Nancy's Nutrition Corner

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food," Hippocrates.

Bountiful Beans

Most of us know that beans are good for us. Few people, though, know the breadth of their influence. Beans decrease cholesterol, fight heart disease, stabilize blood sugar, combat obesity and reduce cancer risk. Read on to find out more about the benefits of beans, and ways to decrease their unsociable effects on digestion.

The Importance of Fiber
Much of beans' health powers comes from their incredibly high fiber content; ounce per ounce legumes have more fiber than most whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, natural fibers are lost when foods are processed, and thus the typical American diet is sorely lacking in fiber.

Fiber plays a crucial role in health due to its ability to lower blood cholesterol levels and stabilize blood sugar levels. It also aids in the prevention of colon cancer, constipation and obesity. Beans are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber-both play an important part in maintaining health.

Soluble fiber forms a gel within the gut allowing for delayed stomach emptying. This is beneficial as it results in the sensation of fullness and decreased appetite. Delayed stomach emptying also slows the absorption of carbohydrates, reducing after meal blood sugar spikes and stabilizing blood sugar levels.

Soluble fiber also lends beans their cholesterol lowering power. Fiber binds with cholesterol-containing bile acids. Fiber isn't absorbed and exits the body with the bile acids, dramatically lowering cholesterol. This reduction in cholesterol is similar to that produced by oat bran, where total cholesterol, LDL and triglyceride levels are decreased.

Insoluble fiber also plays a important role as research studies have shown it not only prevents constipation, but also aids in the prevention of colon cancer, diverticulosis, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Heart Healthy
Beans' affect on the heart lies not just in their cholesterol lowering fiber, but also in the folate and magnesium they contain. Studies have shown that folate helps to lower levels of homocysteine, a harmful amino acid that has been linked to heart disease. Meanwhile, magnesium enhances the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the heart and throughout the body.

Don't be Afraid to Add Beans to Your Diet--Tips for Reducing Gas Production!
Many of us avoid beans due to their annoying ability to produce flatulence. Instead of avoiding beans, try these cooking and dietary tips:

  • Soak beans 12 hours - change water 1-2 times. Drain all soaking water and discard - cook beans in fresh water. After boiling, scoop up foam and discard.
  • Place a piece of kombu in the cooking pot. Kombu is a sea vegetable which contains glutamic acid -- a natural bean tenderizer.
  • Use seasonings. Herbs like winter savory, epazote, cumin, fennel, and ginger are helpful.
  • Eat small amounts of beans more often – gradually gas production will decrease over time.

 Featured Product
Heirloom Beans

Nancy Silva, ND is a licensed naturopath with a penchant for good food. Her monthly column discusses the nutritional aspects of some of the foods available through LocalHarvest. You can contact Nancy from her listing on our website.

Back to the January 2008 Newsletter