Q: What is the deal with beans?! I’m trying to eat a clean, more plant-based diet but I am struggling with healthy sources of protein. I know a lot of vegetarians get their protein from beans. But from what I’ve learned about beans and grains from the Paleo diet, we are not supposed to have them. Plus, my digestive system typically cannot handle beans. The results are… explosive. Do you have any ideas what I should do?
A: Hey there! Thank you for writing in.
You are not alone. Many people are wary of beans. It’s no wonder beans have earned quite a bad rap.
Perhaps many folks are reminded of the schoolyard song touting beans as musical fruit… Some giggle simply at the mention of the word ‘bean’. I’ll admit, it is kinda a funny word… Say it: BEAN. (Teehee)
Perhaps many have had firsthand experience with indigestion, gas, bloating, and other symptoms of discomfort consuming beans…
And yes, perhaps some have been exploring Paleo Diet prescriptions for avoiding grains beans and other agricultural innovations in nutrition and food security from our ancestors. Beans and grains, according to Paleo schools of thought, do not fit in with hunter-gatherer paradigms of nutrition. I have lots of gripes with the Paleo diet, there are three major objections:
- It is quite foolish to think that our Paleolithic ancestors from the African Savanna to Indonesian Java and beyond enjoyed one archetypal diet when the flora and vegetation available in these regions varied, and continue to vary significantly. Our ancestors enjoyed diversity of diets, as diverse as a the environments in which they flourished.
- Agricultural innovations in producing grains and beans fueled the growth of human civilization as we know it, providing food security of our ancestors for millenia. Beans and grains fueled the foundation and growth of empires.
- Our DNA, the expression of our genes, is constantly evolving not only over the course of human evolution, but in our humble lifespans, in which certain gene receptors are turned on and off based on lifestyle factors- decisions we make in the here and now. This is the foundation for Epigenetics, an entire field of genetic research. So it is silly to think that human DNA, and appropriate dietary responses, are stuck in Paleolithic times.
In Defense of Beans
Beans are an incredible source of nutrient dense plant-based fiber that is protein rich. In fact I would venture to say that most of our ancestors and indeed the healthiest diets around the world are heavy in whole grains and beans, not only because they are nutrient-dense, but they are cost-effective and dried beans and grains store easily…
And because beans are so fiber-rich, they “stick to your ribs” as they like to say, and satisfy your hunger, keeping you feeling full for a while. And that sense of satiety in a meal is crucial for a sustainable healthy diet. If we don’t have that sense of satiety or fullness after we eat, we quite simply will continue eating mindlessly for the duration of the day which wreaks more havoc in our long-term projects of staying healthy.
The Bean Experience…
I personally don’t identify with any sort of dietary labels like vegetarian or vegan, but I will say that I eat mostly plants. And beans like lentils, chickpeas, and white beans, tend to be the primary source of protein in my diet. I also enjoy regularly enjoy eggs and dairy for healthy sources of protein as well.
Additionally, all that unrefined plant-based fiber from beans is healthy for my gut, and restores gut flora or probiotic content in the digestive tract for improved digestion. Who needs probiotics?
Plus… beans can add a little wind in the sails for promoting digestive function… which is healthy, and fine!
Beans, and you…
If you’ve had any issues with beans in the past and don’t want to explore it you absolutely don’t have to. Other plant-based sources of protein include nuts, seeds… Plus there is nothing wrong with consuming animal sources of protein in moderation, being mindful of the source. Even whole grains, that is, grains with the outer bran still in tact, have trace amounts of protein.
Though speaking of which, did you know that quinoa and amaranth aren’t properly grains but pseudo-grains? They are seeds from flowering plants, and some of the most complete proteins on the planet- which is why they are considered a superfood.
Back to Beans… they can be an incredible source of plant based nutrition if you know how to work with them. And it starts with a good…
Soak & Simmer
If you’d like to try beans again, I highly recommend making your own beans from scratch, going to the bulk food aisle in the grocery store to pick up dried beans and soaking them, perhaps overnight.
You really can’t oversoak or overcook beans… Though there are different theories on various soak methods and whether people need to soak in the first place. Lentils are perhaps the only bean that I can get away with not soaking.
Beans are easy to make, but take time. It’s not labor intensive, but does time and a little rhythm. Soak and walk away. Simmer and walk away.
Soak your beans in a fair amount of salt water to help break down the fiber and make them more easily digestible. Rinse, soak, and rinse again for increased digestibility, getting out alpha-galactosides (a complex gas producing sugar) and other raw volatile compounds present in dried beans and grains that could upset digestion.
Bring to a reducing them to simmer. Lots of time, patience and water. You really can’t *overcook* beans. The longer they simmer, the more digestible they become. The last thing you need in your digestive system is undercooked, al dente beans. That’s what creates the digestive upset.
Use your favorite spices, Adding spices like cumin promotes easier digestion,
When using my formula, it’s easy to include beans as a source of nutrient dense plant-based fiber in your meal planning rhythm for the week.
And again beans in and of themselves might be quite boring but when you work the formula you can make something pretty magical adding dark leafy greens seasonal veggies perhaps embellishments of cheese and fruit and adorned with sprinkles of spices nuts and seeds squeezes of citrus and swirls of oils vinegars syrups sauces what-have-you you can create something pretty exciting with what you already have on hand…
That’s what I got!!!