You’ve heard it before – beans are good for you. (I use “beans” here to describe legumes or dried beans, peas and lentils.) Beans are high in fiber, plant protein, vitamins and minerals…help lower cholesterol, balance blood sugar, fill you up with fewer calories than many animal foods, keep you “regular,” blah, blah, blah. Add to the list that beans are cheap and the question becomes “why not eat beans?” I often hear in response “but I don’t like beans” or “I like beans but they don’t like me – if you know what I mean” or “beans are so boring.”
So, here is the secret: make beans taste good and learn how to make them easier to digest.
First: digestibility. Humans do not naturally produce the enzymes needed to break down certain sugars in beans. The bacteria in our digestive tract are left to this task – a process that can cause flatulence when beans are not consumed regularly or are eaten in large amounts. Some natural foods that can help you digest beans include the sea vegetable kombu, and the spices cumin, anise and coriander. Soaking dried beans prior to cooking and using fresh water to cook the pre-soaked beans can also reduce the level of indigestible starches in the cooked beans.
Sprouting is another way to increase the digestibility of some beans – especially lentils, mung beans and garbanzo beans (or chick peas). Soak beans (1 cup dry: 3 cups water) overnight or at least 8 hours. (Variety and age of beans affects time required for soaking and sprouting.) After soak, rinse beans thoroughly and place in a jar with holes in the lid or spread on a baking sheet covered with cheesecloth. Allow to sprout for 3-4 days. Beans will be crunchy but not hard and have small white “tails.”
Second: taste. If you have an adventurous palate then look to ethnic cuisine to help you learn how to make beans taste delicious. Indian, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Middle-eastern, Mediterranean, Cuban, and many other cultures use beans as staples in many dishes. If you eat at ethnic restaurants order bean dishes so you can try different flavors and get ideas. Peruse ethnic cookbooks or cooking websites to find recipes that use beans.
Another way to introduce beans is to replace half (or all) of the meat in your favorite recipes with some kind of bean. White beans are great in pasta dishes and chicken soup; black beans in tacos, burritos or mixed into salsa; edamame (green soybeans) are delicious in stir fry or mashed with some lemon juice and salt as a spread for crackers. There are many varieties of hummus (traditionally made with garbanzo beans or chick peas) that make great dips for veggies or sandwich spreads. One of my easy summer go-to meals is grilled fish or burgers with baked beans and salad.
For the record, eating more dietary fiber in any form can cause digestive distress (fruits, veggies, whole grains, and beans) but beans tend to get the bad rap for these effects. If you decide to dramatically up your intake of plant foods, drink more water and eat more cooked than raw foods until your body adjusts. The time it takes to adjust to a high fiber diet varies quite a bit from person to person so listen to your body – but don’t give up, it’s worth the effort!
Contributed by Mary Ryan, MS, RD – learn more about author by clicking the Nutritionality page above