Nutrition Benefits of Beans and Legumes
Beans are staple foods in many places around the world. They’re relatively cheap, they store well, and they’re packed with nutrients. They’re often featured in comfort foods (have you ever tried pinto bean soup with cornbread on a cold, rainy day?) and they’re available either dried, or pre-cooked in cans.
Some people turn their noses up at beans because of their reputation for promoting flatulence. But beans and legumes are nothing to sniff at. That’s because these high-fiber foods are not only nutritious, satisfying, and filling—they’re also good at preventing cardiovascular disease. That’s right. Recent research has confirmed what many nutrition scientists have long suspected: beans and legumes (peas, peanuts, etc.) help prevent the development of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when cholesterol latches onto the inner lining of blood vessels, causing the growth of fatty plaques. Over time, these plaques can grow in size, reducing blood flow, or forming clots. Clots may break away and travel to distant vessels, where they can cause sudden blockages. When this happens in the blood vessels of the brain, a stroke may ensue. If it happens in one of the crucial coronary vessels that feed the heart itself, a deadly heart attack may result. And that could mean game over.
Beans and legumes halt this dangerous process by lowering the levels of certain enzymes. These enzymes are responsible for the production of a substance called platelet activating factor (PAF). PAF is a major mediator of inflammation, and a key player in the development of atherosclerosis. A recent study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that people who eat the most beans and legumes enjoy the lowest levels of these enzymes, which in turn means they have lower levels of PAF. And that should translate into a significantly lower risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
So I encourage you to add beans and legumes to your diet. They’re high in protein and fiber. And by the way, here’s trick for reducing the “gas factor” of canned beans: buy organic beans and rinse them thoroughly before adding to your recipe. Much of the stuff that causes embarrassing gas can be rinsed away before you ever pour out the beans. You can also cook them yourself, slowly, from scratch. This helps leach out some of the indigestible sugars that are can cause gas production in the gut, as bacteria in the colon attempt to ferment these compounds. Finally, try gradually adding beans to your diet. Many people find that they cause fewer digestive issues when added incrementally to the diet.