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.
There is an old adage that a hearty breakfast is a must to start the day right, but the fact is that there are a lot of people who really aren't hungry in the morning. Should they make themselves eat anyway? That is seldom a good idea. The fact is that there is nothing about sleeping at night that should generate a big appetite. Many people have to move around some and be active before they are inclined to eat. Not only is it OK to skip breakfast, but there are distinct benefits to doing to.
First, it extends the evening fast. After all, that's how the word originated, that you are breaking a fast. And it's good to think about it in connection with sleep. We all know how refreshing and restorative sleep is, although the mystery of how sleep recharges our batteries is not completely resolved. But, that it does is understood by all. But, part of the process is that fact that you are not putting anything into your body during that length of time. Not food, and not even water most of the time. How often do you wake up thirsty at night? I never do. You are leaving your body alone. And the fasting is part of the restorative process. Imagine if every night you got up in the middle of the night and ate a hearty meal and then went back to bed? How would you likely feel in the morning? Not nearly as well as if you had just slept all night.
So, we all benefit from our evening fast. But, what if you were to extend it to mid-day? Then, assuming you ate at 6 PM the night before, and say finished eating at 7, and say you didn't eat until Noon the next day, that would amount to 17 hours of abstinence from food. 17 hours in which you weren't challenging your blood sugar. 17 hours in which you weren't diverting blood and energy to your gut to process food. 17 hours in which you were not burdening your body with the work of handling food. Research has proven that intermittent fasting is beneficial and life-extending in all kinds of animal species. So, why not humans? Indeed, why not.
And we are talking here about a painless fast. You don't suffer from hunger pangs while you're sleeping, do you? And, if you aren't hungry first thing in the morning and wait some hours to eat, you haven't missed anything. You haven't felt deprived. In fact, by waiting, you are more likely to enjoy your lunch with great gusto. So, we are talking about more food enjoyment, not less.
There is a medical doctor in Canada named Jason Fung who is an obesity and diabetes specialist, and he is a great believer in fasting. He puts his patients on long and short fasts. And he especially raves about the idea of a daily fast that is achieved by skipping breakfast. He raves about the long span in which insulin levels are kept down. That, he feels, is the key, as he believes that high insulin levels are the cause of obesity, and fasting lowers blood insulin. He urges all his patients not to eat before Noon, and he says he never does so himself. The title of his book is: The Obesity Code.
My attitude is that if you feel genuinely hungry in the morning, it's entirely OK to eat. But, make sure you aren't doing it just out of habit and routine or the mistaken belief that you have to in order to have energy to get through the day. That is ridiculous. I know people who wake up in the morning and without eating anything go for long runs or bike rides. Where are they getting the energy? From their stored reserves. They're in good shape, so their liver and muscles have stored plenty of glycogen. The body isn't THAT dependent on food. In Nature, wild animals often go long periods without eating, and the function just fine. They go about their business. So much of it is psychological. People think they are going to faint if they don't eat.
So, my advice to you is to be flexible. If you do wake up with a roaring appetite, then by all means, eat a healthy breakfast. But, if you, like a lot of people, have little or no appetite in the morning, then by all means, wait until later in the day to eat. You will be doing yourself a favor in so many ways.
A very petite and attractive young woman, who was a competitive bodybuilder, died in Australia. She was found in a coma in her apartment, and when she was rushed to the hospital, doctors found that her system was overwhelmed with ammonia, which of course is deadly. They discovered that she had an undiagnosed disorder called urea cycle disorder.
First, let's review some biochemistry. You know that proteins consist of long complex chains of amino acids. And amino acids consist of carbon chains with the addition of an acid radical and a nitrogen radical: NH2. In breaking amino acids down, the body breaks off the NH2 which becomes NH3, free ammonia, which is highly toxic. But, very rapidly, the body takes two molecules of NH3 and one molecule of carbon dioxide C02 and forms a new substance known as urea. Urea is relatively non-toxic. It is not "hot" the way ammonia is. And in the form of urea, the spent nitrogen is safely excreted by the kidneys.
In urea cycle disorder, the enzyme that converts ammonia to urea is lacking; it is deficient. There are different degrees of severity in this disorder. In her case, it must have been relatively mild since she was never diagnosed. So, she had never previously endured a crisis, and she was completely unaware that she had the disorder. But, she apparently started eating a very high protein diet and also taking protein supplements, and it was just too much. It was overwhelming. The ammonia starting accumulating in her blood, and it poisoned her brain, putting her into a coma, and ultimately, she died.
It's a terrible tragedy for her and her loved ones, particularly her children. And I realize that most people don't have urea cycle disorder. However, we should still learn a lesson from it, that excess protein places a strain on the body that can actually kill.
I saw the images of this woman, and she she looked fit and very cute and not actually bulging with muscles. She looked well toned and sculpted, but her muscles did not look particularly large. She still looked very feminine. My point is that she could have acquired and maintained that degree of muscularity, which she had, with just an ordinary amount of protein.
I am presently a 66 year old man, and I am most certainly NOT trying to enlarge my muscles. However, I would very much like to hold on to the muscles that I have and the amount of strength that have. And I think I can do that without loading protein. Just through healthy eating in general with moderate protein consumption (and I prefer plant proteins like nuts and beans) and by exercising and also keeping my DHEA level up, I expect to do that well into my 70s. And again, I am not making any effort at all to consume more protein.
The U.S. government recommends 56 grams of protein today for the average adult male, which works out to right about 2 ounces a day. That means from all the foods I eat, I only have to get 2 ounces of protein to meet my daily requirement. However, even that includes a bit of a premium. Odds are very great that even 45 grams would be enough.
When you consume less protein, the body slows the rate at which it is broken down. And in my case, I have been eating the way I do for so long, my body is completely used to it and totally adapted to it. I am lean, but I am actually more muscular than the average 66 year old male, and I am maintaining that muscle without meat, dairy, fish, eating mostly fruits, vegetables, green salads, raw nuts, and beans. So, what are the chances that that tiny little woman needed vast amounts of protein? She didn't.
When people do that- eat vast amounts of protein- most of it doesn't even get used as protein. Most of it is not turned into muscle. Most of it is just broken down by the liver and kidneys, and at a burden to those organs.
Basically, if you are eating unprocessed natural foods with reasonable variety, and you are getting enough food, that is, enough calories, you will automatically get enough protein. You don't even have to worry about it.
There is only 1 percent protein content to human breast milk- the lowest protein content of any mammalian milk by far- and yet human babies can double their weight on it in 6 months. And they are putting on protein in the form of muscle, bone, etc. The fact is that humans are really not adapted to a high protein diet. And it doesn't matter that some of our pre-historic ancestors ate that way. They had to. They were living through an ice age, and there was little or no plant around for most of the year. So, just because they had to do it doesn't mean that we should do it when food is plentiful for us throughout the year even in the far north.
I even have a friend here in Austin who is a dentist, and he is also a triathlete. And he happens to adhere to the paleo concept. However, he even knows that too much protein is dangerous. So, what he does is emphasize fats and keeps his protein intake moderate. He knows he does not need a lot of protein to perform athletically.
So, let us all learn something from the tragic death of this young woman. Let's just assume that we all have a touch of urea cycle disorder.
I am not interested in taking calcium supplements. There is a little calcium in the multi that I take but very little. They can’t put much calcium in a multi because it would fill up the multi with calcium and leave little room for anything else. So, most multis have little or none. And that’s fine with me because I am not interested in consuming a lot of calcium. I don’t think I need to.
When the government recommends that you get 1000 mgs of calcium every day, they do so on the expectation that you will absorb about 20% of it. The rest passes right through your system. But when you consume less calcium and particularly a low amount of calcium, your body cranks up all the mechanisms by which you absorb and retain calcium. So, you might actually wind up absorbing just as much. But, even if you don’t, you might be better off because calcium is involved with a lot of pathologies. For instance, when they speak of “hardening of the arteries” it’s calcium that they are talking about. It's calcium that makes your arteries hard. Doctors consider the most reliable indicator of clogged coronary arteries to be the coronary calcium CT scan. I don’t recommend it because it involves a lot of ionizing radiation. But still, it is measuring calcium in the heart and it is telling doctors that your arteries are clogged.
So, calcium gets deposited in arteries, and it is no damn good when that happens because it is an end-stage process. The original clog was soft: an atheroma made of cholesterol and other things. Calcium enters the process late in the game. And it is not easy getting it out. Some people undergo intravenous chelation therapy to pull calcium out of arteries, but I really don't know how effective it is. Calcium can also get deposited in organs and tissues. Look what happens to the pineal gland. In my most people, it becomes completely calcified. Calcium can be deposited in the skin causing wrinkles. It can get deposited at the ends of tendons causing calcific tendonitis. Of course, everyone knows of the havoc that calcium can play within the urinary system. Most kidney stones are calcium based.
The truth is that calcium is as much associated with disease as with health. But, don’t you need a lot of calcium for your bones to prevent osteoporosis? First of all, osteoporosis is not fundamentally a disease of calcium deficiency. The loss of bone calcium in osteoporosis is secondary to the loss of bone protein. Osteoporosis is more like sarcopenia, which is age-related muscle loss. Again: the loss of calcium is secondary, and plying the body with calcium to prevent or ameliorate osteoporosis involves a lot of wishful thinking.
If a person wants to, they can get a heck of a lot of calcium from food alone without taking supplements and even without eating dairy. But, it would involve eating voluminous amounts of vegetables like collards, kale, broccoli, bok-choy, etc. I eat those foods, and I make a point of it, but I’m not going to tell you that I eat them in prodigious amounts. I eat them in moderate amounts. It gets rather gassy if you eat a whole pot-ful of kale. And I would not be inclined to do it because I’m just not worried about the calcium.
So, how am I doing on my relatively low calcium intake? I am pretty sure I am doing OK, and here is what I am going by:
1) My height: I never had a whole heck of a lot of it, but neither have I lost very much. I may have lost a small fraction of an inch, but that’s all. I mean no more than half an inch from my top height. And that is fantastic for a man who is 66 years old. I meet people my age all the time who have lost at least one inch, and maybe two inches or even three inches. So, I think I am doing very well that way.
2) My teeth: They’re holding up. I am not getting new cavities. My gums are healthy. I haven’t suffered any tooth fractures. I have do have enamel erosion from acid foods and whatnot. And I have definitely been a tooth grinder in my sleep. I haven’t gotten one of those mouthguards, though I probably should. But overall, I am doing well with my teeth.
My blood level of calcium has always been normal, but that doesn’t mean much because there are hormones and Vitamin D that maintain that regardless of what your level of calcium consumption is. And I do take Vitamin D3 which helps me absorb calcium. I don’t think I am suffering at all from too little calcium, and I think the government’s requirements are too high.Think about it from the standpoint of human history. For most of human history, people ate no dairy. That’s a relatively recent development. And even after dairying started, it only affected a relatively small percentage of people. Asia, for instance, has never had a dairying tradition. So, without dairy, where did they get calcium? There are leafy greens, as I mentioned, but it doesn’t seem likely that primitive people would have eaten voluminous amounts of them. Some amount yes, but it’s low density food; density in terms of calories; and back then, it wasn’t about avoiding and restricting calories but getting them. So, I have no reason to think that primitive people consumed high calcium diets. They certainly didn’t get 1000 mgs a day.
So how much should I and others get? I am inclined to think that 400 mgs would fine if all the other things are positive favorable, such as: getting enough physical activity and sunlight, eating whole natural foods; maintaining optimal Vitamin D levels (which is really only possible with supplements) and maintaining good digestive health so that your absorption is good. If you’ve got all those things going for you, then yes, 400 mgs of calcium a day is plenty sufficient.
But, what about a short, petite, small-boned woman? Shouldn’t she take a lot of calcium? Well even in her case, I wouldn’t recommend going higher than 400 mgs of calcium a day in supplement form. Enough is enough. I know of no evidence that more is better. And again, I repeat: osteoporosis is fundamentally a disease of bone protein wasting; and the loss of calcium from the bone is secondary.
Every time you consume calcium, you need to ask yourself: Where is this calcium going? You can’t just assume it’s going into your bones. Maybe some of it will, but if some is going to go into your arteries and organs and skin, then you need to think about how much you are ingesting, and erring on the side of less may be safer than erring on the side of more.
They probably are, to some degree; you might as well face it. And I’m speaking to everybody who is middle-aged or older. And that includes me, and I’m 66.
I heard from a 60 year old man recently who said he went in for a routine EKG and stress test. He was not having any problems or symptoms or complaints. He had no history of heart disease. And he passed the treadmill test with flying colors. They could find nothing wrong in his readings. But afterwards, his heart didn’t slow back down and “recover” as fast as it should have. After 5 minutes of rest, his heart rate was still well over 100. They didn't like that. They took it as a very bad sign, even though there were no other bad indicators.
So, they sent him to a heart hospital for further testing, and what they found out through scans and other tests is that one of his coronary arteries was almost completely blocked. So, he was immediately treated with angioplasty, and a stent was put in.
Putting aside the question of how effective that is, I want to talk about how silent his heart disease was. If that was true of him, don’t you think that it’s likely that there are thousands of others out there who are like him, who have one or more blocked arteries in their heart and don’t know it? And, don’t you think the number could even be in the millions? I do.
I think it’s best to just assume that everybody who is middle-aged or older has some arterial plaque. And I’m sure that plenty of people who are young have some too. I’m sure there are children who have some as well. Just think of it as a universal affliction to which all humans are heir.
When I was 60, I had a carotid artery ultra-sound done, which measures the thickness of the carotid arteries, which carry blood to the brain. The radiologist told me afterwards, with glee, that I have the arteries of someone 20 years younger, so 40. Well, in that case, I definitely have some plaque because surely the average 40 year old does.
To age without developing some plaque may not even be possible. Or, if it is possible, it may be very rare. And the truth is that the body can tolerate some. I’ve read that an artery can be blocked by 2/3, and yet blood flow can still be considered normal, with little or no reduction in exercise capacity and other things.
My point in telling you all this is to make you realize that heart disease is a disease that you have to fight every day, all the time. Just assume you are heading towards it and have it to some degree already, but your goal is to slow down the progression of it and minimize it as much as possible. Having none is probably not a realistic expectation. But surely, if you do nothing, and just eat the same crap that most people eat, and be as lazy about exercise as most people are, and allow yourself to get fat, as most people do, then you should fully expect to develop heart disease and in a full-blown way. And if you add in some bad habits, such as smoking, then forget about it; it’s time to reduce the deductible on your medical insurance.
It’s true that heart disease is a silent disease- until something bad happens. You have to fight it every single day of your life by eating as healthily as you can, and keeping your body fat as low as possible, and exercising diligently and faithfully, and avoiding all bad habits. And if you do all that, you’re still likely to develop it some, but not to where it will ever cause you any recognizable trouble.