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Why You Should Eat More Beans

We’ve known for decades that beans have an exceptionally low glycemic index. You give someone cooked beans, peas, or lentils and they don’t even get half the blood sugar spike that they would get with the same amount of carbs in the form of bread, pasta, or potatoes. So if you’re going to eat some high glycemic food like white rice, consider having some beans with it, and the more beans the better. If you click on the above video, you can see that as the subjects’ bean to rice ratio increases, cardiometabolic risk factors continually improve. Substituting one serving of beans for one serving of white rice was associated with a 35 percent lower risk of metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes).

Why do beans have such a low glycemic index? Maybe it’s because they’ve got so much fiber that absorption is just slower or something? It was this study that blew people’s minds.

It started about as expected. Give people bread for breakfast, and they get big spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, but give the same amount of carbs in lentil form and you blunt the effect. (Lentils for breakfast? Well, the Brits like baked beans on their toast, but I’ve started using a handful of sprouted lentils in my breakfast smoothie. See A Better Breakfast and Antioxidants Sprouting Up.) What they did different, though, was follow through to lunch.

For lunch both groups got the same meal — both got bread. Those that had lentils for breakfast had less of a glycemic reaction to the bread. At the time they called it the “lentil effect,” but subsequent studies found chickpeas appear to work just as well. It has since been dubbed the “second meal effect.” Eat lentils for dinner, and then for breakfast, even if forced to drink sugar water, you have better glycemic control. Beans moderate your blood sugar not just at the meal you eat them, but even hours later or the next day.

How is that even possible? The mystery has since been solved. Remember what our gazillions of gut bacteria do with fiber? They produce compounds like propionate with it (see Fawning Over Flora and Boosting Good Bacteria in the Colon Without Probiotics) that get absorbed into our system and slow down gastric emptying—the rate at which food leaves our stomach—so we don’t get as much of a sugar rush. It’s like symbiosis. We feed our good bacteria and they feed us back. So, we have a bean burrito for supper and by the next morning it’s time for our gut bacteria to eat that same burrito and the by-products they create may affect how our breakfast is digested. Researchers figured this out by giving people rectal infusions of the amount of propionate your good bacteria might make from a good burrito, and the stomach relaxes within minutes. I guess if you forgot to eat any kind of beans for supper and need to blunt the effect of your breakfast doughnut, it’s theoretically not too late—but in general I encourage people to administer their food orally.

What about the gas? Check out my blog post Beans and Gas: Clearing the Air.

Which beans are most antioxidant packed? See The Best Bean and The Healthiest Lentil (hint: skip the jelly variety). Which lower cholesterol the most? See Soy Worth a Hill of Beans?

What other superpowers do beans posses? They are packed with potassium (Preventing Strokes with Diet), mad with magnesium (Mineral of the Year—Magnesium), and a preferred source of protein (Plant Protein Preferable). They improve breast cancer survival (Breast Cancer Survival and Soy), reduce hot flashes (Soy Foods & Menopause), delay premature puberty (The Effect of Soy on Precocious Puberty), and they’re a great bargain to boot (Eating Healthy on a Budget).

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Related:
Does Cinnamon Help Lower Blood Sugars?
How Much Soy Is Too Much?
Boosting Gut Flora Without Probiotics

Read more: Health, Diabetes, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, General Health, Videos, , , ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

144 comments

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7:47PM PST on Nov 30, 2013

ty

9:53AM PDT on Nov 1, 2013

why wouldn't you want to eat beans? they are tasty, except lyma beans, those are nasty lol.

1:34AM PDT on Oct 15, 2013

I love beans and lentils, although I eat more in winter. Thanks heavens they're healthy.

10:01AM PDT on Oct 13, 2013

I love beans and rice. Now I know how to perfect the ratio of beans to rice to make the best meal possible.

5:57PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

Thanks.
Beans are so good!

1:42PM PDT on Oct 7, 2013

Thank you.

11:29AM PDT on Oct 7, 2013

I eat beans in one form or another extremely often. They taste great, and are very good for us.

10:33AM PDT on Oct 7, 2013

Thanks. The article "Beans and Gas: clearing the air" was very informative and funny. Great tips on preventing gas.

7:16AM PDT on Oct 7, 2013

Beans. More than just dinner and a show.

11:35PM PDT on Oct 5, 2013

I love beans, but, most of my friends don't love me, when I eat beans.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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