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Rodrigo Louvat
I am a Marketing Associate at Tera in charge of digital marketing and content creation, writing blog articles and newsletters. Drop me a line at rodrigo.louvat@hellotera.com if you feel like it!

Beans Nutrition and Environmental Guide

The Truth About Beans: What Should You Really Eat?

Beans have long been celebrated as a healthy food, praised for their nutritional benefits and versatility. However, there’s more to the story. Here’s an in-depth look into the myths surrounding beans, their health implications, and practical advice on making informed dietary choices.

Common Myths About Beans

  1. Beans as a Protein Source: While beans contain protein, they have more carbohydrates than animal protein. For example, a 6-ounce steak has the protein equivalent of nearly 2½ cups of kidney beans, but the beans come with about 100 grams of carbs, which the steak lacks.
  2. Health Food but not for everyone: Beans provide fiber, minerals, and protein for vegetarians, but they also contain inflammatory proteins that can trigger issues for some people with autoimmune diseases.
  3. Paleo Diet Inclusion: Beans have been part of the human diet only since the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago, making them relatively new to our diet compared to other foods.
  4. Toxins in Beans: Beans contain lectins and phytates, which can damage the intestinal lining and block nutrient absorption, but these can be neutralized through proper preparation.
  5. Beans and Diabetes: Beans contain a significant amount of starch, making them problematic for people with type 2 diabetes.
  6. Organic Soybeans as a Superfood: Organic soy products like tempeh or tofu can be beneficial, but GMO, non-organic soybeans pose health concerns.

The Science of Beans

Beans, also known as legumes, are dried seeds of certain plants, rich in nutrients due to their nitrogen-fixing ability, which allows them to thrive in poor soil and enrich it for future crops. They contain potassium, zinc, iron, magnesium, folate, and vitamin B, along with fiber beneficial for gut health. However, beans are also high in carbohydrates and contain lectins and phytates, which can cause digestive issues and prevent nutrient absorption.

What Experts Got Right and Wrong

Right: Beans are nutrient-dense, provide protein, and are easier on the environment than many other crops. Studies like the PURE study suggest beans are part of a diet associated with lower heart disease risk.

Wrong: Beans are high in carbohydrates, which can be problematic for those with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. Lectins and phytates in beans can cause digestive issues and potentially trigger autoimmune diseases.

Key Insights About Beans

  1. Beans and Protein: Beans are not the best source of protein, especially as we age and require more high-quality protein to maintain muscle mass. Animal proteins are superior in bioavailability and leucine content, which is crucial for muscle synthesis.
  2. Carbohydrate Content: Beans contain resistant starch, which behaves like fiber, feeding gut bacteria and producing beneficial short-chain fatty acids like butyrate. However, they are still high in carbohydrates, making them less ideal for those with insulin resistance or diabetes.
  3. Digestive Issues: Beans can cause digestive discomfort due to their fiber content and the presence of lectins. For those with gut issues or autoimmune diseases, beans may exacerbate symptoms.
  4. Nutrient Absorption: Lectins and phytates in beans can hinder nutrient absorption and contribute to conditions like leaky gut syndrome. However, fermentation and pressure cooking can reduce these anti-nutrients.
  5. Canned Beans: While convenient, canned beans often contain high levels of sodium and may be lined with BPA, BPS and BPF, chemicals linked to various health issues. 
  6. Soybeans: Organic, non-GMO soy products like edamame, tempeh, miso, and tofu can be healthful, but soybean oil and processed soy products should be avoided due to their unhealthy processing methods and potential for causing inflammation.

Practical Tips for Bean Consumption

  • Choose Organic and Non-GMO: Select organic to avoid GMOs and pesticide residues.
  • Cooking Beans: This is a better option than canned beans. Buy dry beans and soak them overnight with a little salt. Then cook them in a pressure cooker with a big strip of kombu (seaweed) to enhance digestibility and reduce anti-nutrient content. Or bring to a boil and simmer them for 2-4 hours. Fermented soy products are preferable due to reduced lectins and phytates.
  • Moderation: Limit bean consumption to half a cup daily, especially if you are prone to digestive issues or insulin resistance. Avoid or limit the following high starch beans: lima beans, kidney beans, baked beans and pinto beans.
  • Non Starchy Alternatives: Opt for lower-starch legumes like lentils, green peas or snow peas, black-eyed peas and mung beans, which have fewer carbohydrates and more manageable impacts on blood sugar. Or try lupini beans – they are high in protein and fiber, and have zero net carbs. The starch is indigestible, which means it does not get your blood sugar spike. Maximum serving: half a cup per day.

Environmental and Ethical Considerations

Beans are environmentally friendly, enriching soil and requiring fewer resources compared to animal agriculture. However, the cultivation of some, like soybeans, can have significant environmental impacts if not managed sustainably.

Conclusion

Beans can be part of a healthy diet, offering fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, their high carbohydrate content and potential digestive issues mean they are not suitable for everyone. Proper preparation and choosing organic, non-GMO varieties can mitigate some of the downsides. Moderation is key, especially for those with diabetes or autoimmune conditions. By making informed choices, beans can be a beneficial addition to your diet while supporting environmental sustainability.

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