Green and red Lentils, black beans, kidney beans, mung beans, chickpeas, adzuki beans, navy beans and so many more...beans and legumes are a wonderful part of a healthy, whole, plant based diet. Beans are used around the world as a staple food in many cultures. They provide variety in the diet, a protein source for vegetarians, and they are delish too.
For vegetarians in particular, adding beans and legumes to meals helps to lower the high glycemic load that other foods like carbohydrates may create.
However we all know the cultural references to...ahem...the not so pleasant side of an inability to digest beans! Some people have difficulty digesting these lovely little guys and so miss out on all the nutrition and variety they provide.
But rest assured! With these few quick tips most people have no problem eating a variety of beans. And for those who don't have difficulty it's still a good idea to implement these tips to optimize digestion.
Tips to Digest Beans:
I suggest using dried beans instead of canned beans in order to avoid extra sodium, additives, and chemicals from cans. It takes a little preparation but can be quite easy once you've developed the habit. It's also cheaper. Dried beans can be found in the bulk section of your grocery store.
If using dried beans store them in an airtight container and be sure to use them within 3-6months. After this period of time many beans become very hard and no amount of cooking will soften them.
Choose the Right Beans:
Some beans and legumes are much more difficult to digest than others. If you're sensitive start with aduki, lentils, mung beans, and peas. Avoid cooking with soybeans - they are the hardest to digest.
Rinse and Soak:
Whether you're using canned or dry beans rinse them before beginning to pick any foreign matter out. For dry beans soak in water overnight (8-12hrs). Place beans in a bowl and cover with water. Discard soak water the next day or use it to water your plants!
Beans and legumes all have different cooking times and water amounts. Once you start cooking add a few strips of kombu or wakame seaweed (this can be found in your health food store). Seaweed helps to break down some components, like phytic acid, that make beans and legumes harder to digest. If you break the seaweed up before adding it to the water it will dissolve and you won't even know it's there. If you'd like to avoid the strong salt flavor you can rinse the seaweed in a small bowl of water before adding it to you beans, soup, or stew.
Another addition is this Ayurvedic/Indian herb. Add a few pinches near the end of cooking beans. You can find it at some grocery stores, Indian food markets, or purchase Asafoetida here.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Near the end of cooking time add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or a citrus like lemon or tomato to further help the breakdown. Remember though - only add near the end or it will make the beans harder!
Sprouting is another way to eat more beans and legumes. Sprouts are usually easier to digest. In the winter and fall sprouting and then steaming those sprouts may be easier for the digestion. Check out my article on sprouting here. I hope these tips help you to enjoy beans and legumes more often!