Eat Your Beans!
- Created on Thursday, 16 November 2017 19:10
Legumes take a beating on the internet. I see a lot of bean-bashing. And I am going to address the objections that are commonly given to eating beans. But, first note that beans been a staple dietary component in the diets of the world's most long-lived peoples, including the Okinawans, the Sardinians, the Hunzas, and others. Eating beans has been linked to lower risk of: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer (the three major killers of human life).
Everyone knows that beans are high in protein, as high as meats, eggs, etc. For decades, it was claimed that bean proteins are "incomplete" in terms of the essential amino acids. But, it was never claimed that any of the essential amino acids are missing from beans; just that the proportion of one to another wasn't exactly right. But, that is ridiculous because the body can easily juggle that. And that is especially true in regard to bean proteins. The idea that the body can't use them because of the proportion of amino acids is ridiculous. Bean proteins have been shown to be superior because unlike animal proteins, they do not increase the loss of calcium in the urine, hence, they are much healthier for the bones than animal proteins. The quality of the protein in beans is not a shortcoming; it is an advantage.
Then, there is the high fiber in beans; soluble plant fiber. This fiber itself protects against, again, the triad of major human killers, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The fiber in beans makes them slow to digest and slow to release their carbohydrate into the blood, hence, they are a low-glycemic-index food, well tolerated and handled by diabetics.
Beans are high in minerals, including calcium and iron. Meat is high in iron but practically devoid of calcium. Milk is high in calcium but practically devoid of iron. Beans have both and many more minerals.
Beans are the highest source of antioxidants in the diet. I kid you not. The USDA lists red kidney beans as the highest food in antioxidants, and two other beans make the top 5, the other two foods being berries. So, eating beans and berries is a very good dietary strategy.
Beans are the richest source of "phytochemicals" such as flavonoids, isoflavones, polyphenols, etc. which have been shown to have protective and disease-preventing properties. And again, these compounds have been shown to reduce the risk of the three major killers: cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
And speaking of amino acids, beans are a rich source of the amino acid arginine. And listen up guys: arginine is what puts lead in your pencil. Arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide, the chemical that causes vaso-dilation, as when your penis fills with blood when you are sexually aroused. So yes, eating beans is good for your sex life, notwithstanding the jokes about farting.
And speaking of that, let's talk about the objections to beans. Gas? Yes, it's true that beans can be gas-forming, but so can many foods. If you were going to avoid all foods that can cause gas, you'd have to avoid all fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and whole grains. What, are you going to live on a diet of meat and white bread just to avoid gas? Getting some gas is normal. The average person has around 14 gas expulsions a day. You have to accept your humanity that you are going to get some gas, especially these natural plant foods. But, there is no reason why it has to be excessive, even if you're eating beans. The way to control it is, first: don't overeat on beans. Don't eat a whole potful. And especially if you are not used to eating them, start off slow. Like others, I get some gas, but I don't think it's excessive. It doesn't pose a problem in my life. But, I don't honestly think I get more gas on the days I eat beans. I am, apparently, quite used to them, and you can get used to them too. If you want to try taking an enzyme product like Beano when you eat beans, you can. I know of no downside. But frankly, I don't. It just hasn't been a major problem.
What about the phytoestrogens in beans? Are they going to turn boys into girls? No, they are not. Phytoestrogens are widely distributed in plants; they're not just in beans. Whole grains are high in phytoestrogens, and so are nuts. Highest of all are oil seeds. The highest food in phytoestrogens that I know of are sesame seeds, which are much higher than soybeans. The effect of phytoestrogens is to bind to estrogen receptors in your body, but they are much, much, much weaker than the body's own estrogen. There is no evidence of any feminizing effect in males from consuming soybeans or any other bean. And remember that soy milk formulas for infants have been in use for decades. I eat beans regularly, which means almost daily, and I also consume tofu quite regularly, and I am not the least bit concerned about losing my abundant manliness.
It is true that beans contain some "anti-nutrients" that interfere with digestion and can also cause red blood cells to stick together (hemaglutins) which can be dangerous and even deadly. However, it's only true of RAW legumes. Once you thoroughly cook them, they break down. They go away. They say that raw red kidney beans contain enough hemagluttins to kill, but once you cook them, they are perfectly safe. I have never cooked red kidney beans from scratch, and I don't know that I ever will. But, every time I go to the salad bar, which is often, I put a scoop of red kidney beans on my salad, and I shall continue doing that. Properly cooked (which commercially prepared red kidney beans are) they are perfectly safe.
What about the phytates in legumes interfering with mineral absorption, etc.? Once again, phytates occur in many foods besides beans, such as nuts and whole grains. "Phytic acid" means literally "plant acid" a name given because so many plants have it. It is a form of phosphoric acid and it can form insoluble bonds with calcium and other minerals. But, you know what counteracts it? Vitamin C. So, if there is a lot of Vitamin C with the meal, say from a large salad, you will be less affected by the phytic acid.
But, let's get something straight here: even under ideal conditions, you only absorb a small percentage of the minerals in your food. For calcium, it's about 20%. For iron, it's about 10% or less. The RDA for iron is 10 mg/day but that's based on the expectation that you'll absorb 1 mg. So, for men, they think that all you have to replace each day is 1 mg of iron. And guess what? Even that is too much for some men with a genetic tendency to hold on to iron. They have to donate blood regularly to reduce their iron levels. So, the fact that the iron in beans is less readily absorbed than the iron in meat is actually an advantage. Iron is an oxidant. It generates free radicals. It is considered pro-aging. Obviously, you need iron and can't live without it. But, you're not going to get anemic from eating beans and using beans as a replacement for meat; at least most people aren't. And keep in mind that most people who become anemic have not been avoiding meat. They become anemic in spite of eating meat. Most of the time, in this country, anemia results from digestive disorders. A diet with beans and green vegetables can easily provide 20 milligrams or more of iron a day, and you only have to absorb 1. So, do the math.
Finally, there is the issue of goitrogens in beans which can interfere with thyroid function by blocking iodine utilization. Many foods contain goitrogens, and some foods, like broccoli, contain more goitrogens than beans. But, you rarely hear anyone urge the avoidance of broccoli. And like phytates, goitrogens are broken down, to a great extent, by cooking. So, does that mean you shouldn't eat raw broccoli? Well, frankly, I don't. I don't consider it to be very digestible. It is gritty, and it remains gritty, no matter how long you chew it. It's just not meant to be eaten raw.
Beans are a very good food, a great food, and I eat them almost every day, at least 5 days a week. And I intend to continue doing that for the rest of my life. And if you don't want to eat beans, then all i can say is: fine. It means more beans for me.