A recent study was published - Effects of Dietary Pulse Consumption on Body Weight: A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials (1) One of the many conclusions was that even if you keep the calories the same and add beans (pulses) you can have modest weight loss.
The myth that a calorie from any food is the same continues to be shattered and it is even a wonder that it was ever something that people believed in. The fact that your body processes 100 calories of a ice cream very differently than 100 calories of vegetables seems self-evident yet many people still hold onto this myth!
One of the great parts of the article listed above is that the authors review the 5 ways that beans are digested and these are essential kernels of knowledge that you can use as you become your own authority on nutrition. That small part of the article is what inspired me to write this post. Lets look at that one by one.
Higher fiber foods like beans make you chew longer which can decrease the amount of food you eat and allow satiety signals to reach your brain. In other words, by slowing down the rate that you eat - you are more likely to get the signal from your stomach to your brain that you are full. It often takes 20 minutes before that signal gets to your brain. From this we can appreciate why it is important to eat slower. If we eat slower we eat less food before we start to feel full. If you are eating food slowly or fast - at around 20 minutes the signals that you have food in your stomach start being sent to the brain. Just this one tip - eating slower - has helped many of my patients lose a great deal of weight.
The soluble fibers in beans delay emptying of the food from the stomach to the small intestine because of the gels that form from the fiber. This fiber gel is also what Miracle Noodles are made of! This will also allow you to feel fuller since the stomach is where the signal to the brain gets sent.
The protein content in beans is enough to trigger cholecystokinin, and glucagon-like peptide 1 both of which also contribute to feeling full.
Beans are a low glycemic index food - which helps to regulate blood sugar levels and when blood sugar is stable and not spiking up and down, your cravings are reduced, so you are less likely to snack or binge.
You absorb less calories when you eat beans. High fiber diets actually reduce the absorption of the fat and protein in the food you eat with the high fiber foods like beans. You might think this is bad, but our fat and protein intakes in general if we are eating a Western diet are already too high for what longevity studies show is ideal. (2)
This reduced bioavailability (meaning the amount you absorb) of calories and sometimes with nutrients due to the presence of some anti-nutrients in improperly prepared beans is often why some people who eat paleo diets as an example choose to avoid beans. There are 3 things that need to be discussed here.
One does not need to perfectly assimilate all the food we eat. We are not engines that need 100% conversion of food to energy. Our knowledge of the history of human diets has shown that high fiber diets that where calories were adequate, nutrient deficiencies were rare.
Traditional cultures have eaten beans and developed ways to properly prepare the beans by proper soaking and cooking. See The Healthy Home Economist for a great article on soaking beans. I eat canned beans from BPA-Free cans and rinse them until there are no bubbles coming off of them from rinsing. Any bubbles or scum are irritating to the gut.
Several of the longest living cultures around the world have eaten beans as a not insignificant part of their diets (2)
Beans should most certainly be a part of your diet. If you worry about gas, first you need to prepare them properly as above. Second, your body just needs to adjust to them. Start eating 1 tablespoon per day and as long as that does not cause gas or distress, increase to 2 tablespoons per day until you tolerate that. I have had patients that need to be on 1 tablespoon per day for 2 weeks before they could increase. If you can’t tolerate even 1 tablespoon without getting gas then you likely have some food intolerances or gut flora issues that are affecting your intestines. I then recommend a food elimination diet like the The Virgin Diet which is a masterful and user friendly guide to a great elimination diet that will also help with weight loss.
I can eat an entire can of beans with no gas whatsoever. Not bragging, just telling you what is possible with a gut that is strong and has good flora.
In summary, beans are what I consider an essential part of your diet. You now fully understand why they make you feel full and contribute to a healthy diet. So, what are you waiting for, try some great recipes. Here is a great one for Miracle Rice and Beans or Tuscan White Bean Spinach and Artichoke Noodles with Lemon Ricotta Mousse. These super low calorie and high fiber bean dishes will give you all the benefits of beans without the extra calories of regular rice. Miracle Rice is perfect for this substitute and the 10 pack starter of Miracle Rice is a great way to start working beans into your diet - get your starter pack today!
To Your Health,
Jonathan Carp, MD
P.S. Picture above by Miracle Noodle Ambassador Sherri Williams. Thanks Sherri!!
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2016;103:1213-23