What's wrong with beans?
First and foremost: Beans are really hard to digest. Unlike many foods which contain mostly one of the three macro-nutrients (Fats, Carbs, Protein), beans are balanced, containing a fair amount of each. To complicate things, the carbohydrate in beans is in part in the form of starch.
Carbohydrates take less than an hour to digest alone, yet proteins and fats take multiple hours to digest, even when eaten alone. Macro-nutrients each require different digestive enzymes. Proteins mostly require acid enzymes, and carbohydrates and fats mostly require alkaline enzymes.
What happens when alkaline enzymes and acid enzymes meet in the stomach?
It is an established scientific fact that the stomach must secrete pepsin to digest globular proteins. Pepsin can function only in a highly acidic medium, which must be maintained for several hours.
Ptyalin and other alkaline juices are required to digest starchy foods such as bread.
The typical sandwich requires both alkaline and acidic enzymes for digestion. Bread is starchy, and meats and nut-butters are high in globular protein.
Acid and alkaline juices are secreted simultaneously in response to the incoming protein and starch, promptly neutralizing one another and leaving a weak, watery solution in the stomach. Proteins putrefy and starches/carbohydrates ferment.
This putrefaction and fermentation is one of the primary causes of disease. It leads to gas, acid reflux, bloating, constipation, and so on.
Many 'allergies' are a direct result of improper food combinations. The bloodstream gathers toxins from the putrefied, fermented mess as it passes through the intestines, and these toxins in turn cause hives, headaches, nausea and other symptoms commonly branded as allergies.
When you immobilize your stomach and impair digestive functions by consuming foods in indiscriminate combination, the bacteria in your colon multiply readily. They get the nutrients and thrive; you get the wastes and suffer.
The average American male today carries about five pounds of undigested, putrefied red meat in his gut. Leave five pounds of meat in a dark, warm, moist place for a few days and see for yourself the results of putrefaction.
In order to protect itself from the toxic irritation of improperly combined meals, the colon secretes large quantities of mucus to entrap toxic particles before they damage the colon's lining. When this occurs three times a day the colon becomes lined with a constant thick mucal lining. This lining slowly seeps toxins into the rest of the body. Worse yet, all this undigested food, mucus and gas expands parts of the colon unnaturally. We call this diverticulitis (stretched out pockets of colon where food and bacteria remain for long periods of time). Diverticulitis can then lead to mega-colon, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and/or colon cancer.
Aren't beans one of the most efficient sources of protein?
"I would have to eat almost one and a half gallons of chopped watercress in order to get the protein I receive from ½ a cup of black beans. Isn't it more logical to have a diet that includes beans?"
It is absolutely true that it would take an absurd amount of watercress to get the same amount of protein from watercress as it would from beans (assuming the given person in question is capable of digesting much of the protein within beans).
However, most Americans have serious digestive problems from eating so much toxic garbage (aspartame, corn syrup, agave nectar, splenda, MSG, colorings, artificial flavorings, hydrogenated oils, canola oil, and so on and so forth). These digestive problems make eating beans tantamount to disaster.
A weak digestion can not effectively pull apart those dense globular proteins. "Dense proteins" or "globular proteins" are the kind found in meat, dairy, eggs, beans/legumes, nuts, seeds and grains. Proteins in these foods are bound up balls of amino acids that are terribly hard to pull apart.
Dense proteins have to be broken into amino acids and then rebuilt into proteins again in the body. When you consume amino acids that are not bound into proteins then you absorb them immediately and easily. The difference this makes for people with a weak digestion, or for athletes trying to build muscle is tremendous.
Amino acids found in fruits and vegetables are not dense, bound or globular. Rather, they are readily assimilated by the body.
Many athletes are including more raw food because of the enhanced recovery time and the quicker muscle building. There are athletes who eat nothing but fruits and vegetables and are incredibly strong and healthy.
Anyone with acid reflux, candida, weight issues, high toxicity exposure (like a smoker), IBS, diverticulitis or any colon complications should not be eating beans until healed. Healing fully from one of those conditions can take many years depending on treatment used and severity of the condition.
I've met few people in my travels who don't have at least one digestive problem. Even the Paleo diet does not recommend eating beans.
To understand why beans are so hard on the digestive system it is important to know about how long it takes to digest various food types.
Fat alone takes the longest of mono-form foods (only oils are 100% fat). (More about oils on my Food Pyramid page.)
Complex foods that contain protein, fats and starches take the longest (beans).
Average digestion times for a very healthy digestive system (multiply up to 4x for unhealthy digestive systems):
Beans take six hours.
Meats, diary, nuts, avocados, seeds and eggs take around four hours.
Vegetables and grains take around two hours.
Most fruits take about one hour.
Melons take around twenty minutes.
The above is altered by the volume of food consumed.
It's very important to let your stomach be empty between meals.
Problems that can arise by eating when your stomach already has food in it: gas, acid reflux, lack of nutrient absorption, stomach cramping, inability to lose weight, inability to gain muscle, hormonal imbalance and more.
If you mix fruit and beans at the same meal then the entire meal will take six hours or more to digest and will likely give your body a very hard time.
Someone with stomach ulcers, IBS, severe candida, etc, should not be mixing any of the above food groups in general, except with a few things like lemons and lettuce which can be added to almost anything safely.
Getting Beauty Sleep: Don't Eat Close To Bedtime
If you're not done digesting when you go to bed you won't sleep well. Personally I get circles under my eyes if I am not done digesting before I go to sleep. Hormones that replenish our bodies, burn fat, repair muscle, etc, do not release efficiently when insulin is present. Insulin continues to be present until we've finished digesting our food.
When we eat before bed we digest food instead of healing. This results in fatigue, sore muscles (that didn't recover/heal), aching joints, and so forth.
A very large portion of people never get good sleep and never detoxify their bodies because they eat heavy meals in the morning and in the evening. You will not detoxify your cells or get good sleep while digesting globular proteins found in beans, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy and meat. Because beans take so long to digest, this means they should then optimally be eaten six or more hours before going to sleep. And, because eating something like fruit while the beans are digesting would cause fermentation, gas, and other problems, nothing then should be eaten until bed.
This makes beans seem rather impractical doesn't it? Eat beans at noon, and then eat nothing for the rest of the day. If you can do that, then sure, beans have an almost decent amount of nutrition for their amount of calories.
If someone really needs some more calories because they are absolutely too busy to eat enough vegetables then I'd recommend boiled amaranth eaten as a mono-meal, or soaked chia seeds added to dips, smoothies or wraps. If you have a dehydrator, then you can soak chia seeds, put them in at 105 degrees overnight and you've got awesome healthful crackers with a great Omega-3 to 6 ratio, plenty of iron, and calcium, healthy fat and protein. (Visit my Appliance Recommendation Page to see which dehydrator I recommend.)
Carrot juice is a great source of calories on a detoxifying raw vegan diet. One measuring cup of carrot juice provides 100 calories, as well as 17% of all the nutrition needed for the entire day (including amino acids). That one cup of carrot juice also provides more than a day's supply of vitamin A, a powerful and important antioxidant. (Visit my Appliance Recommendation Page to see which juicers I recommend.)
While it is in season, raw organic corn on the cob can be eaten as a calorie source. One ear of corn will usually provide 80 to 120 calories. Corn should only be consumed organic and in season as otherwise it is almost always GMO and/or refined into an unnatural substance.
Of course, virtually any fruit can be consumed for calories.
Why am I talking about sources of calories? Because that is what beans are. We have stored beans, nuts, seeds and grains for thousands of years because they weren't as perishable as fruits and vegetables. They allowed us the bare needs for survival through winter, famine and failed crops.
"Staple foods" are just foods that we can store easily and consume for calories so that we don't die in extreme conditions. Unfortunately, most "staple foods" consumed in excess on a daily basis cause disease. Too many potatoes will cause constipation, too many beans can cause gastritis, too much meat can cause an array of cardiovascular problems, too much grain (especially white rice and wheat) can result in bacterial problems.
When it comes to high-calorie foods it is best that we rotate sources. If you feel that you should consume some beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and so forth, that's fine. What is important is that these foods are not consumed in high volume or too frequently. I suggest a single nut a day, a tablespoon of seeds per day, and if you choose to include beans or lentils, then consume them once a week to once a month.
Who Can Eat Beans Healthfully?
Beans are great for people with absolutely no digestive problems who are very active.
People who are out and about all day along (breathing in fresh air), on their feet, and don't eat any processed foods whatsoever can eat beans daily if they like.
Many traditional cultures knew to soak their beans thoroughly and rinse them several times to remove all the enzyme inhibitors (which are present in all seeds to prevent them from spoiling before it is time to sprout). Enzyme inhibitors inhibit digestion.
If you adopt this process of soaking the beans, lead an active lifestyle and following the practices listed in the next section, you can be someone who can eat beans healthfully.
How To Eat Beans Without Gas
Beans are notorious for giving people gas. After reading the above, now you know why. In order to enjoy beans without gas (or other unfortunate side effects), you must do several things:
Eat beans at least six hours before going to sleep.
Eat beans on an empty stomach (after any previous meals have digested).
Do not eat any other foods for at least six hours after eating beans. (Assuming you're consuming two or more measuring cups of cooked beans. The wait-time in hours can be less with small servings of beans.)
Soak dry beans for two days before cooking. Soak beans in drinking water, rinse thoroughly after 24 hours, soak in fresh water for another day and rinse thoroughly again before consumption.
Cook beans thoroughly, so that they are quite mushy.
Do not cook with salt, as this will inhibit the breakdown process and the beans will never become mushy.
Why Have We Been Told That Beans Are Healthy?
There is this myth that doesn't want to die... This myth that we must need lots of protein to be healthy. This idea has people looking for concentrated sources of protein like beans, nuts and seeds. Dr. Tel, and many others, are actually now putting together evidence that a high-protein diet is part of the reasons why disease is on the rise. For more information on that, watch the videos on this page.
The other reason the health benefits of beans are touted is because many traditional cultures, such as Native Americans, ate a lot of beans. They did this for survival through drought and blizzards, not because beans are some magical food.
Interesting Notes On Digestion & Enzymes
Proteases are enzymes that digest proteins. Examples of proteases that are used in the human body include Pepsin (an enzyme in the stomach) and Trypsin (an enzyme in the small intestine) which digest proteins into amino acids, or polypeptide chains composed of amino acids.
Casein (a protein in milk which makes up about 80% of the protein in cow's milk and 40% of the protein in human milk) is 4.6 (on the pH scale), for example.
Digesting dense globular proteins requires pepsin enzyme production in the stomach which requires a very acidic envirnment over many hours for full assimilation.
Digesting Carbohydrates & Starch
Alpha-amylase enzyme facilitates digestion of amylose and amylopectin, two types of carbohydrate. Amylose and amylopectin are starches, or polysaccharides, consisting of thousands of chemically-joined glucose (sugar) molecules that must be disassembled into single glucose particles in order to be used by body tissues. The initial activity of salivary amylase is limited to the time food spends in the oral cavity.
Amylase is active at a relatively neutral pH, around 6 on the pH scale.
Ptyalin is an alkaline enzyme used to digest starch.
Lipase enzymes are the kind that digest fat. The lipase enzyme created by the pancreas is alkaline, although there are also some forms of lipase that are acidic.
Facts About Food
Average fruit: 5% calories from protein (as amino acids), 5% calories from fat
Average vegetable: 20% calories from protein (as amino acids), 10% calories from fat
Some fruits that are far away from the average:
Pomegrantates: 11.8% from fat, 6.8 from protein
Avocados: 77.3% from fat, 3.9% from protein
Olives: 88.1% from fat, 2.4% from protein
Apples: 2.7% from fat, 1.7% from protein
Pineapple: 2% from fat, 3.8% from protein
Cucumber: 5.9% from fat, 10.3% from protein
Zucchini: 15.7% from fat, 17.4% from protein
Mulberries: 7.5% from fat, 11.1% from protein
Kiwano Melon: 24% from fat, 13.6% from protein
Some vegetables that are far away from the average:
Cabbage: 3.3% from fat, 12.5% from protein
(Cabbage juice is partly so great for stomach ulcers because the low fat and protein is easy on a distressed stomach.)
Watercress: 7.6 from fat, 50.7% from protein
Spinach: 14.1% from fat, 30.1% from protein
Beet Greens: 5% from fat, 24.4% from protein
Potato: 1% from fat, 7.3% from protein
Alfalfa Sprouts: 25.1% from protein, 42.3% from protein
Fresh Rosemary: 37.5% from fat, 6.2% from protein
The above examples are far from average in either fat or protein or both. However, most fruits and vegetables we commonly find at grocery stores land within 3% of the average. By combining a healthy mix of fruits and vegetables, you can get enough fat and enough protein without any other foods.
I have compiled the nutritional information from the USDA on over one hundred different produce items in comparison charts that compare things by their type. (Fresh herbs is one chart, cruciferous vegetables another chart, root vegetables another, and so on.) It is way more information than one can simply memorize, but I can assure you that you can get 40% calories from fat and 25% from protein on a diet that is 100% raw fruits and vegetables if you so desired and get all of your nutritional requirements met. If you are interested in getting a copy of these charts they are available in my book Vitamin Confusion Solution.
If you're really convinced you must eat more protein, you can get extra amino acids from sprouts, spinach, watercress and kale. One can even emphasize protein-rich fruits such as mulberries (available dried and raw from Nutiva's Naturals), zucchini (a great base for a raw hummus), cucumber and so on. However, it is unlikely that you need to emphasize protein, as I explain in my article all about protein.
Beans aren't needed for their protein content on a vegetarian, vegan or raw vegan diet. In fact, I've had clients whose main issues stemmed from over-consumption of beans.
Historically beans were very valuable as a food source because they could be kept for times of drought or other hardship. Today, living in a world with wide distribution of fruits and vegetables, we don't have the need for beans anymore. (For some, in food deserts, beans may still be a great food option when fruits and vegetables are not available.)
The majority of Americans are suffering from some gastric distress, and for these people I don't recommend eating beans at all. It worsens conditions such as constipation, IBS, candida, diverticulitis, stomach ulcers, colon cancer and colitis. If you have symptoms such as gas, abdominal pain, acid reflux, bloody stool, or painful bowel movements then you should not be eating beans.
All of that said, beans are still a heck of a lot healthier than breads, pizza, soda, candies, aspartame, canola oil, conventional meats and dairy products, and an array of processed foods. If you have to choose between a typical pizza and a plate of lentils, especially if this is a conventional pizza versus organic lentils, then absolutely go for the lentils.
If you experience irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, gas, bloating or acid reflux, here are some other possibilities:
- You eat too many nuts. Click here to learn why nuts can be aggravating to a weakened digestion.
- You eat genetically modified foods. Click here to read about the impact of genetically modified foods on the body, including the nine main genetically modified crops. This article also includes other information related to calming a disturbed digestive system.
- You eat too much globular protein. Click here if you're unfamiliar with what globular proteins are.
The sources for this article include: Pancreatic Juice, Pancreatic Lipase Enzyme, About Protease, Wiki on Protease, Food Combining, Digestion & Enzymes, Casein.