Beans - A Love Story
Mehlaqa is a dentist with a focus on gum health + nutrition (she's setting up a pretty awesome side hustle, @thegumguide, for those of you, like us, who've never even thought about gum nutrition). Besides being a kick-ass expert in her field, she is a REAL #beanchamp + has supported us from the start. Check out her recipe for Creamy Spiced Butter Beans here.
Beans - A Love Story
There are many different reasons to love beans and incorporating them into your diet. They are cheap, it is environmentally friendly to include more vegetarian proteins into your daily meals, they are easy to cook, taste delicious with adaption into most of the world’s cuisine but most importantly they are a powerhouse of nutrition.
Why should you include beans in a balanced diet?
Packed full of vegetarian protein, complex carbohydrates, micronutrients, vitamins, and mineral sources of potassium, calcium, magnesium, folate, iron, and zinc. They also happen to be one of the only plant sources of the amino acid lysine. Additionally, they appear to be a rich source of chemicals called polyphenols such as tannins, phenolic acids, and flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants within the body.
Beans have a high fibre content compared to other complex carbohydrate sources. Fibre cannot be broken down by the body to use as a source of energy. It is instead broken down by the gut bacteria to produce chemicals called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that are absorbed to function in different parts of the body.
What are their health benefits?
Beans are rich in resistant proteins and carbohydrates making them an underrated (and often unappreciated) modulator of gut health.
Lunasin and Bowman-Birk inhibitors (BBIs) proteins are resistant to the effects of harsh high pH and digestive enzyme environment in the first part of the digestive tract within the stomach. Arriving in the colon these proteins BBIs and lunasin can have an anti-inflammatory effect. In promising recent research they have shown improvement of intestinal tissue damage in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases such as Ulcerative Colitis, improved bowel movements to reduce constipation, and restoration of gut bacterial populations in animal studies, in-vivo (cell), and clinical studies.
Beans contain significant amounts of resistant starch (RS), fibre, and oligosaccharides (simple sugars), all of which influence the gut microbiome quality and quantity, bowel movements, glucose and cholesterol regulation, and immune function modulation amongst other functions. In the large intestine, RS and fibre get broken down by the gut microbiome in an anaerobic fermentation process to release SCFAs as by-products.
SCFAs have local anti-inflammatory effects, improve the lining of the gut and they can be transported elsewhere in the body where they have shown improvement energy utilisation, gene modulation, counteracting oxidative stress in the body’s natural detox pathways, and DNA repair.
Diabetes and Heart Disease
Links between high fibre diets and low blood glucose are well established. Research shows that dietary intake of legumes (which includes beans) reduced fasting blood glucose, stabilised insulin levels in the blood, and reduced glycated hemoglobin (a blood test marker for diabetes). RS cannot be digested, so the availability of glucose is much lower therefore there is considerably less demand for insulin release.
Beans have a lower glycemic index compared to other carbohydrates and therefore release their sugars slowly. Incorporating beans within the diet can improve satiety (hunger), reducing the probability of snacking between meals. This is likely to improve the blood sugar balance and diabetes risk.
Dietary fibre components of beans can be useful in reducing blood pressure, lowers bad cholesterol, and improved function of blood vessels. Altogether, the inclusion of beans in the diet improves body weight and supports healthy blood vessels by mechanisms that counteract dyslipidemia, high blood pressure, oxidative stress, and inflammation.
Are there any issues with eating beans?
Beans may contain some compounds that are considered anti-nutrients. These include protease inhibitors (PIs), lectins, phytates, and oxalates. It was believed that these chemicals could have digestive and nutrient absorption impacts. Due to these factors beans have enjoyed an unpopular status with Western cultures. However, the current scientific research contradicts these non-beneficial effects and it has been recognised that these arise only when the compounds are in isolation or an excessive amount.
Due to some of the anti-nutrients within beans, some people have trouble digesting beans. This is common within typical Western diets that are generally low in fibrous foods leading to ‘flatulence’ and intestinal discomfort. However, incorporating the beans in small quantities and increasing them slowly to allow the body to adapt may overcome this issue.
Thoroughly washing the beans and cooking them till they are soft are also recommended for improving their digestive capacity and reducing the concentrations of anti-nutrients such as lectins. Sprouting the beans can reduce these effects even further as well as improving the nutrient status.
Overall, the beneficial effects of a bean incorporating diet outweigh the minimal adverse effects discussed here. So from a nutritional point of view, beans are an excellent addition to a balanced diet.
How many beans in a portion?
One portion is 3-heaped tablespoons of cooked beans.
How can beans be incorporated into the diet?
Beans are a highly diverse and adaptable food source. They may be used in salads as carbohydrate, fibre, and protein sources. In curries and stews for adding depth and texture. They are also a gluten-free alternative to pasta and gnocchi. When it comes to cooking with beans, the possibilities are endless!