Legumes, pulses, beans or lentils – aren’t they all carbs?

9 Mar

Beans, beans, beans – I’m suddenly full of beans! No, I hope I’m not going crazy. Why then, the sudden interest?

It all started last week when I found a cake recipe containing white beans. Curious, I started surfing for more recipes and found that there are cake recipes using all kinds of beans.  Cooking with beans is nothing new to me. Prior to this, I had been using beans in my cooking – chili con carne, chili sin carne, cassoulet, feijoada, gallo pinto, red bean soup, to name a few – but soemtimes, I found that my blood sugar readings were high after the meal. I rationalized that this was because beans are high in carbohydrates and if a dish is made up primarily of one ingredient, it goes without saying that you would be eating a lot of that particular ingredient in one serving. So except for soya bean-based products (soya beans are funnily, low in carbohydrates but high in fat), I have been avoiding bean dishes. You’ll later see that I was too quick in throwing beans out of my diet.

Baking with beans is however, something new to me. After seeing the nutritional information for one muffin made with white beans on the Healthy Indulgences Blogspot, I was intrigued and decided to try one of the recipes. I now realise that if you bake a cake, you only eat a slice or a muffin and since your intake  is much less, there are less carbohydrates to convert to glucose and hence, the better post-priandal glucose values. I’ve tested this out and am very happy with the results! Yay, I can eat beans again.

So let’s take a closer look at the BEAN.

Beans fall into the class of vegetables called Legumes or Pulses. Legumes have been part of the human diet for a long time. Evidence that these have been eaten as early as 5000 years ago have been found in settlements in many parts of the world. Today, legumes still form a part of our diet, enjoyed by both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

There are over 1000 types of legumes out there. Dried legumes are broken down into three categories – beans, peas and lentils.  Beans are favoured in western cooking – white canellini beans, red kidney beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), black beans and pinto beans. The Chinese use soya beans a lot and turn them into all sorts of delicacies and products ranging from silken bean curd, soya bean curd dessert, soya bean milk, fermented bean paste, tofu and so on. Indians cook up some great dishes with lentils, called dhal in Indian. Have you heard of moong dhal, chana dhal, urad dhal or tuvar dhal used to make vadas, sambhars and likes.

Legumes are low in calories, low in fat, contain no cholesterol, low in sodium, high in complex carbohydrates and provide our body with protein and dietary fibre.  The dietary fibre contained in beans is released into the bloodstream slowly and keeps you feeling full for a longer period of time.The Idaho Bean Commission website says that “about 75% of the fiber is insoluble which may reduce the risk of colon cancer. The remaining 25% of the fiber is soluble fiber which may reduce blood cholesterol. Studies have confirmed that beans are effective hypochoesterolemic agents when added to the diet. Consumption of beans produces a moderate increase in blood glucose and insulin levels which may be helpful in the metabolic control of diabetes. … The slower release of glucose and the increased satiety from beans may also enhance the effectiveness of weight-reducing diets.”

Let’s go back to the carbohydrates mentioned above – the complex carbohydrates. The main goal of any diabetic is to try not to increase blood sugar too much.That is why we try to avoid eating foods containing sugars and carbohydrates and are following a low carb diet. I’ve recently learnt that there are good and bad carbohydrates. The good carbohydrates are digested more slowly, causing blood sugar to increase slowly over a longer period of time. These foods have a lower  glycemic index. Good carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates, also called starchy foods. This carbohydrate is called complex because it is made up of chains of three or more single sugar molecules linked together. The bad carbohydrates are the simple carbohydrates containing singular sugar molecules and these are found in sugar, white bread, sodas and sweets. I can testify to that – when I eat white bread, rice or stuff loaded with sugar, these foods cause spikes in my blood sugar and are really difficult for me to control with insulin. So contrary to popular belief, not all carbohydrates are bad! Well, the complex carbohydrates still aren’t good in large amounts but if you are going to eat carbohydrates, then choose those of the complex carbohydrate variety, like beans and try not to eat too much at one go.

And now back to the beans – besides all the positive points mentioned above, there are a host more. Let’s not forget the vitamins and minerals they contain, among them folacin (also known as folate or folic acid), thiamin, some B vitamins, iron, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, calcium, and zinc! Wow!

This may sound too good to be true but wait a minute, you say – beans cause flatulence and I can’t have that. Yes, beans do cause flatulence. Beans contain a type of sugar molecule called oligosacchiride. Our bodies lack the enzyme to break down oligosaccharides. These unbrokendown oligosaccharides are digested by bacteria in the large intestine causing gases to develop.  There’s a way around that though.  Rinse your canned beans thoroughly before using. Do not use the liquid it comes in. Better still,  start from scratch with dried beans, soak them overnight in water with about 1/2 tsp baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). In the morning, throw away the water and rinse thoroughly before cooking. Adding baking soda to the water helps to relieve ‘gastrointestinal problems’.

Here is a link to a chart which gives the nutritional values of several types of beans.

Jack and the Beanstalk was one of my favourite fairy tales as a child. I also read it often to my daughter. In the story, Jack traded his mother’s cow for some magic beans and got a big scolding for his stupidity. In the end, those beans really turned out to be magic and brought wealth to him and his mother. I do love fairy tales as there is always a happy ending. Well, it looks like beans can also contribute to a happy nutritional plan for diabetics and low-carbers and bring us a wealth of health so don’t cut them out completely!

Reference Sources:

5 Responses to “Legumes, pulses, beans or lentils – aren’t they all carbs?”

  1. Jayalakshmi (@Vetrimagal) January 9, 2012 at 11:53 #

    Some people advice eat beans, some write no don’t. I am so confused. What to eat, how much good carbohydrate, whether vegan or not!All depends on the Blood glucose level.

    • franinmunich January 9, 2012 at 13:23 #

      Yes, different beans have different carbohydrate levels. The easiest way is to google and check (although the results are not always accurate – but they will give you an idea). Then eat and test your blood glucose.

  2. Betty June 22, 2012 at 11:59 #

    Thanks for this excellent article! I am no novice in matters pertaining to nutrition, but I learnt a few new things here. I found your blog while trying to find out why buckwheat makes me put on weight and feel ill, while beans, lentils and peas make me positively energetic while I lose weight and sleep well! (I am not a diabetic) Thanks again.

    • franinmunich June 22, 2012 at 12:14 #

      You’re most welcome, Betty. I’m glad my post helped someone.

  3. Anonymous June 28, 2016 at 10:53 #

    You can try adding ginger & garlic paste to dish, it would not cause flatulence then.

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