beans pulses

Why we should eat more beans and pulses

If ever there was a superfood group (and there isn’t!) it would have to be beans and pulses (including peas).

This food group is not only very cheap to buy but it is extremely nutritious being high in fibre, high in protein and yet low in fat. Not only that beans and pulses are rich in potassium, iron, zinc and magnesium.

A longer life

Studies have shown that populations who regularly eat beans and pulses tend to live longer. In fact it has been shown that the more beans you eat the longer you are likely to live statistically. Not only that it has also been shown that consuming this food group regularly is the most reliable predictor of longevity of any food group. This may well be because they help heart health and also lower cholesterol. Importantly beans, peas and pulses are an excellent source of fibre.

The importance of fibre

Fibre is vital for the health of your microbiome and your gut in general. For one thing it acts as a prebiotic. This means it stimulates and feeds the ‘good’ bacteria which in turn can help neutralise the pathogens in your gut or ‘bad’ bacteria.

Soluble and insoluble fibre

Most foods containing fibre have both soluble and insoluble fibre.

The soluble fibre is processed in the gut and turned into short chain fatty acids (SCFA). The SCFA called butyrate is used to create a mucus which forms the lining of the gut and repairs any damage. The mucus can act as a barrier to fat absorption and hence it can directly affect weight loss.

People who don’t eat enough fibre can suffer from something called ‘leaky gut’. A leaky gut can potentially allow pathogens to transfer into the bloodstream causing illness and things like skin irritation.

Soluble fibre benefits

In addition to reducing fat absorption the soluble fibre can;

Reduce cholesterol absorption thereby lowering cholesterol generally

Stabilise blood sugar (glucose) levels – by reducing the rate of absorption of nutrients including carbohydrates.

Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

It is also now believed that an unhealthy gut has the ability to ‘harvest’ more calories from any given food and hence there is a direct affect on weight loss.

Insoluble fibre benefits

The insoluble fibre remains unchanged and, as such, does not release any calories. This is what we commonly refer to as ‘roughage’.

The roughage helps your system stay regular and speeds up the movement and production of waste preventing constipation.

The insoluble fibre also helps reduce the risk of diverticular disease, haemorrhoids and colorectal cancer.

Satiety

Because the soluble fibre has slowed down the absorption of food you feel fuller for longer, while the insoluble fibre ‘fills’ you up physically further enhancing the satiety effect.

Beans and starch digestion

Beans contain chemicals which block the production of an enzyme called alpha-amylase which is responsible for starch digestion. So by blocking the digestion of starch the body cannot access the calories it contains. The starch then acts like fibre which promotes a greater feeling of fullness and also further feeds the gut bacteria. Bonus!

Beans and polyphenols

Beans are rich source of polyphenols and the darker the bean the more polyphenols it contains. So the richest source of polyphenols is actually the black bean followed by dark red kidney beans.

That said all beans are good for you. Polyphenols are important to you because they are:

  • powerful anti-oxidants
  • important for heart health
  • important in managing blood pressure
  • important for lowering diabetes risk
  • important for weight management
  • important for reducing the risk of chronic disease

Beans and nutrition

We have conducted a short survey of 5 different beans and found that the fibre and protein content of each is very similar, as is the calorific value. See image below.

beans nutrition

Beans and Rice

With the exception of the soy bean all other beans are ‘incomplete proteins’. This simply means that they don’t contain all the amino acids the body requires. But if you pair beans with rice the whole dish becomes a complete protein. This might account for why the Caribbean folk eat rice and peas, the Mexicans eat Carne con Chilli and the Asians eat lentils and rice.

The rice/bean combo is also interesting for another reason. Research found that combining these two ingredients consistently ‘blunted’ the effect of carbohydrate on blood sugar for up to 3 hours after consumption. Even more fascinating was the discovery that this blunting effect can carry over to the next meal and even next day. It’s a phenomenon known as the ‘Second Meal Effect’.

Contraindications

Some people are intolerant/allergic

Beans and pulses may trigger attacks in people who suffer from IBS/IBD

Ditto gout sufferers

People with renal problems may need to restrict or eliminate beans and pulses due to their potassium content.

This not an exhaustive list and if you think they may affect you adversely consult your GP.

Dried beans

If you are cooking the dried variety be sure to soak the beans and throw the water away.