Oliveira AC, Queiroz Kda S, Reis SM. (2003) Effect of soaking prior to cooking on the levels of phytate and tannin of the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris, L.) and the protein value. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 49(2):81-6.

[10] Queiroz Kda S, de Oliveira AC, Helbig E, Reis SM, Carraro F. (2002) Soaking the common bean in a domestic preparation reduced the contents of raffinose-type oligosaccharides but did not interfere with nutritive value. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 48(4):283-9.

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