It's no secret that here at Nutrition for Longevity (N4L), we love beans. Beans have always played an essential role in the diet, as legumes were among the first plants cultivated and embraced by many cultures. Throughout many of the Longevity Regions, beans are a daily staple in a well-rounded diet.
Beans are not the only type of legume, as the category also includes lentils, peanuts, and peas. We prioritize beans in our healthy meal plans because of their many health benefits. Beans are naturally low in fat, high in protein, and rich in phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are nutrients found only in plants that provide a wide range of beneficial effects.
Gut Health and Beyond
Legumes like chickpeas — a significant component of The Longevity Diet — are packed with fiber, supporting digestive health by helping food move through your intestines. The benefits don't stop there, though. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in your gut which helps create a thriving microbiome. When there's an abundance of diverse gut microbiota, your immune system is healthier and more stable.
Beans also contribute to immune health due to their high antioxidant content. Antioxidants, like anthocyanin found in darker beans, destroy free radicals. Free radicals are chemicals linked to conditions like heart disease and cancer.
When you think of beans and your gut, you might draw another association. While it's true that beans may cause flatulence, the effect is usually overstated. This association is due to the complex carbohydrates in beans, which can cause flatulence because the gut does not easily break them down. As with most fiber-rich foods, the key to incorporating beans into your diet is to start slow. One to two tablespoons per day, in the beginning, will help reduce any unwanted effects.
Another powerful nutrient found only in plants is lectins, and legumes like kidney beans are an excellent source. These natural proteins serve an important protective role for the plant and can similarly help protect you! Lectins are known to have anti-cancer and anti-HIV properties. They can also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and obesity.
You may have heard that some types of lectins found in beans, like phytohemagglutinin, can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. While this can occur, the research shows that you'd have to consume an absurd amount before seeing any severe effects.
Preparing, Cooking, and Selecting Beans
There are many reasons to make sure you properly cook your dried beans. Besides reducing the lectins, soaking and cooking your beans can help reduce gas build-up. Soak dry beans in water for five hours or overnight before cooking. Discard this water and use fresh water for boiling. Avoid slow cookers when using dried beans since they do not reach a high enough cooking temperature to destroy the lectins.
If you don't have dried beans on hand or don't have the time to soak them, canned beans are a great alternative! Canned beans have already been cooked as part of the canning process which means they are easier to digest and less likely to cause gas. Beans are safe to eat right from the can, making them great for recipes like hummus. When possible, try to select canned beans that don't have extra salt or additives.
Overall, beans are a food we should all be striving to include more of in our diets. They're not only nutritious but also delicious. Additionally, they're very affordable, meaning they can be an inexpensive way to push you towards better health habits! Our healthy meal plans at Nutrition for Longevity include beans, along with other nutrient dense foods, to provide you with the best meals.