Ah, the noble bean. The butt of many gas jokes. However, there is no better example of a cost-effective means of nutrition that is so widely consumed in nearly every society. Here at the Vegan Pauper, we believe in good eats cheap and be we believe in beans.
Beans, a Brief History
Beans are definitely one of the longest cultivated plants in human history. They were grown in Thailand from as early as 7000 BCE (before pottery)! They were also buried with the dead in Egypt. Then around 2 BCE, they made their appearance in greater Europe. They're even mentioned in the Illiad from 8 BCE.
The bean, as we know it today, was first cultivated in Mesoamerica. Much like the Three Sisters, it traveled waterways until it reached all of the indigenous people of North and Central America. So, we have Old World broad beans and New World varieties (black bean, pinto *all hail*, and navy) due to the ingenuity and adaptation of our ancestors.
Beans and Your Health
Beans are chock-full of fiber. So what? Well, aside from the fact that most that follow the Standard American Diet, or Western Diet, do not get their recommended value of 25 to 38 grams per day, you need fiber to clean the pipes. No, not just your digestive pipes. Fiber from beans can help protect against heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and all sorts of other illnesses.
Also, good for gains! Protein, of course. Beans are a great way to get the low-fat, low-calorie protein that has plenty of complex carbs and fiber built-in. A cup of beans has bout 15g of protein. To put that into perspective, in the plant world, that's about twice the content of rice and wheat. There is even a protein building block called lysine that many vegetarians and vegans can't get elsewhere in our diets.
Good news for diabetics! Yes, they are carbs; however, they're complex carbs. Much different than sugar or refined starches. Eating a variety of beans has been shown to help prevent type 2 diabetes as well as helping to control the high blood sugar that can cause the disease.
Beans are a great source of iron. Your body utilizes iron to make hemoglobin and myoglobin (blood proteins) that help move oxygen around your body. Your hormones also rely on iron to regulate. Iron has also been shown to improve connective tissue help. A cup of soybeans has almost 9 milligrams!
Magnesium is used to synthesize protein, strengthen bones, and stabilizes blood sugar. Black beans are the best legume for the job, weighing in at 120mg in one cup. Three cups of those, and you'll hit your daily recommended amount!
The body uses potassium for a myriad of different functions. These include your heart, kidneys, muscles, and nerves. Beans contain quite a bit of potassium, especially the delicious lima bean. These weigh in at nearly 1,000mg per cup. Double what you'll get from a banana.
In this time of COVID, beans may be a good front line fighter for your immune system! Seriously, they contain zinc! Zinc aids in fighting off germs, making genetic materials, and healing wounds. This stuff even aids your sense of taste and smell! Chickpeas are your legume of choice at 2.4mg per cup. That's about a quarter of your daily recommended. Grab some hummus, and be well.
Beans can help manage weight! Research has found that those on a protein-rich diet with beans as their top protein lost more weight than those with animal products as their top protein. Plus, beans make you feel fuller, longer—more on that in the next section.
But, I Heard Beans Were Bad!
Thanks to many mishaps, fad diets (I'm looking at you Paleo and Keto), and poor cooking practices, beans have come under scrutiny for alleged negative health impacts. Let's debunk these real quick so you can start eating your beans today!
Myth #1 Beans are *gasp* carbs!
Why, yes. Yes, they are. However, the criticism that they cause blood sugar spikes is simply not true. The complex carbohydrates in beans digest so slowly that it doesn't cause sugar spikes (like soda, candy, etc.) and actually results in improved long-term blood sugar control. This is indicated by lower hemoglobin A1C blood test results.
The main argument is that it is the fiber in beans is what makes people who eat a lot of them have better blood sugar control. However, this has been disproven by comparing diets of type 2 diabetics. One group consumed 1 cup of legumes a day, and the other consumed no legumes. The group that ate legumes had better long-term blood sugar control. This means that those that decry beans as "dangerous carbs" need to look up from their bacon, ribs, nuts, and cheese long enough to do some more research!
Myth #2 Beans Cause Leaky Gut Syndrome
"Beans have lectins!" one YouTube Keto guru screams at the beginning of her "Why you shouldn't eat beans" video. Sticker for you, ma'am. They do! However, lectins are found in roughly a third of the foods we eat. The truth is, some lectins may be responsible for damaging the intestinal wall that can lead to gaps in the cells that can allow particles to enter into the body that shouldn't be there.
Grains and legumes are very high in lectins. I'll admit that readily. However, you know what destroys most lectin? Cooking things properly. There is no conclusive research that has been done that can link properly cooked beans with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or leaky gut. So, eat canned (wash off extra salt or buy low sodium), or read cooking directions carefully! Kidney beans need to cook longest and can cause the most trouble! You've been warned, but that's no reason not to eat beans!
Myth #3 Beans are a Low-Quality Protein
Animal protein is a complete protein, and beans can't even compare. What even is a complete protein? Well, it's a protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids that are building blocks for our bodies. Since legumes contain 8 of the nine, plant-based protein is seen as an incomplete (and therefore inferior) type of protein. Nevermind the fact that soybeans actually have all 9!
Calm down; we'll get there.
The ninth amino acid that legumes are missing is called methionine. However, one serving of whole grains added in with a bean dinner, and you've just completed the chain! Easy peasy and delicious. The most important thing to remember when getting your protein (from any source) is to PUT IN THE WORK! Get in the gym, do some bodyweight workouts at home, or just sprint around the neighborhood. Get moving and put that protein to work for you!
Myth #4 Soybeans Raise Estrogen
I'm going to make this short and sweet. There is a group of phytoestrogens (estrogen-mimicking compounds) called isoflavones in soy. Guys, they won't give you boobs. They won't shrink your junk. They won't make you less fertile. However, it may help reduce your risk of prostate cancer.
Ladies, it has been shown to help with hot flashes. It helps with inflammation. It has been shown to help lower cholesterol. It can also help reduce blood pressure and improve blood sugar control.
As with anything, moderation is key. Don't go downing blocks of tofu a day, and nothing will happen. Pop that edamame, but balance it out with other foods!
Beans are great, and they're great for you. What about the gas? Ah, I bet you've been wondering for the whole article! Yes, if you toss down a bunch of beans without having them for a while, then there is likely to be an unpleasant breeze in your vicinity. However, there are supplements for that; you can soak your beans and change the water often, or just slowly add them to your diet. You'll find that your gas starts going away after about a week as your gut biome changes to be able to better disassemble those complex carbs that help you fill fuller longer!
Beans are the most cost-effective and healthy conveyance of protein that's out there. Plus, they've been around so long that they are in nearly every culinary style. So, chances are if you use the old Google machine, you'll find a bean dish you're sure to love!
So, let's change that infamous song up a bit:
Beans, beans, the magical fruit. The more you eat, the less you toot.