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Beans: Nature’s Superfood

27 Apr 2016   Shanti Gowans
Beans are an important food staple in many traditional diets. As human beings evolved and foraged for nuts, seeds, tubers, grains, fruits and vegetables, they discovered beans, which were cherished when it was found that this food type could weather the seasons (especially winter), and be stored and without spoiling.
In nature, notably in severe seasonal climatic places, beans fall off the vine in the autumn and lie dormant all winter, in order to sprout in the spring. Grains also do much of the same, but they lack the super strong protective shells and anti-nutrients that beans have, and do not weather the winter as well.
Because beans can survive winter unharmed, Ayurveda considers them a spring food. Spring is a low-fat, austere time of year when it comes to the foods that are harvested. Spring greens, sprouts and roots do not provide sustainable nutrition on their own, so foods that could be preserved through the winter to provide spring nutrition were extremely valuable. Beans provided an excellent vegetable source of proteins, fiber, minerals and vitamins that are scarce in the early spring.
Ayurveda considers beans to be astringent, which means they can have a drying effect on the body and intestines. In the winter, beans can be too dry, but come spring when the earth is holding onto more water and moisture, they provide the perfect antidote to the dampness of spring. In the spring, when the harvest is austere and low-fat, beans, the spring food according to Ayurveda, is a natural driver of fat metabolism, weight loss and less desire for food. Traditionally, many religious holidays that required fasting happened in the spring, when nature is encouraging the body to burn fat.
In alphabetical order, here are the names of some of the beans used for culinary purposes and wellbeing: Adzuki beans. Black Eye beans, Black Turtle beans, Blue peas, Borlotti beans, Broad beans, Chana dhal, Desi Chickpeas (Tyson chickpeas) Fava beans, Great Northern beans, Kabuli Chickpeas, Lentils - red, yellow, green, brown, Lima beans, Mung beans, Red Kidney beans, Soya beans, Toor daal, Urid dhal, Split peas: yellow, green. and so on. Amongst several varieties of beans, Ayurveda considers mung beans a superfood and, around the world, rice and beans have been a staple for thousands of years.
The Power of Beans
Including beans into a diet substantially slows down cognitive decline with age. According to the book, The Blue Zones, beans are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Beans have specifically captured dietary components that provide neurodegenerative delay and are a critical part of the new “mind” diet that has been found to protect the brain and shown to be neuroprotective and related to change in aging, cognition, memory, dementia prevention and Alzheimers.
Beans have repeatedly shown to be one of the most protective foods against blood sugar concerns and cognitive decline. In one study, a meal of black beans was compared with a high-fibre meal and high-antioxidant meal to find which meal was more effective support for healthy blood sugar. Black beans outperformed both, suggesting that the benefits of beans reach beyond the high-fibre or antioxidant content which is the typical explanations of how beans support blood sugar.
Black beans (phaseolus vulgaris) have about 15 grams of fibre per cup. On comparison with the hunter-gatherers who consumed about 100 grams of fibre per day, our current intake of 15-20 grams per day is severely diminished. However difficult consuming just 50 grams of fibre per day might prove, it is possible. 
Beans contain bioactive components with functional properties that modify cardiovascular risk. While fibre is linked to heart health, it is also critical for the protective health of the intestinal skin. The ability of black beans to attenuate postprandial metabolic, oxidative stress, inflammatory responses and provide a significant contribution of dietary fibre and their overall effect in terms of antioxidant capacity is impressive indeed. If the intestinal skin breaks down, the beneficial gut microbes disappear and the lymphatic drainage system that lines the gut will congest, resulting in accelerated aging and degenerative health concerns. 
Beans are a rich source of natural compounds with potential beneficial effects on human health. Common beans contain non-digestible fermentable components (SCFA precursors) and phenolic compounds (phenolic acids, flavonoids and anthocyanins) with demonstrated antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential. Beans exert hypolipidaemic activity, a decrease in hepatic lipid depots with a significant increase in bile acid secretion and stimulate the expression of the reverse cholesterol transporters. This results in decrease hepatic lipogenesis and stimulate cholesterol excretion, in part, via bile acid synthesis.
The black coating on black beans are a rich source of natural compounds with potential beneficial effects on human health and have been shown to support fat metabolism and healthy cholesterol levels. They were also found to help reduce appetite, burn fat, help weight loss, and increase the amount of butyric acid in the large intestine. Butyric acid, which is the primary fatty acid in ghee, is the main driver of gut immunity, fat metabolism, colon cell energy and microbial diversity.
Beans are critical to health and, in our busy lives, we have to strategise ways to make your daily beans happen. Here are some tips:
- To save time cooking beans, use a pressure cooker and cook your beans to perfection. 
- Sprouting the beans before cooking them, reduces cooking time and gives the beans a wonderful, nutty flavor. 
- If you have trouble digesting beans, try split yellow mung beans, which are Ayurveda’s answer to hard-to-digest beans. 
- While beans reduce inflammatory biomarkers both locally and systemically they can aggravating colonic mucosal damage. Use more bean flour foods.
- Have kitchari for breakfast. Add beans to your kitchari. The fibre and protein of the beans will help your breakfast take you until lunch.
- Don't have time to cook? Romance the beans, and your mind and body with Shanti Yoga Body and soul meals.


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Shanti Gowans is the globally recognised author and founder of Shanti Yoga™, Meditation and Ayurveda for the self, family and community.

Shantiji has brought the concepts and practices of a healthy body and a still mind to thousands of Australians through her Yoga and Meditation programs on national television... Read more about Shantiji's biography

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