Dr Libby on cannellini beans
They’re cost-effective and nourishing, says Dr Libby.
You may think it’s hard to generate excitement about beans, but there is something so comforting about slow-cooked bean dishes as the weather gets cooler. Homemade baked beans will hit the spot for breakfast right now, I will share my recipe for homemade breakfast beans in next week’s Bite. The beans I’m talking about here are what botanists actually refer to as legumes. Some people call them "pulses". There are many types, including adzuki beans, black beans, black eyed peas, broad beans (fava beans), garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas), kidney beans, lentils, mung beans, navy beans, and cannellini beans. Cannellini beans are large white beans with a firm texture. They are frequently used in Italian cooking and are often referred to as the white kidney bean.
Legumes are a terrific and nutrient-rich food. They are a good vegetarian source of protein. They also provide plenty of soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre attracts water and forms a gel, which slows down your digestive response—meaning the emptying of your stomach is delayed and you feel fuller for longer. Slower stomach emptying may also improve the management of blood glucose levels and have a beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity, important for the prevention of diabetes. Insoluble fibre is considered gut friendly fibre because it has a laxative effect and adds bulk to the diet, helping prevent constipation. It doesn’t dissolve in water, so it passes through the gastrointestinal tract relatively intact, increasing the speed that food and waste pass through your gut. Insoluble fibre is mainly found in whole grains and vegetables.
When you look at international cuisines, most feature a bean dish. From falafel to bean stews or dips, they are an incredibly cost-effective and nourishing option. Many people avoid eating beans or legumes because of their potential gaseous after-effects. One of the reasons some of us don’t digest them effectively is that our digestive enzymes can’t break down the fibre and short chains of sugar molecules known as oligosaccharides. However, the billions of bacteria living in the gut digest them, often creating gas in the process. One way of decreasing the indigestible oligosaccharides is to soak the beans. Soak the dry beans for between 10-20 hours in a few litres of water, pour off the soaking water, rinse and add clean water before cooking.
If you are going to incorporate beans or legumes into your diet start slowly. Let your body get used to the additional fibre by having a small serving once or twice a week. Then gradually increase your intake, incorporating them more frequently if that appeals. Also worth mentioning is that there may be some foods that don’t serve you if you have digestive health challenges such as irritable bowel syndrome. Beans typically aren’t tolerated well by people with compromised digestion, so take note of whether or not they serve you.
Try an African-style bean dish using warming spices and coconut. White beans also make a delicious, high-fibre dip with fresh herbs, or add them to your favourite mince dish to make the meat go further. If you don’t have time to soak dried beans you can buy them in cans or jars.