Nutrition: The Basics of Beans

by Geneviève Blanchet

The name legume comes from the Latin legumen or legere, “to gather” and peas, chickpeas and lentils are some of the oldest crops cultivated.  As one of the least expensive forms of protein, beans are as nutritious as they are practical, which is why they are an integral part of cultures all over the world. Ounce per ounce, some beans have as much protein as a comparable amount of meat.

Classified as a low-glycemic index food, they are slowly digested and help diabetics and people who have low blood sugar. They are a good source of calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, and several B vitamins and are low in fat.
Some of their healing properties include reducing cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, regulating colon function and preventing constipation.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is the optimum time to focus on nourishing and building kidney and adrenal energy. Beans and legumes, especially the dark/ black coloured one, are believed to be highly beneficial food for the kidney and adrenal functions. Legumes and beans are considered generally drying and diuretic and they are beneficial when there are signs of edema, water retention and yeasts, soybean being the exception.

Preparation of Beans

  • They are many people who don’t enjoy the benefits of beans because they don’t digest them well. Often the problem is improper preparation, wrong choice of legume or poor food combining.
  • If you are new to beans or have decided to give it another try, start by introducing them slowly allowing your digestive system time to adjust.
  • Spices that aid digestion are bay leaf, cumin, anise and fennel. These can be added to the water near the end of cooking.
  • Only add salt at the end of cooking, about 10 minutes before beans are done. Otherwise the beans won’t soften.
  • A simple way to tell if you have soaked your beans enough is to slice a bean in half; if the center is still opaque, soak more.
  • Adding a small piece of kombu seaweed, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or 1 teaspoon of baking soda when soaking the beans are other options to help improve their digestibility.

When buying canned beans, consider these few tips:

  • Buy canned beans that do not contain added salt or preservatives
  • Look for beans that have been cooked with kombu.
  • Rinse beans once removed from the can.

When Choosing Beans:

In China, a traditional practice exists in which legumes are assigned healing properties according to their Five Element colour and organ.

  • Red: Aduki, red lentil, kidney bean; influence the hearth and small intestine.
  • Yellow: Garbanzo, yellow pea and soybean; influence the spleen-pancreas and stomach.
  • White: Lima, navy, and great northern; influence the lungs and large intestine.
  • Dark, black and brown: Black bean, black soybean, brown lentil; influence the kidneys and bladder.
  • Green: Mung beans, green pea and fresh green bean; influence the liver and gall bladder.

Always Soak Beans

Quick soak:
Boil the beans in water for 5 minutes, remove from heat, cover and allow them to soak for 2 to 4 hours. (Soaking longer will not damage). Drain, rinse, add to fresh water and proceed with cooking.

Overnight soak: preferred method.
Soak beans 8 to 12 hours, drain, rinse, add fresh water and proceed with cooking.
Before soaking, pick through the beans and remove any that are discolored or broken. Place the dried beans in a large bowl with an ample amount of cold water to cover and allow to stand at room temperature for 8 hours or longer. The soaking water should always be drained and discarded before cooking beans. Once the beans are drained rinse them under cold water and allow them to drain again.

Cooking Beans

  • When cooking beans use plenty of water to allow room for expansion
  • Place soaked, drained beans in a heavy medium saucepan.
  • Add 6 cups of fresh water for every cup of beans and place over medium – high heat.
  • Bring the water to a boil, skim off the foam.
  • Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer gently, uncovered, until tender.

Geneviève Blanchet is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. She blends Asian tradition and modern western nutritional science with the wisdom of healing herbs. She is passionate about eating fresh, seasonal and nutrient-rich food and would like to share what she’s learned with you.

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