Beans get a bad rap. Most people spend most of their life avoiding them because of their stereotypical symptoms. You know the drill – gas, bloating, discomfort. But with the rise of the education around the importance of fiber, the release of Dan Beutner’s work on Blue Zones, the popularization of the Bean Protocol, and more research being done on them, beans are kind of having a moment. And quite frankly we are here for it! Let’s really dig into some of the main reasons you’ll want to start incorporating more beans into your diet. Our hope is that after reading this you feel compelled to add them into your meals as well!

Beans support your detox pathways to regulate hormones 

Insoluble fiber (think: whole grains, vegetables, psyllium husk) does not dissolve in water and therefore remains intact and undigested as it makes its way down your GI tract. For these reasons, it’s really useful in bulking up your stool and eliminating constipation. On the other hand, soluble fiber (nuts, fruits, seeds) does dissolve in water, creating a gel in your digestive system, so to speak. Now, most foods are a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber, which is wonderful because that means you can reap the health benefits of both! And while beans contain both types of fiber they happen to be incredibly high in soluble fiber – packing in anywhere between 4-6 grams per cup (1).

Okay, this is where the magic happens. Your liver secretes a fatty substance called bile, which binds to fat and is eventually eliminated from your body as a bowel movement. The kicker is that around 95% of your fat-soluble waste actually gets recirculated into your bloodstream, leading to toxins and excess hormones floating around. Cue the beans. The soluble fiber in beans is made up of polysaccharides with long chains that physically capture fat-soluble molecules (aka bile!) and bind them up. Your body then excretes all of this soluble fiber and bile (including environmental toxins, excess hormones, and metabolic waste like bilirubin and cholesterol) into the toilet.

So long story short, the soluble fiber in beans supports your liver in maintaining proper detoxification and balanced hormones! Who needs infrared saunas and expensive detox regiments when you have beans!?

Beans decrease your risk of heart disease

We know that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality in the U.S., responsible for 1 in 4 deaths. We also know that consuming a high-fiber diet has been shown to lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or the “bad,” cholesterol levels which are major contributors to heart disease. A study published in Advances in Nutrition showed that people who consumed the legumes reduced their rates of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and hypertension by as much as 10 percent when compared to people with the lowest intakes (2).

Additionally, if you eat a diet high in fiber you are less likely to have metabolic syndrome, which is a precursor to diabetes. Metabolic syndrome is characterized by excess belly fat, high triglycerides, low beneficial HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. All of these factors increase your chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, and having a stroke. Studies also have shown that high-fiber foods like beans may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation.

Beans are microbiome modulators

As mentioned earlier, beans are a fantastic source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber (like cellulose and lignin) bulks your stool but isn’t utilized or beneficial to your gut bacteria. On the flip side, soluble fiber (like beta glucan) is readily metabolized by your gut bacteria AND it simultaneously increases the abundance and diversity of your gut microbiome (3). In this blog post, we discuss why microbiome diversity is so important. When the bacteria in your gut ferment soluble fiber they create short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) as a byproduct which are known to regenerate your colon cells and maintain a healthy gut barrier. This results in a lower risk of gastrointestinal diseases including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diverticular disease, functional constipation, fecal incontinence, and colorectal cancer (CRC) (4). SCFAs also prevent harmful bacteria from growing in your digestive tract by lowering the pH of your colon. This is because  “bad” bacteria like Clostridium difficile are unable to survive an acidic environment.

Beans regulate your blood sugar and prevent metabolic conditions

We can’t talk about beans without talking about your blood sugar! Very on brand for OO. Beans have a low glycemic index (GI), which basically means that they produce a low rise in blood glucose levels after a meal. This is because beans are a slow burning carb. They provide you a sustained release of energy over time and get converted to glucose veryyy slowly. Not to mention the high fiber content keeps you feeling fuller for longer, which can curb cravings and overeating.

Speaking more globally, there is a clear correlation between developed nations that eat a diet low in beans and their obesity levels. In a meta-analysis of 21 randomized controlled clinical trials, legume consumption was associated with improved weight control and reduced adiposity, aka body fat (5). In particular, women who consumed moderate to high amounts of beans had less body fat and smaller waists than those with low intakes (6).

Knowing all of these metabolic statistics, it’s no surprise that beans can be an effective tool in diabetes treatment and management. Research suggests that a cup of beans or lentils each day may help with insulin resistance and stabilize blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. Beans also contain phytate and phenolic compounds that may function in similar ways to α-glucosidase or α-amylase inhibitor type 2 diabetes medications like acarbose, which is kind of mind-blowing (7). Plants are truly medicine.

Beans can defend against cancer

In addition to fiber, beans are also rich in protease inhibitors, phytic acid, and polyphenols (such as tannins), all of which have antioxidant, antimutagenic, and anticarcinogenic properties and attack free radicals. Quercitin, a particular flavonoid found in beans, was evaluated for its anti-tumor effect and was proven to significantly increase programmed cell death, also known as apoptosis, in cancerous cells of lung cancer patients (8). Phenolic acids found in beans elevate your cells’ defenses against damage that could eventually lead to cancer. Additionally, beans are high in folate, which helps to protect your DNA and keep cancer-promoting genes “turned off”.

Oddly enough, beans contain anthocyanins, which are the pigments responsible for the beautiful, deep purple and blue colors of berries! These, too, induce apoptosis through several different pathways which explains their antitumor properties on a molecular level (9). One study showed that a diet high in beans may lower the risk of estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor breast cancer, an aggressive type of breast cancer for which few risk factors have been determined (10).

Making peace with beans

So if you’ve put beans on the list of foods that don’t love you back yet you desperately want to love them, you can read about the root causes of why they might bloat you and how you can eat them again. It’s never too late to jump on the bean bandwagon and get in on all of these juicy health benefits.

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