How To Properly Prepare Beans (So They’re Gut-Healthy)

by Mariel Heiss

How To Properly Prepare Beans For Gut-Healthy Diets

If you’re following an ancestral or gut-healthy diet like SCD, AIP, GAPS, paleo, or a leaky gut diet, beans are one of the most confusing foods you’ll hear discussed.

On the one hand, you probably grew up believing beans to be a “healthy food.” They’re versatile, cheap, tasty, and filling… there’s a good reason they are a staple in diets around the world.

But on the other hand, if you’re interested in gut health, you may have heard some bad news about beans…

Like that beans contain anti-nutrients. Or that they damage your gut. That they are actually really bad for you.

So which is true? Are beans good or bad?

The truth is that (like just about any food) beans and legumes aren’t strictly good or bad.

Depending on the individual, beans may or may not be a good food for you right now.

But one thing is certain: to be a healthy food for anyone, beans must be properly prepared.

When prepared properly, beans are a nutrient-dense food that can nourish your body. In this article, I’ll briefly cover the bean controversy plus share how to safely prepare beans at home.

Why Do Beans Have a Bad Rap?

Beans, like all plant foods, contain anti-nutrients.

Anti-nutrients are mother nature’s way of protecting plants from being eaten by other organisms.

Some anti-nutrients you’ve probably heard of:

  • Lectins
  • Phytates
  • Tannins
  • Oxalates
  • Gluten
  • Saponins
  • And many more

(A side note – you’ll also hear many of these referred to as acids – i.e. oxalates as oxalic acid, or phytates as phytic acid – for our understanding, it’s just a different way of saying the same thing.)

Beans contain high levels of both lectins and phytates, which is why some gut-healing diets exclude beans entirely.

Are Lectins Making You Sick?

Lectins are a type of anti-nutrient found in many plant foods – everything from grains and beans to squash and nightshades.

Uncooked beans contain high levels of lectins – and when not cooked thoroughly, can make people sick.

Recently, diets that limit or avoid foods high in lectins have become popular.

And while it’s true that over consuming lectins can cause symptoms in sensitive people (especially those with conditions like leaky gut or autoimmunity), most lectins are removed by cooking.

In fact, pressure cooking beans for as little as 7.5 minutes almost entirely deactivates the lectin they contain.

So, as our friend Chris Kresser puts it,

“Suggesting that we shouldn’t eat cooked legumes because raw legumes cause disease is like saying that we shouldn’t eat cooked chicken because we can get Salmonella from eating raw chicken.”

Is Phytic Acid Stealing Your Nutrients?

Phytate contains a form of phosphorus that is not bioavailable to humans and other primates. This means we aren’t able to absorb and break down the phosphorus contained in the phytate. (Animals like cows who have multiple stomachs are better able to digest the phytates in beans and grains.)

The unabsorbed phosphorous then binds to calcium, zinc, magnesium, copper, and iron in the intestinal tract – meaning that not only do we not digest the nutrients present in food high in phytates – you also miss out on the nutrients in other foods because the phytates “steal” them.

Fear over the consequences of phytates “stealing” nutrients led many people to completely remove beans from their diet. While we respect each person’s right to customize their diet to their own needs, you certainly don’t have to eliminate beans to be healthy or safeguard your nutrients.

But by soaking beans before cooking, you can drastically reduce the amount of phytates in beans and make them much safer to consume, even in large quantities. Plus, it’s easy, cheap, and requires no special skills.

Proper Preparation Makes Beans Gut-Healthy

Let’s briefly go back to cows for a minute.

Animals that graze on grains for the majority of their food have multiple stomachs that help them break down anti-nutrients like phytates found in plant foods.

Humans have just one stomach.

Luckily, we have something else that helps us break down our food and make it easier to digest: kitchens!

I’m not kidding! By preparing our foods properly, we can make them less harmful, more beneficial, and much easier to digest.

Beans are a prime example of this. By soaking beans before cooking them, we can greatly reduce the levels of phytic acid present in the finished beans.

In a sense, soaking and cooking (especially pressure cooking) act like 2 extra stomachs for us!

Soaking beans before cooking them also makes them less likely to cause digestive disturbances like bloating and gas.

How to Soak Beans

Soaking beans is very straightforward.

There are 3 elements to consider when soaking beans:

  1. Type of bean
  2. Length of time
  3. And water solution

If all else fails, soaking any dried beans in plain water overnight is better than not soaking at all – but you can customize the soak to reap the most benefits.

Here’s how I soak my beans:

  • Using a 4:1 ratio of beans to water, I soak them for 10-24 hours in warm water with either an acid or a base added – or nothing added at all (it all depends on the type of bean)
  • For acids, I use either lemon juice or vinegar, and add 2 tablespoons for every 1 cup of beans
  • For my base, I add 1 pinch of baking soda per 1 cup of beans
  • After soaking, I drain and rinse the beans and then cook them according to my recipe

This chart can help you figure out what to add to your water, based on the bean you’re using:

For example, if I was soaking 2 cups of dried black beans I would combine the 2 cups dried beans, 8 cups warm water, and 4 tablespoons (or 1/4 cup) lemon juice or vinegar. I’d allow them to soak for 18 – 24 hours. If I was planning to have beans as part of my dinner Tuesday night, this might mean setting them out to soak as I was preparing dinner Monday night.

Beans Are Back on the Menu

If you’ve been excluding beans from your diet, I hope soaking and properly preparing them allows you to reintroduce them.

Remember that there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” diet and the best way to know if beans work for you is to test them out!

If you feel overwhelmed and confused by figuring out what to eat, what foods to avoid, or how to test out reintroducing foods, I hope you’ll consider attending a free webinar on our Solving Leaky Gut course.

In Solving Leaky Gut, you’ll learn how to follow an elimination and reintroduction diet to heal your gut and find the perfect diet – customized to your unique needs.

Does this sound like something you need help with? Sign up for a free webinar here (we’ll email you a recording, too!).

In health,

Mariel

P.S. – Do you have a favorite bean recipe? Please share it with us in the comments section!

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About the author

Mariel Heiss Mariel is a Customer Happiness Engineer at SCD Lifestyle. When she began college, she started having digestive symptoms that spiraled into chronic food intolerances, autoimmune conditions and fatigue before beginning her own journey to better health with the help of Steve and Jordan. If she isn’t at her treadmill desk connecting with the SCD Lifestyle community via email, comments, or Facebook, you can find her outside in the sunshine with her golden retriever, Gus.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet Works

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan October 10, 2017 at 8:06 pm

Hi Mariel, I was wondering about navy beans (soaking time, etc.) …

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Mariel Heiss October 11, 2017 at 3:02 pm

I use the kidney bean guidelines for navy beans!

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Lynne Emmons October 11, 2017 at 9:33 am

What about navy beans, or white beans, or northern beans, or Lima beans?

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Mariel Heiss October 11, 2017 at 3:03 pm

I use the kidney beans guidelines for these types of beans 🙂

If I’m ever totally unsure, an overnight soak in water in always better than nothing!

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Deb October 11, 2017 at 10:31 am

My husband grew up eating bean soup and is missing, especially this time of year. I have a question – You mention pressure cooking for 7.5 minutes. Is this instead of the soak? If so, water and acid/base quantities the same?

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Mariel Heiss October 11, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Hi Deb – no, the pressure cooking is in addition to the soaking – you always want to soak the beans before you cook them according to the directions ehre, and then you can cook them according to any recipe for dried beans you have (including in a pressure cooker). You might find that soaked beans cook up faster than do non-soaked beans – and that they are much creamier, too!!

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James Carter October 11, 2017 at 11:26 am

Thanks for this!! Seriously, there’s alot of information here that I didn’t know and I eat beans quite alot. I don’t think I will ever look at a bean the same way again after this xD – Thanks muchly.

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Lori Jo Berg October 11, 2017 at 12:17 pm

You’re welcome!! Glad you found it helpful:)

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James Carter October 12, 2017 at 2:58 pm

If I did have a question, which may sound like a daft one but it’s genuine in my case, it would be about calories. Does this make the beans any lower in calories or is it a healthier way in terms of people struggling with their weight? Due to certain medications, stubborn weight gain is an issue I’m faced with.
Thanks! 🙂

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Lori Jo Berg October 16, 2017 at 3:13 pm

Hi James – the calories should not change:) This just makes it easier to digest the beans.

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Laurie West October 11, 2017 at 1:01 pm

how do you feel about canned beans. i do fine on canned pinto but i had canned navy mixed with butter beans and i became inflammed within an hr. of ingesting them. difference?

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Mariel Heiss October 11, 2017 at 2:57 pm

Hi Laurie –

I don’t recommend canned beans – it’s impossible to know exactly how they were prepared. It is so easy to soak and cook them yourself, much cheaper, they taste better, are easier to digest, you don’t have to worry about BPA in the cans – there are just many reasons to not eat canned beans and prepare them from dried instead. If I had to chosoe between not eating beans or eating canned beans, I would choose to not eat beans (personally!)

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Alicia October 11, 2017 at 1:20 pm

Pressure cook my beans with a strip of kombu so as not to fart.

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Ella Frank October 11, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Pinto beans? Scarlett runners? the list of beans is endless. How can you tell which beans require which type of soak? Thnx!

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Mariel Heiss October 12, 2017 at 10:32 am

Hi Ella – yes there are a lot of beans 🙂 For any bean I’m not sure (or any kidney-shaped bean like pinto beans) I use the guidelines for kidney beans. When all else fails, soaking overnight in water is always better than nothing.

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Eva October 12, 2017 at 9:57 pm

Mariel! You’re always full of great tips!

What about peanuts? Can we eat peanut butter in the beans phase of the intro diet?

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Mariel Heiss October 13, 2017 at 9:05 am

Thanks Eva 🙂

Personally I stay away from peanuts. Peanuts aren’t prepared the way other legumes are (they aren’t soaked and then cooked until soft) so it’s hard to say what the effect of peanut lectins might be. Plus there are often mold issues with peanuts – Chris Kresser goes into it a bit in this great article: https://chriskresser.com/are-legumes-paleo/

To be super clear though – I wouldn’t recommend you try any beans until you’ve got a great “safe zone” diet established of meats, fruits and veggies – foods you tolerate really well that leave you feeling good – once you have that down, then you can start experiementing with these “gray zone” foods like properly preapred beans 🙂

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James Carter October 16, 2017 at 5:41 pm

Also something to bare in mind, Eva, is that alot of people with issues like leaky gut and it’s associated problems have an issue with decreased histamine tolerance. Peanuts are very high in histamine, and if you have a reduced tolerance to histamine, eating peanuts could cause symptoms such as tingling and itchiness in the mouth, tongue and face, urticaria, red watering eyes, a sudden sensation of anxiety, headache, runny nose, diarrhoea, a cough, and nausea. Other foods high in histamine can be alcohol, caffeine, nuts, mature cheese, vinegar, salted snacks (such as salty nuts or salted crisps), chocolate, and and others. Hope this helps.
Blessings,
James

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