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:
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!
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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.