We’ve been eating lentils and legumes (beans) for a very long time – somewhere between 30,000 – 50,000 years. Before people settled in areas like the fertile crescent and began cooking grains in nice pots of water the legumes were pounded into flours, mixed with a little water and oils and spread out on rocks by the campfire – voila flatbread. I’m sure that was tasty.  Lentils and legumes and are wonderfully nutritious and excellent to have in your diet especially if you want to reduce or eliminate your animal protein intake for your health and for the sustainability of the planet.

A number of you may have just gasped about the idea of eating lentils and legumes and whole grains. Unfortunately, like so many other beautiful foods including whole grains, roots and squashes, some people have cut out lentils and legumes from their diets because of specific trendy diets and its ideas. I am a firm believer that most diets have some truth in them, and may be beneficial for periods of times based on the intention of the person, their health and other concerns. I am always concerned when any one whole category of real food is vilified or eliminated for extended lengthens of time. That being said, let’s look at how beautiful beans are.

Beans and lentils wear dual hats, being both a protein and a complex carbohydrate – something the body loves and needs. Their complex nature regulate and balance blood glucose, creating a slow even rise in sugar rather than spiking it like sugars and refined (simple) carbohydrates. They are high in protein, fiber, abundant in B vitamins, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium and potassium. They are low in fat, calories and have no cholesterol – actually, they lower cholesterol especially in high fat diets. Lentils and legumes also contain properties that counter cancer causing compounds in the intestines, they help relieve depression and fortify the body overall.

Unfortunately, most legumes are not complete in their amino acid profile, lacking in adequate amounts of tryptophan and methionine.  By adding the right whole grain to the right lentil or legume you can complete their profile.

The Energetics of Lentils & Legumes – bean basics

Like all foods, lentils and legumes create a post-metabolic phenomenon in the body.  This is simply the affect they they have in the body once they are ingested. Do they heat, do they cool, move the energy inward, outward, what organs to they enter?  Though each legume and lentil has its own specialties and nature they all share similar broad properties. Let’s look.

Nourish Kidneys and adrenal glands – Tired, exhausted, fatigued,  or have Yang collapse? You want beans in your diet as they deeply nourish the Kidney and replenish the adrenal glands.

They encourage growth and stimulate the brain, spine and bone marrow – All of these functions are ruled by the Kidneys in Asian Medicine.  

They drain damp – Making them beneficial in treating excess conditions like edema, phlegm, yeast, obesity and diabetes.  

They calm the mind – Wound up? Beans all settle the nerves and build muscles and they anchor and build stability.

They help us adapt – Beans help to influence our personalities by making us adaptable and tolerant to stress and change in our lives. How can you go wrong? 

Back to the problem at hand…beans and legumes are an incomplete protein

No worries, match them to the right grain and you can complete the amino acid profile. We will look at soy later, as it deserves its own category – let’s look at a few lentils and legumes and their matches.

Aduki beans – Highly nutritious and tender.  Adukis are small, tender red beans that are used extensively in Japanese, Asian cultures and macrobiotic cooking. They are used in stews, soups, as a sweet bean paste in mochi and red bean ice cream. Energetically, adukis are neutral, sweet and sour.  They nourish the Heart,  Small Intestines and Spleen. They tonify, astringe and drain and are fabulous for treating edema, diarrhea and aiding in weight loss. Stay away from aduki if you are very thin, frail or Yin deficient.  Combine adukis with barley and you get a complete protein profile.

Mung beans – Native to India, these little green beans have become a big part of the Chinese diet. Energetically, mung beans are cool and sweet. They nourish and drain excess from the Gall Bladder, Liver, Heart and Stomach.  Very detoxifying, we use mung beans to treat excess patterns like Summer Heat, high blood pressure and to clear out heavy metals. They also clear the arteries and help lower cholesterol. Avoid mung beans if you are chronically tired, fatigued have heavy watery diarrhea or are chronically cold.  Combine with barley for a complete protein.

Lentils and peas – Lentils are members of the pea family and native to India. They are high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur, vitamin A.  The grow easily, don’t need to be presoaked to cook and are the easiest legume to digest.  Great starting point if you are new to legumes.  They are good to eat with wheat or peas to make them a complete protein. Lentils are neutral and sweet. They nourish the Heart, Kidneys, Spleen and Stomach. Safe for excess and deficiency conditions. They stimulate the adrenals and increase vitality. Combine with wheat berries for a full protein profile.

Black beans – Black beans are used heavily in Spanish and Mexican cuisine. Native to Spain, these beans are packed with nutrition but are very low in lysine. Black beans energetically are warm and sweet. They nourish the Kidneys and Spleen are used for treating Kidney disharmonies, backaches, reproductive issues, weak ankles and knees, and hot flashes.  Whole grain rice (no Uncle Ben’s) which is naturally high in lysine is the perfect match for black beans.

Garbanzo beans or chickpeas – Used in Middle Eastern and Basque cooking, chick peas take a little longer to cook.  They are very high in calcium, iron and vitamin A and potassium. Chickpeas are the stars in recipes like baba ganouj, falafel and hummus. Chickpeas are sweet and neutral. They nourish the Heart, Stomach and Spleen and pair with rice. They are a good source of unsaturated fats. Craving hummus now?

With a little creativity, lentils and legumes can become a healthy welcome habit in your diet.

Be well,