As a plant-based eater, beans and lentils get a lot of attention in my recipes and my recommendations for healthy eating. So, let’s talk about them!
As I mentioned in this article of the blue zones, some of the longest-lived people consume beans daily. Beans are nourishing foods. These people are healthy because they include beans in their diet. Not despite the beans as some bean haters in the paleo world would like you to believe.
Beans are packed with nutrients. Take a look.
Basic Nutrient Profile of Beans
Per ½ cup serving, beans have the following:
>>6-10 grams of protein
>>Less than 1 gram of fat
>>5-10 grams of fiber
>>300-500 mg of potassium and virtually no sodium
The majority of the carbs in beans come in the form of starch which is digested by our healthy gut bacteria. Providing good food for our bacteria is important to our overall health! We will come back to this point in a moment.
Beans are rich in minerals of which many people don’t get enough. This includes copper, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium. Most beans are also rich in iron which is important for everyone and especially those on a vegan diet.
Beans are a good source of antioxidants, too. Colorful beans like black beans, kidney beans, and red beans possess more antioxidants than white beans. It’s good to get a variety of different beans much like it’s good to eat a variety of fruits and veggies.
It should be obvious at this point that beans are a nutrient powerhouse.
Bean consumption helps with blood sugar control
Beans are an excellent food option for those dealing with diabetes and other blood sugar issues. They have a relatively low glycemic index ranging from 27-42. They are rich in fiber which further helps regulate blood sugar, too. A fiber-rich diet is so important for everyone including those with diabetes. Remember meat does not contain any fiber.
This study is super cool. They basically tested what effects white rice and beans have on the body and if their consumption leads to a higher or lower risk of cardiometabolic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or stroke. They found that when more white rice than beans was consumed in a meal there was an increase in systolic blood pressure, triglycerides, and fasting glucose and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. When more beans were consumed compared to white rice, blood pressure and triglycerides decreased and HDL cholesterol was higher. If you’re going to eat white rice, be sure to eat fiber-rich beans to help blunt the blood sugar spikes and reduce cardiometabolic risk factors.
This study is also fun to look at. They have a great chart that shows how much blood glucose is raised after consuming beans and other carb sources. (Spoiler: Beans come in the lowest!)
The second-meal effect?
Okay, so we know beans are awesome for blood sugar control just after a meal. But guess what? They also help with blood sugar control at your next meal, too. This is called the second-meal effect. It refers to a meal’s ability to diminish the glucose response to carbohydrates eaten during the following meal. This was actually first referred to as the “lentil-effect” because the relationship was first found using lentils. Beans also were found to have the same effect so the name was changed. Researchers have found that the fermentable carbohydrates found in beans, the fiber and resistant starch we mentioned earlier, are the main mechanism for reducing blood glucose in subsequent meals.
Basically, we eat the beans at lunch and we receive the benefits of normal blood sugar regulation. Then several hours later at our next meal, our gut bacteria are digesting our lunch, we receive those benefits again. Here is a great video for more information on this.
Even more simply put, Beans and lentils decrease glycemic response both at the first and second meal. That’s pretty neat.
Beans Improve the Health of Your Gut and Gut Bacteria
This study found that “…beans…are enriched in non-digestible fermentable carbohydrates and phenolic compounds that can modulate the colonic microenvironment to improve gut health.” Basically, they found that bean consumption improved the health of the gut’s mucosal lining, increased the number of healthy gut cells, and improved overall digestion.
Another way beans improve our gut health is by their production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs are produced by bacteria when they ferment things such as fiber and starch (both found in beans) inside the colon. The main job of SCFAs is to serve as an energy source for cells inside the colon. They help boost the protective mucus lining of the gut and can influence cell proliferation of healthy cells. SCFAs are also being studied in their role of how they affect gut motility meaning they help you have healthy bowel movements. Many studies have shown that SCFAs can help alleviate diarrhea and help treat inflammatory bowel diseases. And, this is the exact sort of thing my husband just doesn’t want to know about!
Butyrate, which is a type of SCFA, has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and plays a role in boosting immunity. Even better, SCFAs may play a role in protecting against colorectal cancer.
The bottom line is beans are a healthy food. They play an important role in our health and I highly recommend eating at least 2 servings a day.
But wait, what if beans make you gassy?
The good news is as you begin to eat beans on a regular basis, this side-effect should go away or be greatly reduced at as your gut bacteria evolve and get used to consuming more fiber.
>>Until then take it slow. If you aren’t accustomed to eating a lot of fiber or beans on a regular basis add 2-4 tablespoons of beans to your meals a day. Gradually increase that each day. Or just go for it! Not everyone gets gassy after eating beans. Do what’s right for you.
>>Soak your beans for at least 24 hours if you are cooking from dried. Drain and rinse and soak in fresh water 1-2 times over that 24 hours. Many gas-producing carbs are released into the water. Be sure to use fresh water when you are ready to cook them.
>>Increase your water intake a little bit as you begin eating more beans (fiber) to keep things moving along.
>>Rinse canned beans before using.
Did you learn anything from this post?
Let me know in the comments!