The easy answer could be: “Because you don’t cook them well“. Indeed, many people believe that beans and grains should be cooked just long enough for them to be on the harder rather than the softer side. “Al dente“, as italians would put it.

Well, not really. Beans are very rich in nutrients and not only will they not lose nutritional value with cooking but actually become more easily digestible in the gut, and their nutrients become more readily available for the body to use.

Until not long ago family life revolved around the kitchen. It was not unusual to spend the whole morning cooking bean stew. Techniques were also used to speed up the process such as adding a little bit of cold water every so often during the cooking process and bringing to the boil again.

But first things first: Many beans (particularly those more widely consumed) contain antinutrients:

  • Phaseolin: it impairs the activity of amylases and prevents starch breakdown and absorption. It is mostly found in beans. It is heat-sensitive and water soluble. A 12 minute boiling time will degrade it.
  • Phytic acid: it impairs digestion and absorption because it forms compounds with minerals and certain amino acids. Found mostly in beans and grains (e.g. peas). It is largely degraded by soaking for 8 hours and adding kombu seaweed, as well as through fermentation.
  • Protease inhibitors: They impair protein breakdown into amino acids. Antitrypsins are substances that hinder protein absorption (soybeans, beans, etc.). Heat, fermentation and soaking will degrade them to a great extent (though not completely).
  • Lectins: They help seeds defense against other plants and fungi. They are degraded by a twelve-hour soaking and normal cooking as they are heat-sensitive. Still, some recommend using a pressure cooker.
  • Vicin and convicin: Found in beans (called fabic compounds). They impair the glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G-6PDH) enzyme. It is linked to favism.

How can we reduce or eliminate antinutrients in beans and pulses?

  • Soaking for about 12 hours minimum. If the soaking water is hot (approximately 60ºC) and is changed two or three times, it is even more effective, though in this case you should carefully control the temperature in order not to eliminate calcium, magnesium, vitamins B1 (thiamine ), B2 (riboflavin), and B3 (niacin) (B vitamins that are more easily degraded by heat, they are “heat sensitive”).
  • Add a piece of kombu seaweed to soften the fibre of the beans during cooking. The purpose of glutamic acid (not to be confused with monosodium glutamate) is to soften dry and hard foods (for example (grains and beans). It is highly recommended to reduce gas. Just soak the beans for at least twelve hours with a 10 cm strip of kombu. Then discard the soaking water and cook the beans with the same strip.
  • Add warming spices to cooking (for example cinnamon, ginger, mild spices that stimulate digestion).
  • Pressure-cook them (ideally), or cook over low heat and for as long as necessary, for starches and fibers to soften up.
  • Add digestive aids: They contain enzymes and acid taste which boost digestion, as seen in our entry on the tree element, the acid taste strengthens the liver and encourage bile secretion.
    • Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar.
    • Umeboshi vinegar.
    • Sauerkraut.
  • In addition, it is also a very good idea to use carminative herbs or seeds, warming and slightly spicy (anise, cumin, fennel, bay leaf, cloves, cardamom). I would recommend adding them early in the cooking (not more than 2 or 3 at a time), so that they are well cooked and less spicy (especially, cumin, fennel and cardamom), just enough to boost digestion but not “dry” internal fluids .
  • Also try sprouting beans, mung beans, lentils, etc. Sprouting helps to reduce the amount of antinutrients whilst increasing digestive enzymes (e.g. amylases).

Do try the tips above when cooking your beans. If, in spite of it all, beans still do not go down well, causing gas, bloating and cramps, you may need to seek professional advice regarding intestinal fungi (e.g. SIBO, candida), as they can cause many of these symptoms. Please note that the information contained in this entry does not substitute personalised treatment or consultation, and should be regarded only as general information.

See you soon!