We’ve been eating pulses – an ancient name for lentils, legumes or beans – for a very long time. Somewhere between 30,000 – 50,000 years, we don’t actually know for sure. Before people settled in areas like the fertile crescent and began cooking grains in nice pots of water the legumes were harvested as nomads wondered across them. They 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. Currently, there are more than 40,000 varieties of beans in the genebanks and only a few 100 varieties are produced for mass consumption. Fortunately, small crop and heirloom farming is helping make more varieties available.
Lentils and legumes still make up huge portions of classical cuisines from the 3 Sisters traditions in Native American cultures (beans, squash & corn) to hummus, daal and cassoulet. Beans are wonderfully nutritious and excellent to have in your diet – which we will get to.
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. Lentils and legumes are also far more sustainable to the planet (and your health) than diets heavy in animal proteins.
Let’s look at western nutritional profile of beans – this is the part where we break down the food (fragmentation) to look at its components.
Beans are high in fiber – Though fiber offers no energy per se to the body, it is essential in bowel regulation, clearing cholesterol, blood sugar regulation, colon health and more. Want to know more about fiber?
Beans are both a protein and a complex carbohydrate – Lentils and legumes wear dual hats, being both a protein and a complex carbohydrate – something the body loves and needs. This means they build and provide energy – it’s the complex carbohydrates that provide for slow steady release of energy without spiking the sugars like simple or refined sugars do.
Beans are high in iron – If you have blood deficiency or anemia, add beans into your diet! Find out more about building blood.
Beans are high in minerals – Calcium, zinc, magnesium and potassium all of these help calm, soothe and sedate overworked and tired muscles and nervous systems. Just what Americans need.
Beans are very high in the B vitamins – This is an important area to focus on as I see a huge increase in supplementation of B vitamins, especially in older women of the peri and menopause years. What is feeding this increase in recommendations and prescriptions I don’t know exactly, but what I am seeing is clients who are on the B -vitamins tend to become more wound up, anxious or worried. To explain why I don’t love B vitamin supplementation alone, I have to go into Chinese medicine a bit. It’s a Yin and Yang thing. B-Vitamins by themselves are very Yang (activity, movement) in nature. Women with blood deficiency are Yin deficient, they lack the grounding and anchoring to hold the Qi generated by the B vitamins which can make them ungrounded, nervous and tense.
Generally, the systems of B deficiencies go away as soon as I get a client to add beans to their diets. What are those symptoms? They look like blood deficiency – fatigue, weakness, slow hair and nail growth, low energy, sighing, tightness in the diaphragm, anxiety and nervousness. Bean’s nature as a whole is more anchoring and calming than Vitamin B supplement. A few beans or lentils with a bit of oil (Yin) and salt (descends and calms) and they settle down and feel energy and strength come back.
Beans are low in fat – They are low in fat, low in calories and low in cholesterol. Actually, they are well known to reduce cholesterol in high fat diets.
Lentils and legumes – 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. A word of warning here, thyroid and adrenal exhaustion take time to recover from and indicate a deep deficiency – you have literally exhausted all your reserves in your savings account. As you start to rebuild, don’t over do it and continue to drain your accounts.
They encourage growth and stimulate the brain, spine and bone marrow – All of these functions are ruled by the Kidneys in Chinese/Asian Medicine.
They drain damp – Making them beneficial in treating excess conditions like edema, phlegm, yeast, obesity and diabetes. Part of this action is due to their highly fibrous nature which helps pull out phlegm and excess mucus through the bowels, cleaning the bowels along the way. Loofah for your intestines.
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.