Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Beans, Beans, The Musical Fruit

Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot
The more you toot, the better you feel
So let's eat beans with every meal!

I'm sure that short, little tune takes you back to your playground days like it does me.  I remember growing up and having a few laughs over one of nature's most smelly culprits.  As goofy and childlike as the song may be it has a lot of truth beneath the verses within it.

Beans are part of the legume family which also include lentils, peas, soy, and peanuts.  While beans may be the butt of many flatulent jokes they have some incredible health benefits and should be included in one's diet if you're looking to lose weight and feel great.

Health Benefits of Beans

Beans have been referred to by some as the "poor man's meat" which may lead people to believe that they are an inferior food and have little nutritional value.  However, nothing could be further from the truth because beans are naturally low in fat, high in fiber, have no cholesterol, and contain an array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are essential to vibrant health [1].  They are also an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and protein which, as you know, are important factors in keeping your body functioning at optimum levels on a daily basis.

By including beans in your daily diet you can experience the following health benefits:

‣  Lower cholesterol levels [2,3]
‣  Improved blood glucose control and reduction in the incidence of diabetes [4,5]
‣  Lower blood pressure [6]
‣  Reduced risk of metabolic syndrome [7]
‣  Reduced risk of cancer (stomach, colorectal, kidney, breast) [8,9]
‣  Lower risk of cardiovascular disease [10]
‣  Prevention of constipation [11]
‣  Increased satiety and delayed return of hunger [12]

Beans have also been found to do wonders for those wanting to lose weight and keep it off.  In a study looking at 8,229 adults published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition there was a 22% reduction in the risk of obesity and a 23% reduced risk of increased waist sizes in individuals who consumed beans [6].

Nutritional Content of Beans

As mentioned before beans are a great source of protein and are a wonderful alternative to meat in your diet.  This is because they are much lower in fat and contain a generous amount of dietary fiber unlike meat.  For example, a 100 gm (about 1/2 cup) serving of black beans contains only 3.8% of its total calories from fat and has 9 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber.  The same serving size of cooked chicken breast contains 22.5% of its total calories from fat, has no fiber, and provides 33 grams of protein.  A big reason for the epidemic of chronic diseases seen in westernized countries is due to the higher fat content of their respective diets.  In countries where little to no animal proteins are consumed there is a very low incidence of the chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes.  That's because those cultures eat a plant-based diet and their total fat intake is less than 20% of their average calories and in many cases more like 10-15%.  In America, where chronic illnesses run rampant, the typical fat intake is anywhere from 20-35% of total calories.  So when you include more beans in your diet, instead of various meats (beef, chicken, turkey, fish), it's much easier to achieve a lower overall intake of fat and avoid the debilitating illnesses that most people develop in affluent cultures.

Beans are also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.  Compared to non-consumers of beans those who included beans in their diet had higher intakes of potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, and folate [6,13].  It's also interesting to note that if you sprout certain beans, such as soybeans and mung beans, there is an increase in their vitamin C, niacin, and riboflavin content [14].  

Along with being a good source of vitamins and minerals beans are also full of those much sought after antioxidants.  What you'll usually find is that the darker the bean the more antioxidants it contains.  This is because beans contain antioxidants called anthocyanins [16].  Anthocyanins are responsible for the dark red or black color found in the different types of beans.  Beans also contain another group of antioxidants called polyphenols which include various flavonoids and isoflavones which help fight heart disease and cancer [15].

Below is a chart with the nutritional information of many different common types of beans along with chicken and 90% lean ground beef so you can compare the difference between them.

Tips for Preparing And/Or Cooking Beans

There are a number of different ways to enjoy your favorite beans and it's a good idea to be familiar with the different ways to prepare them.  If you're running short on time then you can always grab the canned beans but beware because many manufacturers load them up with a large amount of salt making the sodium content quite high.  It's a good idea to buy the low or no salt canned beans to avoid excess sodium.

You can also sprout your beans if you want them raw.  You read earlier how sprouting beans can increase some of their vitamin and mineral content which is always a good thing.  For more information on how to sprout your beans check out this excellent resource below:

If you like the idea of getting the most bang for your buck then dry beans are your best bet.  You can sprout them as mentioned above or cook them.  If you cook them then you'll need to first rinse them off and then make sure you soak them so that they are rehydrated for more even cooking.  There's a couple of different ways to soak them.

1)   Slow soak - Put desired amount of beans in a stockpot with enough water to cover 
       them and soak for 6-8 hours or overnight if you prefer.  Make sure you cover and 
       refrigerate them.
2)  Hot soak - Bring sufficient amount of water (enough to cover the desired quantity of 
      beans) to a boil.  Add beans and return to a boil.  Remove from heat, cover, and set aside 
      at room temperature for 2-3 hours.
3)  Gas free soak - Bring sufficient amount of water (enough to cover desired quantity of 
      beans) to a boil.  Add beans and boil for 2-3 minutes.  Remover from heat, cover, and set 
      aside overnight.  This is a great way to reduce flatulence that many people experience 
      from beans because the indigestible sugars that cause gas dissolve into the soaking 
      water as it soaks overnight.

Once the soaking process is over then drain and rinse your beans.  Put them in a stockpot and cover them with fresh water.  Bring them to a boil and then lower heat to simmer.  Add any herbs or spices that you prefer.  Cook the beans for 45-90 minutes depending on what type of bean you have.  Stir occasionally.  When beans are soft and you can mash them with a fork they are ready to eat.  You can also use a pressure cooker if you prefer faster cooking times.  If you use a pressure cooker it typically only takes 5-15 minutes of cook time instead.

Pinto Bean Burrito Recipe

recipe courtesy: Savvy Vegetarian


  • 4 burrito-sized tortillas (8 - 10 inch)
  • 1 cup refried beans, canned or make your own
  • 1 Roma tomato diced
  • 2 cups chopped lettuce
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup Guacamole or chopped avocado
  • 1/2 cup sliced black olives
  • 1/2 cup shredded non-dairy cheese
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy sour cream
  • Any kind of salsa, hot as you like it
  • Optional: canned hot peppers
  • Optional: cooked brown rice


1. Heat the beans
2. Heat the tortillas in a frying pan or on a griddle
2. Spread 1/4 cup refried beans on one half of each tortilla
3. Top each tortilla with everything you want in your burrito
4. Fold in the side of each tortilla, then fold over the opposite sides to make an envelope
5. If you put too much in your tortilla, you won't be able to close it, and will have to lighten the load, or eat it as a salad on a tortilla

There you have it.  Your health and your tummy will be happy campers by adding a serving or two of beans to your daily menu.  Enjoy everyone!

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Clinical Pharmacist

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1 Geil PB, Anderson JW. Nutrition and health implications of dry beans: a review. J Am Coll Nutr. 1994 Dec;13(6):549-58.
2 Han KH, Fukushima M, Kato T, et al. Enzyme-resistant fractions of beans lowered serum cholesterol and increased sterol excretions and hepatic mRNA levels in rats. Lipids. 2003 Sep;38(9):919-24.
3 Rosa CO, Costa NM, Leal PF, Oliveira TT. The cholesterol-lowering effect of black beans (Phaseolus vulgaris, L.) without hulls in hypercholesterolemic rats.  Arch Latinoam Nutr. 1998 Dec;48(4):299-305.
4 Jenkins DJ, Wolever ™, Taylor RH, et al. Exceptionally low blood glucose response to dried beans: comparison with other carbohydrate foods. Br Med J. 1980 August 30; 281(6240): 578–580.
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12 Leathwood P, Pollet P. Effects of slow release carbohydrates in the form of bean flakes on the evolution of hunger and satiety in man. Appetite. 1988 Feb;10(1):1-11.
13 Steluti J, Martini LA, Peters BS, Marchioni DM. Folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 in adolescence: serum concentrations, prevalence of inadequate intakes and sources in food. J Pediatr (Rio J). 2011 Jan-Feb;87(1):43-9.
14 Burkholder PR, McVeigh I. Vitamin content of some mature and germinated legume seeds. Plant Physiol. 1945 April; 20(2): 301–306.
15 Lin PY, Lai HM. Bioactive compounds in legumes and their germinated products. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 May 31;54(11):3807-14.
16 Xu B, Chang SK. Total Phenolic, Phenolic Acid, Anthocyanin, Flavan-3-ol, and Flavonol Profiles and Antioxidant Properties of Pinto and Black Beans ( Phaseolus vulgaris L.) as Affected by Thermal Processing. J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Jun 10;57(11):4754-4764.

1 comment:

  1. I believe that the more often you eat beans, the less likely they are to cause the 'toots' as you playfully call them. Being raised in England, beans-on-toast was, and still is, a common meal which I particularly loved. I don't remember having any problems afterwards :) This is a really great article; I can't wait to try the burritos.


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