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May 16, 2011 at 6:00 am by Judy England, Albany (NY) Times Union *

It?s doubtful that anyone would debate that beans are good for you.                                               

Looking for a good source of non-animal protein? Just 1/2 cup of beans will give you as much as 2 ounces of lean meat. How about fiber? That same serving size will yield 4-10 grams of the rough stuff. Good carbs loaded with iron, zinc, calcium, selenium and folate. Beans again get the prize. Low in fat, rich in antioxidants these tasty little powerhouses are dietary champs.

And, if you looking to stretch your food budget, beans are a great option.              

A staple in eastern cooking for tens of thousands of years, a diet rich in legumes is reported to contribute to heart health, prevent diabetes and obesity, and control inflammatory conditions. Quite an impressive resume !

Cooked beans are a great addition to soups, stews or salads. They mix well with rice or pasta for a protein-rich, vegetarian entree. With over 1000 varieties of peas, beans, lentils and peanuts (yes, peanuts!) to choose from, there's no risk or boredom.

So why do we resist the mighty bean? Well, it's usually about what happens after we eat them. As the old poem goes:

Beans, beans the musical fruit, the more you eat the more you toot.

Seems as though our bodies lack the enzyme needed to break down several complex sugars (oligosaccharides) found in beans. So, once in the intestines, our resident bacteria cause them to ferment. Fermentation produces gas. It's not your fault, it's just chemistry.

So how to have the best of both worlds? how to enjoy all the benefits of beans with none of the odoriferous after effects. Here's my suggestions gleaned from personal experience and that of other health oriented cooks.

When cooking with dried legumes:

Wash the dried beans several times, discarding the water each time.

  • Put the beans to soak in 3X their volume in water. Long soaking is preferable, usually overnight . Length of soaking depends on the type of bean. Some sources recommend adding an acid to the soaking water such as whey or lemon juice. This helps to begin breaking down the complex sugars even before eating.
  • Add fresh water for cooking, and cook slowly, skimming off any foam that forms on the surface.
  • Try adding a piece of seaweed (kombu) to the cooking liquid. This can also make them less gassy.
If you choose canned, pre-cooked beans:

Rinse, rinse and rinse again before cooking.

  • Add a bit of vinegar ( balsamic, cider, etc) to the beans as they cook.
  • Know that canned beans have significant amounts of sodium.

And finally, here?s a few tips to help with the digestibility factor:

Eat lots of vegetables, especially green ones, along with your beans. Avoid potatoes in the same meal.

  • Avoid fruit and sugar food for 2-3 hours before a bean meal.
  • If you're including animal protein in the same meal, limit it to only one.
  • Add a whole grain to complement the beans. Think of natural combinations that form complete proteins such as baked beans and brown bread, or red beans and rice.
  • Some spices aid digestion: ginger, tumeric, fennel, asafetida can help.
  • Chew, chew, chew your food! Remember that digestion starts in the mouth.
  • Some beans are easier to digest than others. Try mung beans, adzuki and dahl for starters.

Fear not the lowly, lovely nutritious bean. Plan a meal that features them soon!

*Posted with permission from the United States Dry Bean Council

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