To Bean or Not to Bean

Sometimes it is confusing what to eat and what not to eat. Educate yourself better to make sure you stay away from the bad.

Confused about what to eat? Join the club. Even I, a medical doctor, get frustrated about all the conflicting information.

One week medical experts tout the benefits of carbs, the next week they say stay away from them. Suddenly, it’s Don’t eat fat. And just as quickly the message is, Fat is essential.

Is it any wonder we don’t know what to eat?

The latest controversy… Beans. Should you or shouldn’t you include them on your daily plate? Depending on which side you’re on, beans are either the spawn of the devil or the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I decided it’s time to take a closer look at the debate.

As far as I can tell, this bean pushback anchors on two points: lectins and phytates.

Lectins are naturally-occurring plant proteins found at low levels in many common fruits and vegetables, including apples, bananas, cucumbers and sweet peppers. Varying levels are also found in dried beans and other types of legumes.

Eating an excess amount of lectins, the anti-bean eaters say, can lead to digestive upset.

Dry beans and other legumes are also high in phytates. This plant compound can interfere with the absorption of zinc, iron and some other essential minerals when consumed in VERY high amounts, which has earned it the reputation as an “anti-nutrient.”

I don’t buy it.

While I concede that beans can lead to digestive upset, this only happens when the beans are raw or undercooked. You can knock out the lectins in beans with a one-two culinary punch:

#1: Soak beans in an amount of water that is at least three times more than the amount of beans for at least five hours.

#2: Cook the pre-soaked beans by boiling vigorously for at least 10 minutes, then simmer until tender (usually 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the bean). The moist heat and high temperature unravel the lectin protein, rendering it inactive.

As for the phytate issue, soaking beans will help remove phytate too. However, research shows that diets can contain as much as 2,000 milligrams of phytate without any negative effects on mineral balance.

A Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of beans and other legumes contains only about 700 milligrams of phytate per day—well below the amount thought to interfere with mineral absorption. And, consuming some phytate may even offer health benefits, such as enhanced antioxidant action, reduced calcium buildup in arteries and even reduced colon cancer risk.1

Our Fat Loss Fast Start program recommends eating at least one serving of dried beans a day. I think the evidence is on my side. Here are some more reasons:

There are many benefits in eating beans.

Beans are high in fiber. The American diet is sorely skimpy in fiber. We eat on average about 16 grams… a far cry from the recommended 25 to 38 grams.2 One cup of cooked beans provides about 12 grams of fiber, which brings us almost to the half-way point for our daily fiber intake.

Beans are low-glycemic index foods. Beans are not only low-GI foods, but more importantly, they are low-glycemic load (GL) foods. This makes them better carb choices to help you avoid spikes in blood sugar that can lead to excessively high blood insulin. For more on low-GL-foods, see my blog post here.

Beans pack a lot of protein. Most beans supply anywhere from about 13 to 17 grams of protein per cup, depending on the bean. Protein is key for building healthy cells and tissues (especially muscle tissue), for repairing cuts and wounds and for producing antibodies that keep your immune system working in top form to protect you from disease.

Beans help you lose weight and more. In one study, dieters who included a serving of beans and other legumes (lentils, chickpeas, peas) just a few times a week not only lost over 40 percent more weight, they had significantly more reduction in C-reactive protein, a key inflammatory marker. What’s more, those who added legumes to their weekly routine were also able to reduce “bad” LDL-cholesterol and blood pressure.3

Beans help keep you lean and prevent weight gain. One large population study involving over 1,400 Americans revealed that people who eat beans weigh less and have smaller waistlines than those who shun beans… and they are less likely to gain excess weight, especially around the middle. The bean eaters also ate more nutrient-dense diets with higher amounts of fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron, and copper.4

Beans are high in certain vitamins and minerals. They contain good amounts of folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, selenium, and molybdenum.

So, have I convinced you yet?

The other great thing about beans is they can bulk up any recipe to make it feel hearty and filling.

Here’s an easy (really easy) recipe you can make with beans in the slow cooker:

Dr. Steve’s Slow Cooker Meatless Chili

  • 1 package meatless crumbles (or chopped meat, if you prefer)
  • 2 cups cooked (or canned, drained and rinsed) red beans
  • 2 cups cooked (or canned, drained and rinsed) black beans
  • 2 cups cooked (or canned, drained and rinsed) garbanzo beans
  • 1 jar salsa
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • Spices to taste (cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, black pepper)

Throw everything in the slow cooker and turn on low for six hours. Easy and delicious!

A word of caution: Beans contain some carbohydrates that bypass digestive enzymes and are fermented by bacteria in the lower intestine. If you’re sensitive to this and not used to eating beans regularly, it may cause gassy effects.

If this is the case, add beans to your diet more gradually, but regularly. As you eat beans more often (be sure to discard the soaking water), this unpleasant side effect subsides.

Where do you stand on beans? Yay or nay? Have I convinced you to come on over to the bean side? I’d love to hear.

Steve Sisskind, M.D.

Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.

As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.

Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?

I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.

I invite you to connect with me by joining my free private community. I've helped thousands of people and I know I can help you too!

Join the Whole Body Club

Dr. Steve Sisskind is on a mission to help you achieve amazing health and vitality through the power of nutrition. Sign up to get access to his valuable health tips, recipes, videos, and discounts for FREE!

References:

1. Prieto RM, Fiol M, Perello J, Estruch R, Ros E, Sanchis P, Grases F. Effects of Mediterranean diets with low and high proportions of phytate-rich foods on the urinary phytate excretion. Eur J Nutr. 2010;49(6):321-326. PMID: 20108098.

2. King DE, Mainous AG 3rd, Lambourne CA. Trends in dietary fiber intake in the United States, 1999-2008. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112(5):642-648. PMID: 22709768.

3. Hermsdorff HH, Zulet MÁ, Abete I, Martínez JA. A legume-based hypocaloric diet reduces proinflammatory status and improves metabolic features in overweight/obese subjects. Eur J Nutr. 2011;50(1):61-69. PMID: 20499072.

4. Papanikolaou Y, Fulgoni VL 3rd. Bean consumption is associated with greater nutrient intake, reduced systolic blood pressure, lower body weight, and a smaller waist circumference in adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002. J Am Coll Nutr. 2008;27(5):569-576. PMID: 18845707.

Check Also

Women sitting holding cheeseburger needs fiber

Appetite Troubles? Inulin Soluble Fiber Can Help

Raise your hand if you have ever experienced this… You wake up with fresh determination …

33 comments

  1. Do you trust that the canned beans go through the steps you advised to remove the lectins and phytates?

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Susan,

      Thank you for sharing! While I am not completely familiar with every canned bean’s canning process, I do know they do undergo a minimum amount of washing, soaking and boiling to meet industry standards. To be sure, you can wash your canned beans and boil them for another 30 minutes to be sure that the phytates and lectins are inactivated. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  2. Please comment on the debate of beans/legumes and lectin so. Thank you.

  3. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE NUTRITARIAN DIET BY DR. JOEL FIRMIN. HE RECOMMENDS GBOMBS (GREENS, BEANS, ONIONS, MUSHROOMS, BERRIES, AND SEEDS). THANKS
    TERRY POIRIER

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Terry,

      Thank you for writing in! I am unfamiliar with the eating your you mentioned but will read up on that. As for the GBOMB – greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds – I recommend a good amount of these in our Fat Loss Fast Start program. Make it a healthy day!

  4. I don’t follow the hype about legumes, nor did I believe the stupidity of giving up eggs. I also eat wheat and other whole grains (to me the culprit is finding grains not grown in the modern method of a tons of pesticides…..that makes people sick, not usually the grains). I’m 68 and take no medications.
    Health foods are not expensive. I eat on about a dollar a day.

  5. I have found myself craving white beans.
    Eggs are another big craving for me.
    Could not figure out what my body needed that it was craving these two things. Loved the article thanks

  6. Thanks for the enlightened, common sense insights Dr. S—I was just about to discard the bulk black beans, pintos and red beans I’d just bought recently after reading that the nutritive value of those legumes was over-rated and contra-indicated by the the amount of nutrient loss triggered by their phytate content…

    Phew!!!

    Smiles,

    Clifford

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Clifford,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing! I completely understand your sentiment as I was once close to swearing of beans and legumes myself. I just love them! I am glad this article helped and that you are able to enjoy the magical fruit too. Make it a healthy day!

    • i love southern baked bean, i make them from scratch. i got to use molasses, brown sugar, ham pieces’chopped up tomatoe or tomatoes in the can. they have to cook a long time. as the onion and all of it take time. after i married i cooked southern beans and it took a long time on the stove. my dad used to come over at his lunch time but the beans hadn’t been cooking long enough. he left dissapointed.

      one time long ago he came when my husband was working the late ship by 7 the beans were perfect.
      he also came to see his grandson.

  7. I love any type of legume but have stopped entirely because I read they were a gout trigger. I would love to have an answer back on this. Thank you.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Cathie,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! Not all legumes are bad and can trigger gout. There are some with very high purine content and some moderate to low. You can do a quick search online to get a list. Also, be sure to read up on some vegetables as they too have a surprisingly high purine content. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  8. I eat a Whole Foods plant based diet void of soyfor almost 5 years. Everyday is bean day, I rinse the beans well before cooking in a slow cooker. I have no negative side effects from the beans. Start with small amounts and build up to allow your body to adjust. I eat approximately 30 grams of fiber daily from multiple sources.

  9. I also get a bit confused about beans. I do eat them at present – maybe few times per week. My favourites are chick peas (garbanzo), adzuki beans, red lentils, split mung beans aka moong dhal in India. I was vegetarian @ plant-based in the past but not now. I am 54, good weight, take no medicines. I do have raised cholesterol which I hope to get lowered. I enjoy fish. I like eggs but not every day. I live in Australia.

  10. Why is it so important to throw away the water you soak the beans in?? My mother never did, and I cook beans the way she did. Just curious. And do you think putting a “pinch” of baking soda in the beans will really reduce the gas a person gets?

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Dianne,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! yes, a pinch of baking soda on the soaking beans will help breakdown the complex carbs and make it easier on the stomach. You are pressed for time and forgot to soak your beans for more than 5 hours, baking soda will do the trick. As for the soaking water, I do recommend that they be thrown out as they contain the phytic acid and anti-nutrients. Also, beans are not washed during packaging so soaking will help get rid of some debris. As an extra measure, I also tend to run them in water if the liquid has fine debris, just to be safe. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  11. All interesting articles! To eat beans (lentils etc) twice a week wouldn’t/shouldn’t be a health issue. Ensure preparation/additions are as natural as possible, to get more for your buck!

  12. Personally, I have recently gone vegan and feel absolutely wonderful! Not only are beans an important part of my regimen, I have found such a diverse way of preparing them resullting in so many different fabulous flavors, I don’t miss eating meat at all! I say….kudos to beans! Thanks to them and a lot of fruits and veggies, I feel full and satisfied. Most importantly, I am sleeping better and feeling far less fatigued at that 2-3 pm hour. Oh…and I have lost weight too! If anyone wants good bean recipes just name that bean and search the internet. You’ll be amazed!

  13. Also, the same study says that every little bean, must be heard, as well as seen.

  14. Studies have shown over the years that beans…beans…are the musical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot. These studies also show that the more you toot, the better you feel, and experts say you’d better eat beans for every meal!

  15. ms.cindybug2011@yahoo.com

    Thank you for sharing this! I used to cook a big pot of pinto beans every week, that we would eat on, with other foods, and you’re right…I wasn’t this big!! Oh my goodness!!! I’m going to start it back up, and eat on it all week long,..with other foods with it. Thanks Again For Reminding Me!!! 🙂

  16. I had papillary thyroid cancer since having my thyroid removed one year ago I have gained 50 lbs, I eat a healthy diet, try to exercise and nothing works, can’t get the weight to come off, very frustrating!!!

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Susan,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! I completely understand your woes as a sick thyroid can make losing weight difficult. In your case, the absence of one will make regulating your body temperature, battling fatigue and fight weight gain quite a challenge. However, please do not be discouraged and continue your fight to better health. We are here with you.

      For now, we do encourage you to add a lot of anti-inflammatory foods to your diet to ensure you avoid other complications such as joint pain and body aches. From here, we then ask that you work closely with your doctor in terms of support in place of your thyroid. We understand that your body’s response to your medication is being closely monitored and that adjustments must be constantly made in order to avoid complications. In terms of exercise, it’s also important to find an activity you enjoy doing. Not only will it help you to burn extra calories, you will start to feel younger, stronger and healthier! Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

    • I had the exact same thing – Papillary Carcenoma, and had my thyroid removed 20 years ago. My weight was ok until I started getting chest pains and my doctor realized my dosage if synthroid (which had always been ok in the past) was now too much for me. They reduced the dosage which caused me to gain a bunch of weight. I adjusted my diet by cutting out gluten and sugar, lost weight, but then discovered that even the new dosage was now too high because gluten affects the absorption of some meds. So they lowered my dosage 2 more times, making it really difficult to keep the weight off. But I did find something that works for me, and I find I’m able to do it long term. It’s been a year and a half now since I lost over 45 lbs. It’s staying off and I feel so much better. I eat a Paleo diet. It was really hard at first because I had extreme cravings, but I used my stubbornness to my own advantage, refusing to give in. The cravings subside after a couple of weeks and don’t come back as long as you stay in the Paleo diet, which includes nutrient dense natural foods, and is very healthy. Plus I liked the fact that I never go hungry because I can eat as much as I want. I am 50 years old and weigh the same as I did at 20. Couldn’t be happier.
      I hope this helps!!

  17. On the latest Truth About Cancer Series, Dr. Blaylock warned us to stay clear of glutamates – not just monosodiumglutamates, but all food sources of glutamates as well – he was referring to beans & mushrooms. He said the two fuels that feed cancer are sugars & glutamate. Your thoughts.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Sandra,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your thoughts with us! I do agree that we should steer clear of MSG or Monosodiumglutamates because of their unhealthy benefits. However, I am unable to agree with the other premise you mentioned. There are a lot of factors which determine our vulnerability to cancer and sugars as well as glutamates are only but a few that influence how quickly it progresses. I believe that constant vigilance (getting routinely checked and visiting your doctor regularly), eating and living well are some of the precautions we can take to ensure that our good health is maintained. Beans and mushrooms, are by far one of the healthiest foods we can add in our diet but must also be taken within healthy portions in order to avoid discomforts such as gas and bloating. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  18. Alexander Morison

    If you eat beans, the gas you’re producing is causing a greenhouse effect which is destroying our planet. Stop eating beans immediately and only eat organic avocados. If you see any chem trails just stop breathing and you’ll be fine. Now, where’s my bean and cheese burrito?

  19. It never ceases to amaze me how supposedly intelligent people can continue to repeat nonsense verbiage… “Everything in moderation” is one of those absolutely ridiculous statements… let’s see, I think I’ll have my pesticides and GMO’s in moderation… no, wait, make that my Mountain Dew and Doritos… no! no! wait, make that my cyanide exposure or lead in my water… ad infinitum…

    Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University say that old adage about “eat everything in moderation” may actually be poor dietary advice.

    Relying on data from 6,814 blacks, whites, Chinese-Americans and Hispanic-Americans in the United States, the team used various factors to account for diversity in diet.

    Those factors included the number of different foods consumed during a week, the calorie distribution spanning such foods and what the researchers termed “dissimilarity”—various food qualities’ impact on metabolic health.

    Researchers then measured those factors against changes in waist circumference after five years and the appearance of Type 2 diabetes after 10 years.

    According to a news release, “When evaluating both food count and evenness, no associations were seen with either increase in waist circumference or incidence of diabetes. In other words, more diversity in the diet was not linked to better outcomes. Participants who had the greatest food dissimilarity actually experienced more central weight gain, with a 120 percent greater increase in waist circumference than participants with the lowest food dissimilarity.”

    Researchers also found that people with dissimilar diets had lower diet quality overall—eating less fruits and vegetables while consuming more sodas, sweets and processed meats.

    Dariush Mozaffarian, one of the study’s authors, said, “These results suggest that in modern diets, eating ‘everything in moderation’ is actually worse than eating a smaller number of healthy foods.”

  20. I was raised to believe beans r very good for you. So I eat them couple a times a week.

  21. Beans are good(no they are not)eggs are good (no they are not)fish oil is good (no it’s not) fruit is good (no it is not) and so on and on and on it goes.I wish there was a government funded and accredited lab that employed highly trained professionals with associated diplomas in their field that we could confidently listen to.My opinion on all these so called experts are in two parts.
    1.They have something personal or a monetary bias by either pushing or debunking a product and this gets the consumer scratching their head.
    2. These “experts” have an ego bigger than planet earth and cannot wait to warn against or disagree with anything, just to put their name to a comment they made.They would be the type to buy 1,000 newspapers if they were photographed in a crowd of 50,000 football fans

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Larry,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your thoughts with us! I do understand what you mean, to a certain extent, and know how frustrating it is to read what is good for you today may not be so tomorrow. However, keep in mind that one of the golden rules to living a healthy and balanced life is to have everything in moderation and to have an exercise regimen which you enjoy doing. I am deeply sorry that various and recent publications have caused you to doubt their authenticity but do wish to encourage you to continue with your own healthy habits. Have a healthy day!

    • Im 75 and I was raised on beans and fried potatoes and cornbread, I eat what I want when I want and I don’t take any medicine and I don’t exercise either just normal housework and I may or may not go to the doctor once a year, enjoy the foods you like if your body is comfortable with them.
      My mom used to put a pinch of baking soda in her pot of bean to keep the toots away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *