August 2015 Newsletter: Are you full of beans?

Poor man's meat is now rich man's meat

I am not sure who first referred to beans as the “poor man's meat,” but that idea has certainly evolved over the years. Beans, a member of the legume family, are one of the most nutritious, abundant, and environmentally friendly ways to grow and eat vegetarian, protein- and fiber-rich foods.

You will find some easy recipes below, but first, let's look at some facts about beans and legumes:

1. Beans and legumes are not mutually exclusive. A legume is simply a plant with a fruit that grows in the form of a pod, though not all plants with pods are legumes. Classic legumes include green peas, green beans, lentils, or peanuts. Typically, the pods are not eaten, but some plants like green beans are an exception. A bean is a seed of a certain variety of plant species, but these days we refer to the whole plant as a “bean.” Classic beans include green beans, lima beans, soybeans, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, or black-eyed peas. Think of legumes as “automobiles,” and beans as “trucks.” All trucks (beans) are automobiles (legumes), but not all automobiles are trucks. In other words, all beans are legumes, but not all legumes are beans.

2. Like grains and pseudo-grains (such as quinoa, amaranth, and kasha), legumes contain phytic acid. Phytic acid binds to nutrients in food and may prevent nutrient absorption in the body. However, this effect on the body depends on how much legumes you eat, how you cook them, and how balanced your diet is. In many countries where grains and legumes are staple food, people follow traditional cooking methods that help reduce phytic acid content. Soaking dry beans is a good first step; it helps reduce some of the phytic acid but doesn’t completely eliminate it. Sprouting legumes is the most effective method for reducing their phytic acid content by 25 to 75 percent. Fermentation is another.

3. In addition to containing phytic acid, legumes are FODMAPS, meaning that they contain a type of carbohydrate called galaco-ligosaccharides, which could cause unpleasant digestive problems for some people, especially people who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or similar digestive problems. This isn’t necessarily a reason to avoid eating legumes (not any more than you would avoid eating other FODMAPS foods like onions or mushrooms if you aren’t sensitive to them), but it’s certainly a concern for someone with pre-existing digestive troubles.

4. Anyone trying to cut back on carbohydrates should consider the relatively high carbohydrate content of many beans and legumes. They are a good vegetarian protein and a good source of micronutrients, but half a cup of black beans, for example, has almost triple the amount of carbohydrates (24 g) than proteins (9 g). While there isn’t anything wrong with including “safe starches” (i.e., complex carbohydrates) in your diet, eating beans alone as a staple source of protein will quickly add on the carbohydrate calories and deliver many more carbohydrates than your body may need. In the long term, a high level of bean consumption can contribute to weight gain and metabolic imbalances like insulin resistance. Just eat beans in moderation, and you will be fine!

Here are some quick and easy ways to add beans and legumes to your diet. Enjoy them cold or warm! Servings are for 2-3 people.

  1. Black bean spread:

    1. Take 1 can of low-salt black beans, rinsed and drained. Place in a food processor or mini chopper. Add 1 large crushed clove garlic, 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, ½ cup cilantro leaves, 1 tsp cummin seed powder, ¼ tsp paprika (optional), and 1 tbsp olive oil. Blend to as smooth a paste as you want.

    2. Spread 2-3 tbsp of the paste on a wrap, and top with mixed greens, chopped cherry tomatoes, and half an avocado. If you enjoy dairy, crumbled feta or goat cheese tastes great in the wrap, too.

  2. Summer bean salad: a great accompaniment to a meal or as a complete meal in itself:

    1. In a large bowl, mix 1 can black/pinto beans, 1 cup corn (thawed or fresh corn off the cob), 1 small red/green/yellow pepper diced, 1 jalapeno with seeds removed and finely diced, ½ cup pumpkin or sunflower seeds dry roasted and unsalted, and 2-3 tbsp grated parmesan or crumbled feta (optional).

    2. Add 2 chopped green scallions and ½ cup fresh parsely or cilantro before serving.

    3. Works well in a wrap or on a bed of hearty whole grains like barley, spelt, farro, or millet or with a vegetarian protein (grilled tofu, seitan) or non-vegetarian protein (shellfish, grilled chicken).

  3. Winter bean chili (pinto or kidney beans work great!): hearty and filling:

    1. In a heavy pot, mix 1 can black beans/kidney beans/navy beans (unsalted or rinse well if salted), 1 14-oz can diced/crushed tomatoes, half a white onion diced, 1 small green or red pepper diced, 3-5 garlic cloves crushed, 1 tsp paprika (preferably smoked), 2 tsp oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.

    2. Bring to a boil; then simmer for 20-30 minutes. Variation: If time permits, sautee the onions and garlic first with 1 tbsp olive oil on med-high flame for 4-5 minutes. Then add the pepper, and stir for 1-2 minutes. Finally, add rest of ingredients, bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

    3. Eat by itself or with a wholesome grain like millet or barley [add link to website page on grains]. Top with scallion and avocado for a boost of flavor and nutrition.

  4. Chickpeas with spinach/kale:

    1. Ingredients: 1 can chickpeas (unsalted or rinse well if salted), 6-8 oz baby spinach or baby kale chopped, 3-4 cloves garlic diced, 2 tbsp roasted red pepper chopped fine (optional), ½ fresh tomato chopped (optional), 2 tbsp lemon juice (optional)and salt and pepper to taste.

    2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok or medium to large pan on medium heat. Add the garlic, and stir for 1-2 minutes until slightly browned. Add spinach/kale, and stir until just wilted. Removed from flame, and add chickpeas with salt and pepper to taste. (I also use garam masala in this one.)

    3. For nutrition and more flavors, add roasted red pepper and/or diced fresh tomato when you add the chickpeas. Top with 2 tbsp lemon juice for that extra punch.

    4. Goes well with quinoa or with a whole wheat wrap/roti.

  5. French lentil soup: these lentils have a unique flavor and cook quite fast:

    1. Ingredients: 1 cup dry lentils, 1 bay leaf, 2-3 cloves garlic crushed, ½ cup onion chopped, 1 cup diced/crushed tomatoes from a can, 2 tsp dry thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.

    2. Place lentils, bay leaf, and 2 cups water (or veggie stock – put link to my stock recipe) in a pot, and bring to a boil. While water is coming to a boil, chop up the onion and tomatoes (if using fresh tomato), and crush the garlic. Add to lentils when they come to a boil. Let the mixture simmer for 10-12 minutes. (Add some chopped kale or spinach at this point to bulk up fiber and overall nutrition.) Add thyme, and simmer for another 3-5 mins. Taste for doneness. Can be eaten cold or warm.

Check out some lentil and bean recipes on my website:


  1. Legumes & Beans, Whats the difference? Daily Health Lesson, June 2011.

  2. Legumes. Wikipedia

  3. Phytic Acid 101: Everything you need to know. Authority Nutrition

  4. Low FODMAP Diet. Shepherd Works.