Take your pulse
Today, I am going to write about bean superfoods and their health benefits - the healthiest ones that I, as a vegetarian, seem to eat vast quantities of - and that, in a healthy dollop, will give you your necessary daily dose of protein, alongside a higher amount of fibre and lower amount of fat than your average piece of fish or slice of beef.)
To bean or not to bean?
The answer to that one is simple. Beans and pulses should, indisputably, be an everyday food essential.
Beans means Heinz, right? The ultimate advertising campaign, drilled into us since childhood: for many of us, the two are synonymous, interchangeable. But easy though it is to just open a tin of that much loved turquoise kitchen cupboard staple, to the delight of most small children I know, it’s well worth exploring the wide ranging varieties of other less processed beans too. Pretty though the colour and the label are on that ubiquitous tin, it’s the vast quantities of sugar inside that’s most likely the main attraction.
Processed beans have to be bad for you, surely? Interestingly, although I really wanted to confirm that mass produced baked beans are less than good for you... they aren’t in fact as terrible as you might think. It’s the added sugar and the salt that are the issue, not the beans themselves. An average single portion of tinned baked beans can contain 3 teaspoons of sugar, as well as nearly 3g of salt, so if beans on toast is your daily tea time menu of choice, perhaps it’s simply time to adapt slightly, and start looking for organic, sugar and salt free versions instead?
Branch out a bit, away from the tinned versions, and the nutritional benefits of the pulse family soar exponentially. The point about beans is their remarkable variety. Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, navy beans, cannelloni beans, the list goes on and on. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, each packed slightly differently with superfood goodness to keep your body in a state of optimal nutritional health. Get your children hooked from an early age and they will be set on a dietary path that will serve them for a lifetime.
One of the sadder aspects of the remarkable bean family is that, in general, they don’t look, and sometimes don’t taste, particularly appetising. Are you one of those who find them bland? Do you simply avoid them in the belief your children would push them to the side of the plate? Perhaps you cut them out because of those uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing ‘wind’ issues?
But reconsider please, because these fabulous pulses are quite simply miracles of ‘good-for-you-ness’ - and as we all know by now, beauty runs far deeper than simply what can be seen on the surface. Start teaching your children the valuable lessons early, that life - and that includes beans - is not just about appearance. True value often lies disguised in plain sight, hidden by un-flashy packaging that cloaks the jewel within - useful advice whether considering choice of husbands, wives and partners of any kind - or simply what to eat for dinner.
Bean Basics: What you need to know about pulses
Looking at the stats, you can be confident that your whole family will benefit inordinately from these tiny high nutrition parcels, packed with goodness. Not only are they an inexpensive substitute for more costly fish and meat options, but they are a good source of iron, and high in fibre, which helps to lower cholesterol levels.
1 The benefits of dried beans and pulses
First things first - if possible, don’t take the easy way out and reach for the more costly, ready-made processed beans in a can from the supermarket shelves. Useful in a fast food emergency, but they don’t taste the same as the real thing at all. Garlic, spices, herbs or tomatoes? The flavour simply isn’t there in the tin.
2 Do beans and pulses always cause bloating and wind?
Have you noticed that your stomach swells slightly after you have eaten a bowl or two of beans? That you get a build-up of wind in your gut? Our bodies don’t produce suitable enzymes to digest their sugars, allowing them to pass, mainly undigested, into the large intestine, where they ferment and turn into gas. Add to that the high levels of fibre that beans contain that also causes flatulence, and you can develop mortifying levels of wind. Try a handful of digestive enzymes before your meal and you may reduce the problem. The more beans you regularly eat, the more efficiently your body will deal with the problem. The gas will pass!
3 To soak or not to soak?
Pulse tradition dictates that you soak your pulses overnight in a bowl of water before cooking. Why? Because naturally pulses contain indigestible carbohydrates, complex sugars called alpha-galactosides.
The thinking has been that if you rinse your pulses first and then leave them overnight in a bowl of water, the sugars that cause the gas disappear and the beans become easy to digest. The jury is out on this one, with bean purists arguing one way, and science another. Science says there is no point at all in the soaking, that it simply reduces flavour, and doesn’t affect gas levels at all.
Soaked beans, however, definitely take far less time to cook - around 30 mins as opposed to a couple of hours. So perhaps it boils down to time versus taste. Experiment for yourself and see...
4 How to sprout beans and pulses
Sprouting raw pulses is fun for the whole family, and eating your beans raw is, nutritionally, even better for you than cooked.
Soak a raw bean in water and a couple of days later the seed will have germinated, and sprouted a tiny shoot. This is the most life packed moment of the growing cycle, and eating beans raw at that stage transfers that goodness and energy to your own body, releasing minerals and vitamins as well as natural digestive enzymes that reduce gas and indigestion.
Eating sprouted pulses has been shown to boost oxygen and blood circulation and improve levels of good HDL cholesterol. Sprouts are anti-inflammatory and contain potassium and zinc which help regulate blood pressure levels as well as boosting vitamins A and C and natural silica.
5 Go on a pulse diet
Eating beans, lentils and other pulses make you feel full so that you eat far less than normal. A study from St Michaels Hospital in Toronto found that eating pulses increases the feeling of fullness by 31%, so a useful addition to any diet if you want to lose weight.
6 Cook them long and slow
For best bean results, try cooking in a covered pot inside your oven (at 250 degrees, checking regularly that they haven’t boiled dry) rather than on top of the hob.
So which pulse does what?
These, as you may already know, are my favourites. It doesn’t matter if they are red, green or yellow, they are stuffed full of fibre and protein and so simple to cook that my blood pressure doesn’t rise even a tiny bit at the thought of setting them free from their packet and turning them into something delicious. Pour them, literally, into every salad and bowl of soup, and you will be filling yourself with protein and also upping your folic acid levels, vital for making new red blood cells, keeping your energy levels high and your cells oxygenated.
My American readers will know these as garbanzo beans, but whatever their name, it has to be said that as a foodstuff they look somewhat bland and boring. If you see them sitting pale and limp in the salad bar, are you not tempted to pass on by? But stop. And think twice before you reach for the prettier red pepper and tomato option. Do not be deceived, you are giving the Clarke Kent of the pulse world a miss - for within their pale shell, they are simply bursting with iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, vitamin C and folic acid. Permanently constipated? These are your natural remedy for the problem. Forget about those over the counter pills and potions, the simple chickpea will sort you out in no time.
Feeling tired and lacking in energy? Try a manganese filled kidney bean energy boost to renew your flagging reserves and strengthen your bones. Make yourself a large bowl of chilli con either carne or vegetables and you are away. With fibre-rich complex carbohydrates that will lower your cholesterol levels and a low glycaemic index, kidney beans may have a serious part to play in keeping Alzheimer’s and dementia at bay. These beans have high levels of vitamin B1 which help both memory and concentration, and of B3, which reduces cataracts.
The main staple of the Mexican people, these beans are particularly low in salt and are good for lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and reducing the risk of heart disease. They are packed full of nutrients, including zinc, manganese, magnesium, calcium, iron and phosphorus. Add to soups and salads and up your fibre and protein levels.
These are the red beans you often find on the menu in Asian restaurants. Remember that odd tasting red bean ice cream? Turns out it’s a lot more healthy than the chocolate option. They act as a diuretic and calm blood pressure levels. Easily digestible and fibre rich, they bind to fats and toxins in your gut, reducing cholesterol levels as they excrete them from your body. They are high in magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, manganese and the B vitamins.
These are the ones that remind me of the herds of wild ponies in the cowboy stories of my childhood favourite reads. Was there anything else those cowboys ate, night after night in the rusty old saucepans on their camp fires?
Diabetic? Or having blood sugar swings? The two-tone brown and white mottled black-eyed peas may be the ones for you. They have a low glycaemic index rating and are high in fibre and protein, as well as in vitamins A and C.
A ‘bean careful’ flag here
Any serious stomach related health issues, please make sure to consult your doctor before going on a bean binge. If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, the gas and bloating triggered by eating pulses may cause you additional discomfort. Soaking them overnight should considerably reduce any uncomfortable side effects.
Easy Bean Stew recipe
Very delicious this one... and takes a matter of minutes to prepare before putting in the oven and pulling out an hour or so later. Perfect for those cold winter nights. No need to pop endless supplements - just get cooking.
2 large red peppers
2 sticks of celery
3 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons of cumin
2 teaspoons of chilli powder
2 teaspoons of turmeric
2 red chillies
5 tablespoons of chopped kale
1 litre of vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped coriander to decorate
Cut up the onion and garlic and fry in olive oil until soft. Mix in the cumin, turmeric and chilli powder. Chop all the vegetables and add them to the pan, cooking gently over a low heat until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place in a covered casserole dish with the 3 different types of beans; add in the kale (and any other vegetables left over in your fridge), top up with half the vegetable stock and cook in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees for an hour and a half, gradually adding the rest of the stock to prevent your stew from drying out. Season further with salt and pepper, add more tomato purée if needed and sprinkle with coriander. For a richer, thicker stew, add coconut milk before serving.
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READ MORE FROM THE ARCHIVES, INCLUDING UP-TO-DATE INFORMATION ON COMPLEMENTARY THERAPIES FROM ALTERNATIVE REMEDIES FOR TRIGEMINAL NEURALGIA TO NATURAL REMEDIES FOR GOUT TO ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS FOR SHINGLES.
Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, founder of one of the UK's leading breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. With over twenty years' experience in holistic health, Sara's digital dose of wellness teaches you to listen to your body, tweak your lifestyle and improve your health.
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