Legumes are a class of plants that bear their fruits within pods. Legumes include beans, peas, and lentils (and even peanuts!). When properly prepared, they are among the most versatile and nutritious foods available. Legumes are high in folate (a B vitamin), manganese, potassium, iron, and magnesium. They also contain beneficial soluble and insoluble fiber. For a good source of protein, vegetarians often use legumes as a substitute for meat.
Phytic Acid and Minerals
All legumes contain phytic acid (called phytate in its salt form) which is found in the outer layer or seed coat. Untreated phytic acid can bind to calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption in the body. This is why a diet high in unfermented legumes may lead to mineral deficiencies and bone loss, making your meal nutrient-depleting rather than nutrient-giving. Not a good situation!
Legumes and Gas
We are all familiar with the famous gas-producing effects of legumes. This is another consequence of eating legumes that have not been properly prepared prior to cooking or consuming. Unsoaked legumes not only produce gas, but are more difficult to digest. This is because phytic acid also inhibits enzymes that we need to digest our food. One enzyme is pepsin, needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach. Another is amylase, needed for the breakdown of starch into sugar. Trypsin, needed for protein digestion in the small intestine, is also inhibited by phytates.
So how can we eat legumes and avoid these unwanted effects? There's an easy solution that doesn't require a trip to the drugstore for Beano®...
Soaking/fermenting legumes allows enzymes, lactobacilli, and other helpful organisms to break down and neutralize phytic acid. This also helps to partially break down proteins into simpler components that make them easier to digest, while also decreasing gas. Don’t feel overwhelmed, soaking legumes is easy!
Simply soak your legumes overnight (preferably 24 hours) in warm water and rinse before cooking.
This simple practice will vastly improve their nutrient availability and increase your body’s ability to absorb them. It is interesting to take not that almost all pre-industrialized cultures fermented or soaked their legumes before consuming them. For example, for hundreds of years, the Japanese have been fermenting soybeans to produce miso, tempeh, and natto. (In fact, soybeans are best consumed only after they have been fermented.)
Did you know that beans can even be made into a milk? We told you they were versatile! Try whipping up some of our delicious Vanilla Garbanzo Bean Milk.