Can Legumes Be Bad For You? [Benefits For Your Body]

Can Legumes Be Bad For You

Legumes are little powerhouses of nutrients in a tiny little package.  They provide us with a tremendous source of fiber and protein, and antioxidants, protecting us from disease and illness.

But are Legumes perfect?

They can be bad for you if you’re one for eating raw foods. Let me explain. They contain lectins, which are compounds that have been known to cause gastrointestinal upsets.  Lectins are most likely to affect you if you eat them raw or undercooked. 

So to make sure they’re actually good for you and you get their full nutritional benefits then please cook them thoroughly. 

We try not to judge, but why would anyone eat a raw bean anyway?

Active lectins have been known to cause a host of side effects like severe abdominal cramps, vomiting, nausea, and bloat. Eeeks.

Lectins are also “antinutrients”, a type of protein that binds to carbohydrates.  They earn the title by blocking the absorption of nutrients and are found in many plant-based foods.

The nutrients in question can include calcium, iron, zinc, and phosphorus.  They are compounds found in plants designed to protect the plant’s immune system from bacterial infections and act as a natural insecticide.

Fortunately, lectins are easy to deactivate.  Cooking legumes in high heat or a pressure cooker will effectively deactivate lectins.

In addition, lectins are water-soluble, so pre-soaking them will have the same effect.  Legumes do best when soaked for at least four hours, ideally overnight.

After soaking, drain the water and cook them in fresh water.  In addition, boiling beans for ten minutes will effectively remove all lectins.

Anyone that loves to eat beans will know that cooking them for ten minutes is not nearly enough.

Most beans, even when pre-soaked, have to be boiled for more than 30 minutes to get them nice and tender.

The highest lectin levels are found in soybeans and kidney beans.  Cooking them thoroughly and making them edible have been shown to eliminate lectin activity.

Also, lectins are not all bad.  They have various health benefits, acting as antioxidants and protecting our cells from damage from free radicals.

They have a low GI (Glycemic Index), making them slow to digest and preventing sharp blood sugar rises.

Lectins have also been rich in B vitamins, fiber, protein, and various minerals.

They have been credited with lowering rates of cardiovascular illness, type-2 diabetes, and mental health.

Why Legumes Are Not Good For You?

Why Legumes Are Not Good For You

The only time legumes aren’t good for you is when you eat them raw.

When uncooked, the lectins and phytic acid work together to block your body’s absorption of nutrients and cause stomach problems.

Phytic acid, or phytate, is the antinutrient found in plant seeds. They hinder the absorption of nutrients like calcium, zinc, phosphorus, and iron.

All edible seeds like nuts, legumes, and grain contain phytic acid.  They primarily impair the absorption of iron and zinc.

Lectins are a compound found in just about all animals, plants, and microbes.

They have been known to cause major gastrointestinal upsets when they are in active form.

Fortunately, dealing with phytic acid and lectins is an easy fix.  Lectins are heat sensitive, and cooking them will deactivate them.

Soaking them has the same effect as they are water-soluble.  Phytic acid can also be reduced by soaking, sprouting, or fermentation.

To sprout (or germinate) a legume:

  • Rinse the seeds to remove dust and grime
  • Soak seeds for 2 to 12 hours
  • Rinse thoroughly and drain
  • Place the seeds in a sprouter, avoiding direct sunlight
  • Rinse and drain two to four times

Sprouting has been known to reduce the levels of phytic acid by 37% to 81%.

Fermentation has been used for thousands of years to preserve food.  It is a process where microorganisms like bacteria and yeast start digesting carbohydrates.

Examples of fermented foods include yogurt, cacao, wine, beer, cheese, soy sauce, and sourdough bread.  The fermentation process for sourdough bread reduces antinutrients in grains much more than yeast fermentation in conventional bread.

Fermenting beans that are pre-soaked has been shown to result in a 88% reduction of phytic acid.

Are Baked Beans Bad For You?

Are Baked Beans Bad For You

No! Despite their high sugar and sodium content, in addition to additives like coloring and corn starch, the nutritional value of beans far outweighs the bad.

First, let’s talk about the bad.  Canned beans typically contain sweeteners such as sugar or maple syrup.

A ½ can of baked beans have an average of three teaspoons of sugar, roughly equivalent to 12 grams, or 20% of the RDI (recommended daily intake).

Some manufacturers have started producing low-sugar beans in a can.  Some brands sold in Europe only use stevia – a natural sweetener with zero calories.

In addition, they tend to have a high sodium content to give the sauce taste.  A ½ cup serving of beans contains 523 grams of sodium (19% of the RDI).

Some brands offer low-sodium alternatives.  It is a well-known fact that beans make you have flatulence problems.

Or if you want to call it what it is, you’re going to fart. A lot.  While potentially embarrassing, this is an entirely normal part of your body’s way of absorbing nutrients.

Beans are full of dietary fiber, which our bloodstream cannot absorb. Hence, they move from your stomach, where they land, to your large intestine, otherwise known as your colon.

There, to their horror, they encounter the 100,000 trillion hungry microorganisms called probiotics in your gut.

These are the good guys responsible for your immune system and digestive health.

These little microbial good guys chomp on the fiber and start a fermentation process.  Out goes the gas! It’s normal. Embarrassing, but expected.

Finally, canned baked beans have additives.

Anything canned will probably have many preservatives like corn starch and coloring that may not be organic.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, though.

The “beans” in baked beans commonly refer to navy beans or other types of common beans.

And talk about a superfood! Per caloric content, navy beans deliver more protein per calorie than the thickest of all meat cuts.

Though nutritional information might vary by the brand, the USDA has provided the following nutritional value per ½ cup of baked beans (about 130g):

  • Calories:119
  • Fat: 0.5g
  • Carbohydrates: 27g
  • Fiber: 5g
  • Protein: 6g
  • Sodium: 19%. (This is high but can be reduced by washing beans before consumption)
  • Potassium: 6% of RDI (Recommended Daily Intake)
  • Iron: 8% RDI
  • Magnesium: 8% RDI
  • Zinc: 26% RDI
  • Copper: 20% RDI
  • Vitamin B6: 6% RDI
  • Selenium: 11% RDI

Selenium is not easily found in other vegetables or legumes but is found in navy beans.

A powerful antioxidant, selenium has been credited with:

  • Preventing cell damage from free radicals
  • Reduce the risk of cancers by reducing DNA damage
  • Protect against heart disease by lowering inflammation
  • Help with mental health by decreasing oxidative stress
  • Improve thyroid health

What Do Baked Beans Do To Your Body?

What Do Baked Beans Do To Your Body

They give you tremendous energy, heal and develop your muscles and tissue, deliver tons of nutrients, and, unfortunately, give you gas!

Firstly, the bad news.  Beans will give you gas. toot toot!

That’s okay; it’s your body’s normal reaction to your gut bacteria fermenting the fiber.  It’s potentially embarrassing but a completely normal response to you feeding your healthy gut bacteria.

Now the good news.  Beans are one of the essential sources of protein.  Per caloric content, they deliver more protein than red meat.

Protein is a necessary compound that helps your body heal and develop.  They are vital to the health of your organ and tissues.  In addition, beans have a low GI (Glycemic Index).

Low GI foods mean that they don’t affect blood sugar levels as much as high GI foods. High GI foods cause a quick spike in energy, often followed by a crash.

In comparison, low GI foods have slow-release energy that maintains your blood sugar levels and provides you with steady and constant energy over a more extended period.

Beans deliver many nutrients like iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, and vitamin B6 to seal the deal.

Can You Eat Beans Right Out Of A Can?

Can You Eat Beans Right Out Of A Can

Sure. Folks have been eating unheated canned beans forever.

However, the high sodium content might make it healthier to rinse them out.

Canned beans are already cooked.

However, the sauce that they are cooked in might be a tad problematic. It contains heaps of salt, 19% of the recommended daily intake, to be exact.

Also, beans contain a sugar called oligosaccharides.  They’re one of the culprits that give you gas.

In addition, if you are going to eat beans out of a can, look for cans that don’t contain BPA-liners.

BPA stands for bisphenol A, an industrial chemical used in the manufacturing of plastics and resins.

The problem with BPA is that it is water-soluble and will break down when in contact with liquids.

It has been known that BPA can cause reproductive complications, asthma, metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease, and type-2 diabetes.

BPA is commonly found in:

  • Plastic bottles or containers
  • Canned food
  • Plastic food packaging
  • Electronics
  • Eyeglasses

In recent years, most products have been touted as “BPA-free” and are not hard to come by.

Conclusion

Nothing in this world is perfect, and this applies to legumes.

However, the minor inconveniences like heating or soaking beans are nothing compared to the colossal health benefits.

Enjoy them, and best of health to you!

Chris Watson

I'm the founder of EatForLonger.Com. I'm an enthusiast researching and sharing foodstuff and lifestyle based insights. Simple food based concepts for optimising your Healthspan, nutrition and all-round well-being. I hope it inspires you to make tiny changes and add some life to your years. Read more About Me here

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