Doctor’s Tip: Bring on the beans

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
Doctor's Tip

Legumes (beans, lentils, chick peas, split peas) are another one of Dr. Michael Greger’s daily dozen. In his book “How Not to Die,” he recommends three servings a day; examples of serving sizes are 1/4 cup of hummus or bean dip; 1/2 cup of cooked beans, split peas, lentils, tofu or tempeh; or 1 cup of fresh peas or lentil sprouts.

A few years ago, the Post Independent did a series on aging in the Roaring Fork Valley, and the highlight at the end was a presentation about the Blue Zones — five places in the world where people live particularly long and healthy lives. Common threads in these populations are frequent, low level physical activity; a primarily plant-based diet; and that they all eat a lot of legumes — which stood out the most.

Here are some of the reasons legumes are beneficial:

• All vegetables have protein, but legumes have the most.

•They contain lots of fiber, which feeds the health-promoting bacteria in the gut microbiome.

• They have phytates and other cancer-fighting nutrients including phytoestrogens in soy, which lower breast cancer risk in women.

• They lower cholesterol.

• When legumes pass down to the colon and the gut bacteria start feasting on them, chemicals are produced that cause a feeling of fullness for hours afterwards, a phenomenon called “the second meal effect.” This results in better blood sugar control in diabetics and weight loss in people who are overweight.

• Legumes help with loss of belly fat — a type of fat that leads to prediabetes, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

When patients are advised to increase their legume intake, they sometimes express concerns about gas. It’s true that for several days after increasing intake of beans and to a lesser extent other legumes, more gas occurs, but once people are on a consistent daily high-legume intake, the problem resolves after several days. Edamame (soybeans) and tofu are almost always well-tolerated. Here’s what Kaiser Permanente recommends in their pamphlet “The Plant-Based Diet, a Healthier Way to Eat” to cut down on gas after starting to eat more beans: Put the beans in a large pot and cover with 2 inches of water, bring to a boil for three minutes, cover and set aside for one to four hours, then rinse and drain well, then cook (raw beans can be toxic).

While talking about gas, it should be noted that the rotten egg smell of flatus (and stool) is from hydrogen sulfide, which is associated with an animal-based but not a plant-predominant diet.

In summary, eat more beans, and canned beans are an option as long as the label says no added salt. Consider cooking beans in a pressure cooker, which cuts the cooking time down to about 30 minutes. Frozen edamame (organic is recommended for all soy products) can be added to salads and stir fry and make a good snack for kids. Consider making your own, oil-free hummus from chickpeas. Add beans to soups, and try making three-bean chili.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment or email

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