Right up there with fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes are among the healthiest, most disease-preventing, detoxifying and anti-inflammatory foods on the planet.
What Makes Beans & Legumes an Anti-Inflammatory Food?
Beans and legumes are truly a fountain of youth anti-inflammatory food because they are bursting with inflammation-reducing antioxidants and phytonutrients as well as being one of the richest sources of fiber on the planet.
Adding just ½ cup of beans or legumes to your diet daily will dramatically boost your fiber intake by approximately 8 to 11 grams. To really put the outstanding fiber profile of beans in perspective, the average American only eats approximately 11 grams of fiber a day. The National Cancer Institute recommends at least 25 grams of fiber a day (I strongly believe you should eat a lot more fiber than that but 25 grams is a good start.) Simply increasing your fiber intake can lower inflammation and even reduce C-reactive protein levels, which is a measure of inflammation in your bloodstream. (1)
Beans and legumes are also an incredibly nutrient-dense food and a nutritional storehouse of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium. And don’t forget about protein! Unlike conventional animal food sources of protein such as beef or milk, beans and legumes are packed with hormone-free, steroid-free and antibiotic-free ultra “clean” plant protein.
The Super Slimming Side of Beans & Legumes
Carrying extra body fat is inflammatory in and of itself, but beans and legumes can help you fight the battle of the inflammatory bulge.
A Canadian study of 1,475 men and women found that those who consumed beans regularly tended to weigh less and have a smaller waist circumference than those who did not eat them. The regular bean eaters were also 23% less likely to become overweight over time. (2) Bean eaters weighed, on average, 7 pounds less and had slimmer waists than their bean-avoiding counterparts yet they consumed 199 calories more per day if they were adults and an incredible 335 calories more if they were teenagers. It is important to note here that all calories are not equal.
Not only are beans and legumes low in calories, high in nutrients, slowly digested and super satisfying, but nearly half of the starch in these “superfoods” comes from a special type of starch called “resistant starch” that is not fully digested.
Resistant starch is as close to a “miracle” starch as it gets. Considered a functional fiber, resistant starch actually resists digestion, meaning the calories in resistance starch cannot be stored as fat. Considered the third type of dietary fiber, resistant starch can deliver some of the benefits of insoluble fiber and some of the benefits of soluble fiber. And, because resistant starch skips digestion you end up with lower blood sugar and insulin levels—and better ability to burn fat–following a resistant starch-rich meal. Studies show a diet rich in resistant starch not only helps control blood sugar levels and reduce fat storage after meals, but helps you feel fuller, so you eat less. (3) Resistant starch is also bulky, so it takes up space in your digestive system and you simply feel more satisfied after eating. Because they promote a sensation of fullness and satiety, improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin, and increase the breakdown of fat, adding resistant starch-rich beans to your diet is an important nutrition strategy for losing pro-inflammatory body fat without feeling hungry.
Detoxifying and Additional Benefits of Resistant Starch in Beans & Legumes
Not only will the resistant starch in beans and legumes help you shed inflammatory body fat, but it can improve your health in additional ways.
Diets rich in resistant starch help remove toxins from your body and improve heart health by binding to dietary cholesterol and removing it from your body, thus lowering serum (blood) cholesterol. And, because the resistant starch in beans is a prebiotic fiber that promotes “good” bacteria and suppresses “bad” bacteria, it can help normalize bowel function and support a healthy digestive system in general. Having more good-for-you bacteria in your digestive system will improve your immune function and make it easier for your body to fight disease and support a healthy immune system.
Which Beans & Legumes are Best?
Like all plant foods, each bean and legume has its own unique nutritional, antioxidant and phytonutrient profile. So don’t play favorites! All you need to know is that ALL beans and ALL legumes are healthy.
How Many Beans & Legumes Should You Eat?
As part of a “Clean Cuisine” anti-inflammatory diet you should aim to eat at least one serving of “superfood” beans and legumes each day. And that’s not just my recommendation either. Did you know the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans developed by the US Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends 3 cups of legumes per week?
Danger of Beans & Legumes?
I feel compelled to briefly touch on the non-issue associated with the lectins found in beans. Actually, lectins are found in all plant foods, it’s just that certain foods such as beans, grains and nuts contain the highest lectin activity. Lectins are carb-binding proteins that are difficult to digest if they are not cooked or prepared properly. Paleo diet fans theorize that lectins can potentially allow partially digested food proteins to spill into the bloodstream, thus supposedly impairing the immune system and creating an inflammatory response. This might be true if you were to eat raw beans or raw grains, but simply cooking these foods dramatically reduces lectin activity. I f you want to be doubly safe, you can take additional measures to soak or sprout your beans, grains or nuts. Traditional fermentation methods are also effective at reducing lectin activity.
Beans, This Way & That!
There must be 101 ways to eat beans. Here are a few of my favorite ways my wife, Ivy, prepares them for me:
- As an alternative to mayo in my sandwiches in the form of hummus (as a side note, Ivy makes my sandwiches with flourless sprouted whole grain bread)
- In soups
- In stews
- On top of salad
- Mixed in with pasta (again, Ivy uses sprouted whole grain pasta or 100% buckwheat pasta)
- Eaten straight up with just a touch of extra virgin olive oil, unrefined sea salt and lemon juice.
1. Ajani UA, Ford ES, Mokdad AH. “Dietary fiber and C-reactive protein: findings from national health and nutrition examination survey data.” J Nutr. 2004. May;134(5):1181-1185.
2. Papanikolaou Y and Fulgoni VL “Bean consumption is associated with greater nutrient intake, reduced systolic blood pressure, lower body weight, and a smaller waist circumference in adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002.” J Am Coll Nutr. 2008 Oct;27(5):569-76
3. Bodinham CL, et. al. “Acute ingestion of resistant starch reduces food intake in healthy adults.” Br J Nutr. 2010 Mar;103(6):917-22]