Beans, also known as legumes are an excellent plant-based protein source. Beans are seeds (or fruit if you are consuming the whole pod) found in the cuisines of most traditional cultures. The grounding and strengthening properties of beans make them a great endurance food. In particular, they strengthen the kidneys and adrenal glands, thus promoting physical growth and development. Funny enough, they even look like our kidneys! In Traditional Chinese Medicine the color of the bean indicates the organ it most benefits. For example, red beans such as adzuki beans and kidney beans target the heart while green beans such as mung beans and split peas focus on the liver.
Beans range from 17 to 25 percent protein and are great for building body mass. They are a good source of fiber, calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and several B vitamins. According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in Canada, bean eaters weigh less, consume more nutrients and have lower blood pressure and slimmer middles than their non-bean eating counterparts.
Beans have a reputation for causing digestive distress, but this is usually because they have been undercooked or improperly prepared. Remember, beans are seeds that are waiting to be germinated! There are enzyme inhibitors in the seed coat that keep the seed dormant and prevent it from germinating until the conditions are right. If your beans aren’t pre-soaked in water, you won’t be able to fully assimilate the nutrients of the bean. Most beans should be soaked for 24 hours in warm, filtered water with a pinch of baking soda. You will need to change the soaking water at least once. Drain and rinse your beans well and then place intoa pot and cover with two inches of water. To further reduce gas, add spices like bay leaf, oregano, fennel or cumin, or the sea vegetable, kombu, when cooking. My friend Monica Corrado created a fabulous resource – her Grain & Bean Chart.
Here’s a list of beans to try:
aduki or adzuki
black eyed peas
Not a bean eater, but trying to figure out where to begin with them? One of my favorite winter bean recipes is Myra Kornfeld’s Spicy Baked Beans. It’s great comfort food with a healthy twist!
Also, during the summer months, I frequently make the following yummy bean salad. It’s super easy, tasty and easy to personalize according to your taste buds.
Italian Bean Salad
- 2 cups dried cannellini beans (I also have made this with aduki beans)
- 1 onion – diced
- 1 spring onion – diced
- 1 chili – finely chopped
- several garlic cloves (to your liking) chopped or pressed
- ½ cup of finely chopped herbs of your choice (see note)
- 1 tsp sea salt (may need a bit more)
- 1 part red wine vinegar
- 3 parts olive oil
- 2 TBSP raw apple cider vinegar
- 2 inch strip of kombu seaweed
1. Soak 2 cups of aduki beans in warm water with a pinch of baking soda for 24 hours.
2. Rinse and drain beans and place in a pot with a 2 inch strip of kombu seaweed. Cover with a half inch to inch of water and bring to a boil. Once the water begins to boil, turn down the temperature a bit and begin to skim the “scum” off the top of the water. Cook until tender and the water is evaporated.
3. Cool beans and then mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt and dress with olive oil and vinegar to taste!
Note: Instead of fresh herbs, you can also use Herbs de Provence or Italian Seasoning.
Feel free to share your favorite bean recipes here!
Winter is here and “germs” are everywhere. Guess what? They always have been. Unfortunately, germs are blamed as the cause of sickness when a weak immune system is the real culprit. Why are our immune systems weak? A variety of factors contribute to this weakness including stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise, overuse of alcohol or medications and dehydration.
So what can you do to support your immune system this winter? I suggest adding alkaline, nutrient-dense foods in your diet such as chlorophyll-rich greens like kale, parsley and cabbage, anti-microbial veggies such as garlic, high-mineral sea veggies and other seasonal goodies. In addition, fats such coconut oil (high in lauric acid), butter from pastured cows (high in vitamin A, E, selenium and conjugated linoleic acid) and cod liver oil (high in vitamins A and D) are great immune system builders. Flax oil, fish oils and wild-caught, cold water fish such as salmon and sardines contain omega-3 essential fatty acids which reduce inflammation in the body. Also, be sure to incorporate lacto-fermented foods and/or a good probiotic which build healthy intestinal flora and support immune system health. Lacto-fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchee, miso, kefir and yogurt, to name a few.
In addition to fat, make sure you are getting enough good quality protein in your diet. This can be from sprouted or soaked legumes, pastured meats or wild-caught fish. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and support the growth, repair and maintenance of every system in the body. Without it, your body doesn’t have the building blocks it needs to support your immune system. Be sure to balance your animal and vegetarian sources of protein. Everyone is different. Some people need more animal protein sources and less vegetarian protein, while others benefit from more vegetarian protein sources. Start with a 50/50 ratio and experiment! You may find that you need more protein or a particular type of protein during certain seasons or when you engage in more activities.
Remember that poor diets can lead to leaky gut syndrome, compromised digestion, nutritional deficiencies and Candida overgrowth (yeast). The health of the gut is very important to the health of your immune system. If you experience allergies, skin conditions, gas or bloating, for example, you may need to look a closer look at your diet, stress levels and digestive system health. If you’re feeling rundown, it’s really important to cut back on sugar, refined carbs, alcohol and commercial dairy. The sugars in these products feed the opportunistic bacteria and yeast. In addition, water supports the mucosal lining of the gut where the friendly microbes live, so make sure you are hydrating well in the colder months.
Regular, appropriate exercise and sunlight (rich in immune-system boosting vitamin D) have been found to support a healthy immune system. Be careful with working out too much however, because for some it can weaken the immune system further. Some people benefit more from intense workouts, while others benefit more from more calming workout such as walking or yoga (although yoga can be quite intense as well). The important thing is to move your body regularly and listen to it.
In addition to eating well and exercising, getting plenty of sleep and relaxation will protect you from most viruses and other infections. Make sure you have time to decompress everyday. It can be staring into space, closing your eyes to meditate or visualizing something soothing or joyful. In my opinion, this is the most effective way to stay healthy, even if you consume a lot of junk. Guess what? People who eat well but don’t rest get sick. Create a self-nourishment or play menu and pick something from it each and every day. It can be as simple as giving someone a hug, smiling more, going for a long walk or enjoying a cup of tea or glass of wine with a loved one.
So instead of worrying about the flu vaccine and stocking up on hand-sanitizer, put your time and and energy into eating well, relaxing, playing and loving yourself and others a little more. As they say, laughter truly is the best medicine.