When we think of so-called “superfoods” we often think of unusual and trendy fodder from exotic lands like goji berries, chia seeds or quinoa. The humble bean is not what springs to mind!

Yet beans are a highly nutritious, readily available and cheap food which are highly beneficial to add to the diet. And if you associate beans with embarrassing flatulence, read on for my top tips on how to avoid this!

What are they?

Beans, along with peas, lentils, chickpeas and soybeans, are forms of legumes. They are edible seeds coming from seed pods that split in half. You might be surprised to know that peanuts are also technically a legume.

There are all sorts of beans out there – cannellini beans, kidney beans, butter beans, black eye beans, borlotti beans, mung beans, fava beans and haricot beans (which baked beans are made from) to name a few!

What’s good about them?

Benefits of beans include –

  • Devoid of saturated fat and cholesterol
  • Excellent source of fibre, in particularly soluble fibre which is known to have a cholesterol-lowering effect
  • Source of high-quality protein (white beans have an amino acid score of 104 for example – only a little under bacon but with none of the harmful effects)
  • Source of many vitamins and minerals including iron, potassium, selenium, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins
  • Low on the glycaemic index
  • Supportive of heart health. One study found eating beans four times a week reduced coronary heart disease by 21%
  • Found to reduce risk of type two diabetes. Dr Jenkins (founder of GI concept) found that daily servings of pulses even reversed type two diabetes in some patients, when combined with a low-fat vegan diet.
  • Considered to be cancer protective due to content of phytic acid, saponins and protease inhibitors. Studies have found significant reduced risk of prostate cancer in men who have a high intake of beans in their diet.


How to buy them

Avoid Heinz-style baked beans as these are chocked full of salt and sugar which cancels out the nutritious benefits. You can buy beans either –

  • Tinned. This is the most common way to buy beans. The advantage is that they are very quick and easy to prepare from tinned as they are pre-cooked – all you need to do is open the tin, drain and rinse, and they are ready to eat – hot or cold.
  • Dried. Another common way to buy beans. The advantage of buying them dried is they are incredibly cheap, and you can control the cooking of them (see below). The disadvantage is that most dried beans require pre-soaking overnight followed by boiling for up to an hour, so a little forward thinking is required. Incidentally, lentils don’t require pre-soaking and are much quicker to cook from dried – around 20 minutes for red lentils.
  • Fresh. This is less common in the UK, however you may find fresh broad beans in the supermarket or farmers’ market when they are in season. Pop them out their pods, and steam or boil for around 10 minutes as you would a vegetable.
  • Frozen. You may find frozen broad beans in the supermarket.


What to do with them

Heinz-style baked beans is not the only way to get your bean intake in, and certainly not the healthiest. However there are loads you can do with beans, they are very easy and versatile. Try some of these ideas –

  • Mix together cooked vegetables, pasta, and beans; and toss in olive oil and seasoning for a super-quick mid-week supper.
  • Make a simple bean salad (recipe here)
  • Make your own home-made healthy ‘baked beans’ (recipe here)
  • Make hummus (recipe here) or bean pates and add to salads and sandwiches
  • Throw into soups for added protein (recipe here)
  • Look up recipes for bean chillies or add to stews or sauces.


How to prepare them

Many people avoid beans as they feel they don’t agree with their digestion which can lead to embarrassing consequences! Often this is because they aren’t prepared the right way.  Here are some tips:

  • If you can, use dried beans rather than the tins of pre-cooked beans, so that you can control how well they are cooked. Just remember to soak them over night, or for a few hours before cooking.
  • When cooking dried beans, bring them to the boil, and boil for a few minutes with the lid off. You will notice a scum appear on the water – take this off with a spoon and discard as it is thought this is where the cause of the flatulence lies! Then simmer until the beans are well cooked.
  • If using tinned beans, always rinse them under cold water before use
  • Buy organic beans, chickpeas and hummus when possible
  • Make your own hummus or bean dishes rather than shop bought where possible. Home-made is less processed and therefore will be better for the digestion.
  • If you aren’t used to eating beans, try introducing them into your diet slowly. If you still find you have problems, you could contact me or another Nutritional Therapist for tailormade advice.