Full of Beans

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In line with the message from Bowel Cancer UK to increase fibre in your diet and to help reduce the risk of bowel cancer, I thought I would expand on the health virtues of peas and beans which are an excellent addition to bulk up the protein content of a vegetarian meal.

Once thought to be the preserve of vegetarian devotees they are now used more widely in everyday cooking and this demand means a good selection of convenient tins and cartons of pre-cooked beans and lentils can be found in the supermarkets. These are ready to use and provide a much easier option than dried beans which need to be soaked and boiled before use. Dried beans are the cheaper and slightly healthier option but some forethought is required!

Health benefits

Often called the “poor man’s meat”, beans should really be called the “healthy people’s meat”. They are a good way of cutting down on the amount of red meat in a dish especially as red meat should be eaten in moderation. “Chilli Con Carne” is a great example.

Diets rich in beans and pulses have been shown to lower cholesterol, improve blood-sugar control and help to reduce the risk of many cancers. It is not only their high fibre content and levels of protein that are so beneficial, they also contain many important nutrients and plant chemicals.

Beans, beans good for the heart; beans, beans make you ….

The wind inducing properties of beans and pulses are legendary and can put people off eating them or feeding them to the family! One has to think positively about this aspect however, as the flatulence-inducing compounds are primarily simple sugars called oligosaccharides and it is these that provide some of beans important health benefits.

Our bodies have a problem digesting these chains of sugars, also known as prebiotic fibre, and they pass into the intestine where they are broken down by our gut bacteria. Our beneficial gut bacteria or microflora love these sugars, but the flip side of feeding these very important intestinal micro-organisms is that they produce gas as they digest the sugars.

Some of the worst offenders are haricot and lima beans but properly cooking the beans or sprouting them can reduce the levels of oligosaccharides. Adding fennel or caraway seeds, the spice Asafoetida or bicarbonate of soda to the beans when cooking can also reduce the flatulent effects. Some people have more of a problem with eating beans than others. If they produce a lot of gas, abdominal pain and bloating then go easy on the amount you eat, however the symptoms can sometimes ease over time by eating small amounts regularly and acclimatising your gut to them.

A healthy balance of beneficial intestinal microflora has many health benefits. We have 20% more bacteria in our bodies than we have living cells and over the last couple of decades research has grown to the point that we now understand that they are crucial to our health. They protect us from the effects of harmful bacteria, help support and balance our immune system, help to keep our bowels regular, regulate cholesterol and hormone levels, and synthesize some vitamins such as B vitamins and vitamin K.

Sprouted peas, beans and lentils

Peas, beans and lentils are essentially seeds which are little power houses of energy and nutrients waiting to be released to help the plant grow. Sprouted or germinated seeds become a pre-digested food because enzymes start to break down the proteins and starches and release the nutrients making it easier for us to digest and to obtain the nutrients. The sugars get used up too as energy for the plant thus reducing those negative gas inducing effects.

DIY sprouting tipssprouted beans

To sprout beans and lentils at home you can buy a kit such as a Bio Snacky germinator, or just use a large glass jar. Rinse the beans to be sprouted and place them in the jar covered with water for 24 hours, then pour out the water and rinse well. Leave the moist beans in the jar and place out of direct sunlight. Rinse them twice daily and they will very soon start to sprout. You can then move them to a sunnier position but don’t let them dry out, so continue to rinse them twice daily. Also don’t let them get too hot as they will start to smell musty and you do not want to eat musty sprouts. Once they have sprouted they will be ready to eat after a couple of days. Rinse thoroughly before eating and be sure to eat them fresh.

On my website you will see several recipes which include various beans for example my Mexican bean casserole.

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