I look at a lot of food diaries, and you know what I notice?
Y’all are AFRAID of beans!
Most of us like the taste of them, but we limit our consumption because we are concerned about the, er, end result.
After eating beans, many people experience gas and bloating. It’s almost a cliche that legumes and farts go together. “The Magical Fruit!”, people sing.
Would you believe me if I said it didn’t have to be that way?
Like many of you, I used avoid eating beans before social gatherings or romantic evenings. However, although they often caused a fair bit of digestive distress, I also noticed that beans were very satisfying, kept me full for a long time, and gave me a nice, steady supply of energy.
These days, I can eat beans without a problem, largely because my digestion has improved as a whole, but also because, through trial and error, I have found some tips that help reduce the negative effects of beans. Miraculously, I eat more beans than ever (at least once a day), and I still smell as fresh as a wild rose.
Legumes are very health-promoting, as they are a great source of fibre, protein, and minerals. They also contain good amounts of energy-giving carbohydrates, but are low glycemic because of all the fibre and protein they contain. Beans and lentils balance blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and promote proper elimination (ie. pooping).
If you’d like to include beans into your diet more often, here is my advice:
Make Your Own
Beans in a can are inferior to homemade for a couple of reasons. For one, the metals from the can, or the chemicals from the plastic lining the inside of the can can leach into the contents. With canned beans, you end up with trace amounts of toxic metals and plastics in your food, and that’s something I try to avoid. Additionally, when beans are canned, they are cooked inside the can. This means that all of the gas normally released into the air gets trapped inside the can and absorbed by the beans inside, which gets released after you eat them, causing gas and bloating. By making your own, you eliminate the presence of toxic metals and plastic, and boil off much of the gas. Dried beans are also wayyy cheaper, and don’t contribute to landfills like tin cans do.
Take a Soak
When cooking your own beans, I always recommend soaking them first. Most beans require about six hours of soaking time, but the smaller lentils can get by with two or three. I usually soak mine overnight and then cook them as I’m getting ready for work the next morning. Beans are basically seeds, and putting them in water starts the sprouting process. During this process, enzymes are created and begin to “pre-digest” the bean, making it easier for us to digest once they are cooked. Soaking also greatly reduces cooking time. After soaking beans, pour out soaking water and rinse beans thoroughly with water before cooking.
Add Some Seaweed
Kombu is a bean-maker’s secret weapon. Kombu, a member of the kelp family, is a type of seaweed, found for pretty cheap in most health food stores. You buy it dried, in a package, and add a six-inch or so chunk to the cooking water. This seaweed contains amino acids that tenderize proteins and render beans more digestible. Kombu is pretty much tasteless, so it won’t compromise flavour. Kombu kind of looks like dried out salted-stained shoe leather, so warn people that it’s in there, otherwise your boyfriend will look into the cooking pot and ask why there is a slice of Birkenstock sandal in the chickpeas. You can remove it once the beans are cooked, or break it up into small pieces and just eat it with the beans.
Keep It Simple.
Digesting beans (and everything else) gets tricky when you put them in complicated meals, with lots of mixed protein. For example, beans and animal proteins (meat, eggs, dairy) don’t mix particularly well. This is partly why a Texas Taco with refried beans, cheese, sour cream, and ground beef will give anyone a lot of hot air. Beans mix very well with whole grains like brown rice and/or vegetables. If you want to make things more interesting, spice up your beans with gas-reducing spices like cumin, turmeric, ginger, cloves, coriander, dill, or a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Don’t underestimate the power of proper chewing! Beans are not the best thing to eat when you are in a rush or anxious. Eat them when you have time to relax, chew properly, and digest. Digestion starts in the mouth! There are enzymes in saliva and the more we chew, the less our digestive system has to work. Also, start slow. If you know beans are an issue for you, begin with 1/4 cup at a time, and then build up to 1 cup or so over the course of a couple weeks.
As I mentioned, soaking and cooking times depend on the size of the bean. Someone has already done a great job of summarizing that info, so click here for a handy bean soaking/cooking time chart.
Or, follow these general directions:
-After soaking*, discard soaking water and rinse beans in a strainer. Add rinsed beans to a pot, and fill with enough water to cover beans, with about 1/2 inch of extra water at the top. Add kombu if using.
-Bring pot to a rolling boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for required amount*, or until bean is nice a soft. Salt when cooking is done, if desired.
*For big beans (kidney, chickpeas, navy, fava) soak about six to eight hours, or overnight. Cook time is 1 to 2 hours. For medium beans (black beans, black eyed peas, lima, pinto) soak about four to six hours, or overnight. Cook time is 40 minutes to an hour. For small beans (mung, adzuki, lentils) soak about four hours. Cook time is about 30 minutes. For split lentils and peas, soaking isn’t necessary, although still helpful. Soak about one to two hours, if desired. Cook time is under 30 minutes.
Some of my own bean recipes: