Beans Will Rock Your World

I’ve started eating a lot more beans. Why? They are healthy and cheap. They make me feel good, and it turns out they taste great if you prepare them right. Research shows that beans are even better if you have diabetes.

A woman in my neighborhood got me started. We were talking about diabetes, and she said she had been diagnosed with Type 2 five years ago. But she now eats beans with every meal, and all her numbers are back to normal, including her glucose tolerance test. I figured I should look into it.

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Of course the first place to look is always Diabetes Self-Management‘s Amy Campbell. Here’s what she wrote in 2007:

“Beans are a rich source of protein. One cup of beans contains about 16 grams of protein, the same as 2 ounces of meat or chicken. People who are vegetarians typically use beans and bean products as their main source of protein. Beans contain no cholesterol…and only about 1 gram of fat (non of it saturated, either).”

That’s just the start. Amy says beans “also contains about 15 grams of [mostly-soluble] fiber…which can help lower cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease…Beans are also a great source of iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, as well as vitamin A and folate.”

That column was from five years ago. Since then, others have been shouting the praises of beans even more loudly. According to Jim Healthy, editor of the Web site My Healing Kitchen, “Beans are best for diabetes,” because “they are loaded with all-important fiber, which slows the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugars in your bloodstream, assists your body’s insulin response to glucose, and helps you burn fat faster.” They will limit the spikes in glucose levels after meals. (See last week’s blog entry “Stop Spiking Those Sugars!”)

Healthy cites the research of James Anderson, MD, from the University of Kentucky, who found that people with Type 1 were able to reduce insulin use up to 38% by eating beans.

And a writer on Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong.com site wrote, “Beans are a superfood: rich in fiber, protein, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, yet low in fat and cholesterol free.” He mentions a study by JL Sievenpiper and associates that showed lowered fasting blood sugar levels and A1C levels in people who ate beans and other “pulses,” as this family of foods is called.

Edible beans include kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, soybeans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), lentils, and dried peas, and probably some more I haven’t heard of. Usually they do not have a strong taste, meaning that you can season them any way you want. You can find about 30 tasty recipes for beans on our site here, a whole bunch more at My Healing Kitchen, and at other Web sites such as The Bean Bible.

Beans might not just rock your world. They could help save it. As a vegetarian protein source, they are great for the environment. You can raise at least twenty pounds of bean protein with the same amount of land, water, and energy needed to raise one pound of meat protein. This means beans have a vastly lower “carbon footprint” than meats, and don’t have all pollution and contamination problems of meat. They also enrich soil instead of depleting it.

Important as well is that beans are cheap. Matt Jabs at Debt-Free Adventure says he lowered his family’s monthly food bill by almost 40% by using beans instead of meat. Jabs says you save more money by buying dry beans and cooking from scratch, instead of wet beans in cans.

Why don’t people eat more beans, then? You know, it’s the gas thing. But Amy Campbell has some answers for that, too:

• If you soak dry beans, discard the water and cook in fresh water. With canned beans, discard the can water and rinse them.

• Season with ginger, coriander, turmeric, fennel.

• Add 1/8 teaspoon baking soda to the soaking water.

• Lentils, black-eyed peas, lima beans, white beans, and chickpeas may be less gas-producing than kidney beans or black beans.

Campbell also says that your body will probably get used to beans over time and have less of a gas problem.

I’d give you some recipes of my own, but I’m not a very good cook. I’d love to hear yours. Great for health, budget, and the environment
— beans really rock!

  • Deb

    David, some of the statistics you cite are amazing! I’ve gotten away from using beans, but when my daughter was small and we had only one income, we frequently had beans cooked from scratch.
    My favorites are limas, kidney beans, and lentils. One of my all-time favorites, which we ate at least a couple of times a month with lots of leftovers, is Roman Rice and Beans from Diet for a Small Planet, which is a great source of bean recipes. There are lots of versions of the web; the one I found at Food.com uses canned beans, but the original used dried.
    Using the quick-soak method, cooking dried beans doesn’t take two days. After picking over the beans to eliminate any little bean-shaped pebbles, you put the beans in a largish pot, add enough water to cover them by at least 3 inches, and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat, uncovered. After they come to a boil, simmer 2 minutes, then remove from heat, cover and let stand an hour and drain. Proceed with your recipe.
    You can also soak beans overnight, drain them and divide them into freezer containers. They require very little cooking after thawing.
    Chili, either with meat or vegetarian, is a great way to get beans, and there are a ton of good recipes out there.
    You’ve inspired me to put more beans back in my life. I hope my A1c will thank you!

  • Lynn

    You’ve hit the nail right on the head. I have always loved beans, but didn’t start cooking with them until recently. Now I try to add them whenever I can.

    Black eyed peas are my favorite and I add them to chicken noodle soup, which makes it a little more stick-to-your-ribs and gives it some fiber (everything else is starchy – potatoes, carrots, peas and noodles) and a little extra protein.

    Another favorite is bow tie pasta with beans and kale sauteed in a little olive oil with garlic, salt & pepper, and red pepper flakes. Yummy!

    I’ve also seen a great recipe for chick pea sandwich spread that sounds awesome.

  • Barbara

    I really enjoyed your recipe for black eyed peas.I love them. Thank you very much!

  • Zola

    I have always loved lentils, I make a great soup, with fat free chicken stock. Some times I put them in the blender. I never knew they were so good for me, I am going to cook some right now.

  • Susan

    And I thought beans were a carbohydrate! I’m really glad because I love beans – making chili is a favorite. Glad to have found the website. Susan

  • Ron

    My wife, a Type 1 diabetic for 49 years, and in great health, says she must stay away from most beans, especially lentils, because of the carbohydrate values, which was discussed in the article on beans.

  • Pat Weiser

    But oh, the bloating and gas! I have tried Bean-o, chewing thoroughly, using anti-gas afterwards, nothing helps. Any suggestion? My husband and I are both diabetic and I know it would be so good for us, but we have the same problems.

  • Pat Weiser

    Addendum to the above…….And what about the calories?!

  • Russell

    I have Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in addition to Type 2 Diabetes. My GFR (kidney function) has been pretty stable at about 45%. I have to watch my potassium levels so I have to restrict my intake of beans. Otherwise I would eat them daily.

  • Angelo

    Not sure if David response to peoples concerns here.
    @Pat Weiser, have you tried cooking it the way the article states instead of trying different supplements? You can do it more then once to (I’m talking about soaking in water for a long period and tossing the water)
    I don’t consider beans a high calorie food. A cup of black beans is about 227 calories.
    http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=nutrientprofile&dbid=87

  • David Spero RN

    Beans ARE partly carbohydrate and partly protein. Although they are slow-acting (have a low glycemic index), a person with Type 1 still needs to calculate them into their insulin dose. But with Type 1 or 2, they won’t raise your sugar nearly as much as other carbohydrates.

    Pat, I’m sorry your system isn’t made for beans. Just like other things I’ve recommended — vinegar, cinnamon, and metformin — they’re not good for everyone.

  • Sally mettler

    I love all beans. my favorite recipe is mixed bean vegetarian chili. I use 3 to 5 different cans of beans ,then add cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper, crushed tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then simmer until tomatoes seem to cook down and are thickened.Freezes well. ingrediates are to taste

  • Jeanette

    The Simple Succotash sounded good,but there was no mention of any beans,just the broth for the beans.

  • Randy Prewitt

    David — you are doing a wonderful job. Keep up the good work and advice. As you said — different folks — different bodies. Here in Louisiana tho’ — we are going to eat our red beans and rice — at least once a week. Other beans on other days. I’m type-two — so I eat the beans/sausage, etc — and my non-diabetic wife eats rice with them. I eat home-cooked blanched peanuts most every night — so as you can see — we love our beans. Keep on going on David. Good job. We’re proud of you. Randy at age 71

  • Bimbam

    If it’s such great food, economical, green, etc., why will the White House NEVER SERVE BEANS when they are hosting dignitaries???

  • acampbell

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the great posting (and the shout outs!). I, too, am a bean lover, although I certainly get plenty of teasing from my family, friends, and colleagues. One of my favorite recipes is this simple black bean soup: Heat 1 cup of chunky salsa in a saucepan for about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 15.5-ounce cans of drained and rinsed black beans, along with 2 cups of low sodium chicken broth. Heat to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup to the desired thickness. You can also do this with a food processor. Reheat the soup. Serve with sour cream or Greek yogurt, more salsa, and a squeeze of fresh lime. Also good with a few tortilla chips!

  • David Spero RN

    Reader Bill Conrad wrote to remind us there are many other kinds of beans. He mentioned Anasazi beans, an “heirloom” bean even higher in fiber and lower in glycemic index than most other beans. They’ve been eating them in the Southwest for 2000 years. They’re purple, and people say they’re great in chili.

    Randy, thanks for the kind comments. I had red beans and rice for dinner last night and thought of the folks down around Lafayette.

  • Abel

    I cook my pinto beans with a lot of onions and garlic. I cook them in a crock pot, temp set at low. I sometimes use chicken stock for my liquid.

  • Kristie

    If a person has type. 1 diabetes and kidney. Problems. What is the best diet? Can anyone help?

  • Christina

    Diabetes (type 2 at least) can be completely gone with the proper diet. The diet needs to be almost or completely void of animal products and mostly contain fresh vegetables. Check out the Engine 2 Diet. http://engine2diet.com/ Diabetics need to achieve a healthy weight in order to get their bg under control.

  • Sharon

    Hello I was told by my Dr. that almost all beans are great for diabetics but then a blog I follow says they are too starchy and are like eating a potao but I love kidney beans, Any help would be great thank you

  • deanie

    I am a type 2 diabetic I love kidney and black eye peas with sausage but I got to have a little brown rice with it. They do give me gas. I tries not to eat a lot of starch. After all starch produces sugar.

  • Benjamin James

    diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes this past December 28th 2014.since then I’ve been eating Black Eyed Peas Salman and fresh greens for my daily dinner. Blackeyed peas and oatmeal has done wonders for my glucose level and I’ve also lost 12 pounds.

  • Tonyruthie

    Hello David, I was wondering how much beans that lady in your neighborhood ate with every meal? I hope it wasn’t like a cup or more because I’m on an every other day day fast diet and I need to make sure I eat around 1500 to 2000 calories on my feast days and a cup of beans keeps my appetite suppressed for far too long. Thanks so much

  • Marvin Roosevelt Wilson

    Didnt you read the article/

  • Lil25

    Beans cause my blood sugar to spike.

  • Sunny

    I thought the fiber in beans would offset the carbs, but I took my blood sugar right before and 2 hours after having an 10 oz. bowl of 9 bean soup, and it went from 117 to 187. I felt sluggish, dazed, bloated and generally yucky. Don’t assume your body chemistry can handle large quantifies of beans. Always test before/after to see how it affects you personally.

  • Quaintance Clark

    When I was first diagnosed with type 1, I could not eat beans, but as time went on, I was able to eat beans again and with fried potatoes, just had to watch my portions.

  • Susan F

    I’m not a vegetarian or vegan. If I eat beans with lean meat, my blood sugar does not go up. Just like eating no sugar added natural peanut butter or almond butter with a small apple (with the skin intact). An apple alone will spike your blood sugar, but if you eat some protein rich food with it, you are fine and have satisfied your sugar craving by eating the apple. Here is how I eat my beans/red lentils. I make a chilli. Saute a chopped onion (vidalia or spanish), a small red, yellow or orange bell pepper and/or a quarter cup of carrots (shredded or in one inch pieces), 3-4 cloves garlic in 2 tbsps olive oil for ten minutes. Add one to one and a quarter lbs lean chopped beef (no more than 85% fat, 90% lean is better) or ground turkey and cook until no longer pink for beef – about 5 mins. for either type of meat. Add two tablespoons of fresh high quality cumin and 1 tbsp. coriander if you like. Add more cumin if it is old. Add one tsp. oregano. Add freshly ground high quality black pepper to taste – if you want it spicier, add more. Really spicy – add hot sauce like tabasco. Add a 16 oz . jar of salsa (make sure it has no sugar added) with no basil (cilantro is fine – basil just does not seem to go). Optional – add 10 oz. package of defrosted or thawed frozen corn (if you have the carbs to spare – or just use less corn or if you don’t want the carbs from the corn, omit). Lend some sweetness by adding no more than one half package of Stevia without dextrose. It goes well with cumin. Add one 15,5 can of red kidney beans that you have rinsed in a colander to free it of the salty gas causing gunk the liquid that comes in the can causes (use any bean you like, but I can’t imagine using garbanzos) or use two cups of red lentils (so much better than the brown and cooks much more quickly). If you have the time, prepare your beans from scratch. Just keep draining the water and adding fresh water so you don’t get too gassy. Fresh beans will cause gas unless you use gasx or the like, but they do taste better and are firmer). If you find the dish too thick, add some low sodium no fat chicken broth (Cento or Manischewitz are the best brands in a box – never use canned broth) or some wine – add a tablespoon or two at a time. You don’t want it mushy or watery. You won’t need salt, but can add a small amount to taste. Between prep and cooking (if you use canned beans), you will have a wonderful and delicious dinner in 20 mins. Even with prep.