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preaching the gospel of the bean

I like legumes.  A few years ago, when I could feel my health falling apart due to stress - and I did not feel able to extract myself from that stress - I switched to a beanier and more vegetarian diet.  It seemed to stave off disaster, health-wise.  After the stress level dropped (whew!), I continued with a similar diet.  And it was seen to be good.  I'm still more out of shape than I'd like, I still go on sugar binges, but my body's more resilient about handling the bad stuff. 

They're a good food:  they're cheap, easier on the environment than cows, and they have well-documented health benefits.  So, I wonder, why aren't legumes more popular?  Is it just the gas thing?

Legumes contain certain carbohydrates such as raffinose and stachyose that we single-stomach folk are not well-equipped to digest.  So yes, this can be a source of amusement and/or embarrassment.  Except...I haven't had much trouble with this lately.  Why?  I can't find anything that says we can become well-equipped to digest legumes, short of taking Beano.  But one must consider that there are entire countries eating legumes daily...yet their culture doesn't revolve around episodes of gastric distress.  

My take is that there are a couple of things going on here.  First, we can't become well-equipped to digest legumes, but we can become better-equipped.  The body's cocktail of digestive enzymes adjusts to one's standard diet.  A person who eats beans daily is a bit more able to digest them than a person who eats them only in the occasional Mexican-style TV dinner.  Second, learning how to prepare beans helps.  Lately I've been using the boil&soak method (boil in unsalted water for 2-5 minutes, then turn heat off and let sit covered for at least an hour, then drain and continue cooking with a fresh batch of water.  There are many tasty spices that are supposed to help ease the digestion of beans, too. 

My recommendation would be to introduce beans into the diet gradually, in small amounts initially but every day or nearly every day, then increase the amount after a week or two.  Don't overdo; certainly there is such a thing as too many beans.   

My personal experience has led me to feel that if I eat a mostly-vegetarian diet (meat/poultry/fish a couple of times a week, or minimally as a flavoring rather than as the center of the diet), then I am more alert and I am calmer.  Blood pressure's lower.  I'm not quite as likely to desire a sugar binge.  And I am far less likely to experience flashes of anger/rage - these seem to be triggered either by meat or by sugar, or both...could be allergy.  

The more legumes I eat, the more I do desire dairy.  There might be something to this, as yogurt is purported to aid in the digestion of legumes.  Also, my body feels like I've had more complete nutrition (I don't know how else to describe that) when the bean-based diet also contains a nut-seed-berry mix.  Nut-seed-berry (with a little chocolate) has become a staple breakfast.

Some of the positive things saidy about legumes:
Legumes are a slow-burn food - low glycemic index.  They stick with you and don't spike your blood sugar the way some things can.
They're loaded with fiber, which the American diet routinely lacks.
They can prevent metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance, pre-diabetes).
They can help prevent some kinds of cancer, and help boost the immune system.
They're a good source of fat-free protein, as well as vitamins, and minerals such as copper (which helps you utilize iron).
They may reduce cholesterol levels, and therefore protect against heart disease. 
There are studies to back those claims - I haven't read enough to know which claims are iron-clad, though.

So there are also sites that promote low-carb and no-carb lifestyles.  And I don't mean Atkins - some people argue that a low-carb diet can reduce cancer risks and reverse diabetes - which seems in contradiction with the statements above.  The argument is that we did not evolve eating grains and legumes - that came later.  Which is true, but...that doesn't mean beans are inherently worse.  It means we originally lacked the tool (cooking) to make them useful. 

There's this mistake people make when using the evolution argument:  evolution takes a Brownian-motion path toward a local optimal; it does not - as some assume - take a conscious path toward the global optimal.  In other words, we do well eating meat, but that doesn't mean we can't do better eating beans.

Another common mistake is assuming dichotomy:  assuming that a thing either good or it is bad.  Veggies have lots of good things in them that we need - vitamin C to prevent scurvy, for example.  But some veggies produce their own natural pesticides, some of which might be carcinogenic.  

It is true that beans are generally toxic when raw.  There are other foods for which this is true.  And don't get me started on the processing needed to make cassava safe - and yet it's a staple food in some parts of the world. 

So, what's the answer?  Well, as with most things, there is no one right answer for everyone.  You can start with existing information, but the experiments to prove or disprove it must be on yourself.  People have a lot of little individual differences, and a generic scientific study might not be able to pick up on how those impact the benefits of a particular diet - it can only make the generalizations.  But if one is observant, diligent, and a bit lucky, it is possible to compile a personal list of dietary benefits and drawbacks.
Friending welcome, but lurking is fine too.

Constructive criticism is also welcome - whatever it is, trust me, I've heard worse.



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