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Legumes top the list as one of my favorite classes of food to eat and cook. Pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, navy beans, cannellini beans, great northern beans, lima beans, speckled butter beans, adzuki beans (aka field peas), garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), black eyed peas, split peas, lentils – you name ‘em, I dig ‘em and can throw down making a big pot of them.   I know it’s not glamorous, but legumes are easy and economical to prepare, filling and flavorful, plus they pack a big nutritional punch.  

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Legumes are typically low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. They also contain beneficial fats and soluble and insoluble fiber. A good source of protein, legumes can be a healthy substitute for meat, which has more fat and cholesterol.”  

Beans are also very good for your heart.   EatingWell reports that “a 19-year analysis of the First National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the nation’s premier health census, found that people who ate beans four or more times a week were 22 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who ate them less than once weekly.”

Legumes are so versatile, it’s easy to work them into your diet.  Use them as the main ingredient in soups and chili, add to casseroles and rice dishes, throw them atop a salad, puree and use in dips and spreads, or simply enjoy a handful of edamame as a healthy snack.  All considered, I most enjoy beans that have been well seasoned and slow cooked  till tender and served with brown rice and made from scratch cornbread.  My Momma regularly included beans in our dinners  growing up and I serve beans a few times a week.  Good ole down home eating.

The down side of legumes, is that they can cause intestinal distress (bloating, cramping and/or gas).  Thankfully, my family does not have this problem, but for those that do, here are some tips from my Momma… and science that can help.

  • Discard soaking water.  Most dried legumes (lentil and black eyed peas excluded) require soaking before cooking. Momma always discarded the soaking water.  I thought it was an extra step to make sure the beans were clean – but there’s more.  As the beans rehydrate, much of the gas causing oligosaccharides leaches out into the water.  Pouring off the soaking water sends up to 80% of the oligosaccharides down the drain. Bye bye toots!  Note: Some of the mineral nutrients will go down the drain as well – but if bean gas is a big problem, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. 
  • Cook the beans well.  Momma would cook her beans for hours.  I slow cook my beans for a good while as well. Making sure the beans are tender begins to break down the starch, aiding digestion and helping to reduce discomfort.
  • Throw in some bay leaves.   Momma always puts a few bay leaves in the pot when she makes beans. I do as well (because Momma did).  In addition to flavor, bay leaves and other spices like cumin or the Mexican herb epazote have anti-gas properties.   
  • Try eating more beans.   When you eat beans regularly, your system can become more efficient digesting them.    

If the above fails:
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Beano contains a natural enzyme that helps digest the complex carbohydrates and reduces the formation of gas.

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Remember – February is National Heart Health Month.  Enjoy more beans to do something good for your heart.

References:  Mayo Clinic, EatingWell.com, WholeFoods Market, Beano

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