"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease."
- Thomas Edison
Sprouting makes beans and grains more digestible. At the very least, be sure to soak them in water overnight.
See list of
Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D. Weekly CancerDecisions.com
Newsletter #116 01/18/04
BEANS AGAINST CANCER?
"...and let them give us pulse to eat and water to drink." -Daniel 1.12
Here in the US Northeast we are suffering through one of the coldest winters on record. As I write, the temperature is ten below zero (-10º F.). Add in the wind chill, and it feels like 35 below. The natives are starting to grumble, although some of my neighbors are thrilled at the imminent prospect of ice fishing. Even our salt water coves are frozen over! When the weather turns as inhospitable as this, we need as much comfort as we can get. This is the perfect time, therefore, to rediscover one of nature's prime comfort foods, beans. Yes, beans.
The major problem in discussing Phaseolus vulgaris is, well, its vulgarity. No other kind of food elicits as much low humor as "the musical fruit." It's impossible to talk about beans without tackling the uncomfortable subject of intestinal gas. I know this is a topic of endless fascination to some people, especially those in the 7 to 10 year-old age range. Benjamin Franklin, a vegetarian who knew his beans, once wrote a whole essay on this most unlikely of topics. He proposed a scientific prize for the inventor who could come up with "some drug, wholesome and not disagreeable, to be mixed with our common food, or sauces, that shall render the natural discharges of Wind from our bodies not only inoffensive, but agreeable as perfumes." Like many utopian dreams of the Enlightenment, this one came to naught. That mighty Wind is, alas, still with us.
However, we should not allow a little intestinal rumbling to come between us and a truly beneficial food. Happily, beans received a major boost last month from the Bean Research Unit of the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The US Midwest produces much of the world's bean supply, so it is perhaps understandable that these Michigan scientists are unabashedly partisan toward beans. However, the facts speak for themselves: the common dry bean turns out to be an outstanding source of antioxidants.
When these USDA scientists analyzed the colored seed coats of twelve different types of beans they found that these legumes contained many of the same antioxidants (such as anthocyanins) that are also found in pricier berries and fruits, and also in wine. "Although these polyphenols [i.e., antioxidants] can cause problems in digestibility," they admitted, "they may be important dietary supplements with beneficial health effects."
Most of the antioxidant benefit of fruits and vegetables comes from the component that gives them their color. Just as with the beta-carotene that makes the carrot orange and the lycopene that turns the tomato and the watermelon their gorgeous shades of red, so it is with beans: the darker the hue, the more abundant the supply of valuable micronutrients. According to another recent study, the amount of antioxidants varies greatly in kidney beans, but in general the greatest amount is found in red and black varieties (Choung 2003). In shopping, therefore, shun the pale cannellini and Great Northern and go for the more colorful varieties.
Taking the Pulse of the Pulses
At various times, scientists have tried to agree upon the ideal anti-cancer diet. These consensus statements by large groups of experts have generally spoken in positive tones about peas, beans and lentils (the group collectively known as pulses or legumes) and cowpeas (a related category that includes black-eyed peas). For example, the World Cancer Relief Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) committee included general recommendations concerning legume consumption. The opinion of the committee was that, in order to minimize the risk of developing cancer, 45-60 percent of dietary calories should come from starchy or protein-rich foods of plant origin. Pulses are included in this category. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also recommended a daily consumption of 30 grams (about an ounce) of pulses, including nuts and seeds, to reduce the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer.
A breakthrough in nutritional thinking came three years ago when scientists showed that people who ate legumes four times per week had a 22 percent lower risk of heart disease compared with people who consumed legumes less than once per week (Bazzano 2001). This finally gave empirical justification to the childhood jingle that beans are "good for the heart." And although beans are high in carbohydrates they have a low-glycemic index (i.e., they are slowly digested), and therefore "provide a sustained source of energy that curbs caloric intake and helps to maintain weight" (Smith 2003). Because of this beans can help people with diabetes to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Research over the past twenty years has in general supported the health-promoting properties of beans. One older survey found that people who ate lots of beans enjoyed a measure of protection against breast, prostate and colon cancer (Correa 1981). Another study found an inverse trend between legume consumption and the incidence of prostate cancer (Kolonel 2000). Two experimental studies showed that feeding rodents navy, black and pinto beans inhibited the incidence of colon cancer by 52 to 57 percent (Hangen 2002 and Hughes 1997).
However, in most Western countries, beans get little respect and therefore little research interest. In cancer circles, it's genes, not beans, that attract the big bucks. Questions on surveys about food consumption typically lump together all pulses, a category that generally includes nuts, seeds, lentils, peas, soy beans as well as all types of dry beans. There has been a tendency to look on beans as a source of cheap calories, but nothing more.
Culturally, one cannot think of beans without thinking of Boston. At one time the local baseball team was even called the "Beaneaters." Boston has since become a home of haute cuisine, but here in rural New England we still adhere to the old ways. The Bean Supper is a prominent feature of the social calendar, whether at the local clapboard church, Town House or Odd Fellows' Hall. But, as a general rule, bean consumption declines as one's socioeconomic standing improves. (The exceptions being the health-food conscious and the Tex-Mex crazed.) Consumption in Western countries tends to be quite low - a few pounds per head per year.
This cultural aversion to beans may backfire. A glance at cancer mortality rates around the world raises a provocative question: Can beans actually protect against some major forms of cancer? As a general observation, countries with low rates of colon, rectal, breast and prostate cancer are those in which beans form a prominent staple of the diet, while countries with relatively high rates of these same diseases tend to be those in which bean consumption is markedly lower. Some of the highest rates of colorectal cancer in the world are in Eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovenia, countries not famous for their bean consumption. In Poland, for instance, annual per capita bean consumption is just over one kilogram (2.2 pounds). What is more, "basically Poland is a white bean market" according to industry sources (Northarvest 2003). White beans have the least amounts of antioxidants.
The Czech Republic has the dubious distinction of having the highest male colorectal cancer death rate in the world (34.2 per 100,000). Among women it ranks third. It is therefore interesting to read that "domestic production of dry beans for human consumption is practically non-existent in the Czech Republic and consumption is low," estimated at only approximately 11 to 14 ounces per person per year. As in Poland, "production...is centered on white beans only, of the navy bean type" (Northarvest 2003).
Contrast that with Latin America. In Mexico, for instance, the colorectal cancer death rate is 4.7 per 100,000 for men and 4.6 per 100,000 in women. Thus, a man's chances of dying of colorectal cancer are one-seventh in Mexico City what they are in Prague! Similar differentials apply to other forms of cancer as well.
Beans contribute 70 to 80 percent of the vegetable protein consumed by lower-income Mexicans. Mexican dry bean consumption (much of which is of antioxidant-rich black beans) is 33 pounds per year, more than five times the US total. Perhaps not coincidentally, Mexico has just 30 percent of the US colon cancer mortality rate. Although the derisive term "bean eater" has been hurled by nordamericanos at their neighbors to the south, it seems that those who eat beans will have the last word when it comes to some kinds of cancer.
My strong recommendation is to rediscover beans, if you haven't already done so. You can of course buy beans that are already prepared. I grew up eating Heinz vegetarian baked beans, which now are much too bland and sweet for my taste. A far more enjoyable and less expensive way to incorporate beans into your diet is to get yourself a good Yankee bean pot, a package of dried beans, and a source of pure water. You can then add such things as kombu (sea vegetables), mustard, tomato sauce, vinegar, molasses or maple syrup. I generally try to limit sweeteners as much as possible. Nothing is more contrary to the wholesome taste of good baked beans than to muck it up with goopy syrups, fatty frankfurters or tiny marshmallows! But, that said, any beans are probably better than no beans at all.
As to gas, experience shows that it tends to diminish or go away after one has gotten into the bean habit. But some people truly cannot abide this food. For those who find the gas difficult to manage, a product called Bean-O may prove helpful. Bean-O is a food additive that is said to make legumes and other gas-engendering foods more digestible and therefore less offensive. Once you get past that obstacle, you will have discovered an economical source of nutrition that may be of tremendous value in the fight against cancer.
Some shopping hints:
Excellent sources of dried beans are your local food co-op and health food store. There are many organic varieties available with subtle, but interesting, differences between them. Be sure to wash them well and pick them over for tiny stones that may have been included in the course of packaging. (This is especially important when dealing with local suppliers.) You can also get good information as well as products online, especially from Amazon.com.
For me, part of the ritual of making baked beans is the pot that I cook them in. I use a beautiful cast iron Le Creuset Poterie four quart beanpot similar to the one depicted here:
Click or go to:
For further suggestions on cooking beans, here is an excellent "Bean Bible":
Click or go to:
There are many fine prepared bean dishes available online. Here's a fine black bean soup from Indian Harvest:
Click or go to:
--Ralph W. Moss, PhD
Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG, et al. Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women. Arch Intern Med 2001;161:2573-8.
Choung MG, Choi BR, An YN, Chu YH, Cho YS. Anthocyanin profile of Korean cultivated kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.). J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Nov 19;51(24):7040-3.
Correa, P. 1981. Epidemiological correlations between diet and cancer frequency. Cancer Res, 41:3685-90.
Hangen L and Bennink MR. Consumption of black beans and navy beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) reduced azoxymethane-induced colon cancer in rats. Nutr Cancer. 2002;44(1):60-5.
Hughes JS, Ganthavorn C, Wilson-Sanders S. Dry beans inhibit azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis in F344 rats. J Nutr. 1997 Dec;127(12):2328-33.
Kolonel, LN, Hankin JH, Whittemore AS, et al. Vegetables, fruits, legumes and prostate cancer: A multiethnic case-control study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomark Prev, 2000;9:795-804.
Northarvest Bean Growers Association. National Dry Bean Council Undertakes Market Development Programs in Eastern Europe. May 02, 2003. Accessed January 17, 2004 at: http://www.northarvestbean.org/html/news.cfm?ID=482
Smith, Aetna. You might not know beans. Growers, researchers, distributors talk about methods of studying, touting bean consumption. GrandForksHerald.com Posted on Sat, Jul. 19, 2003.
The news and other items in this newsletter are intended for informational purposes only. Nothing in this newsletter is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
In This Issue...
Bean Appetit! -- Get to Know This Nutritional
As bird flu looms, mad cow disease continues to hang in the air
and people look for increasingly healthful ways to eat, beans have
suddenly achieved "superfood" status. Scientists affirm that beans
are packed with nutrients that fight chronic diseases, such as
diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, while helping to
control your blood sugar. And, as part of a healthful diet, beans
make it easier for you to maintain a healthful weight, which also
cuts your risk of chronic disease.
So, despite their socially bad reputation, beans are worth
considering as part of a healthful diet.
SPILLING THE BEANS ON BEANS
Beans are a member of the legume family, which also includes
soybeans, lentils, peas and peanuts. (For purposes of this article,
we'll talk about those legumes Americans think of when they hear the
word "beans" -- such as pinto, red, pink, navy and black beans,
cannelini and red kidney, chickpeas, black-eyed peas and green
Beans are a good source of low-fat protein, vitamins, minerals
and antioxidants. But perhaps the best reason to eat beans is the
fiber, says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, professor of nutrition
science and policy at Tufts University in Boston. Most Americans
fall short of the recommended 20 g to 30 g of fiber a day (some
health experts call for even more). A half-cup serving of legumes
contains about 120 calories and anywhere from 4 g to 6 g of fiber --
including about 2 g of soluble fiber, which can reduc e your
cholesterol and help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Besides filling you up, making weight control easier, the fiber
in beans also...
- Slows the absorption of
blood sugar from the small intestine, helping some people with
pre-diabetes, diabetes or hypoglycemia.
- Makes stools softer,
bulkier and easier to pass, relieving constipation and
decreasing your exposure to carcinogens that may be in the
- Lowers your risk of
hemorrhoids (swollen anal tissues), diverticulosis (microscopic
pouches that protrude through weak spots in the lining of the
colon) and irritable bowel syndrome (muscle spasms in the wall
of the colon).
- Manages bile acids and
bacterial enzymes that in excess may promote the growth of
precancerous polyps (tissue growths that protrude from a
membrane such as the intestinal lining) and colon cancer.
- Binds with certain
estrogen metabolites, possibly reducing your risk for
estrogen-responsive cancers such as those of the breast and
Getting your fiber from beans and other plant foods provides all
the other disease-fighting nutrients you don't get in a fiber
supplement, says Dr. Lichtenstein, who's also director and senior
scientist with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center
on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
GOOD, BETTER, BEST BEANS?
When USDA researchers analyzed antioxidant levels in more than
100 different foods, small red beans topped the list, beating even
the exalted wild blueberry. Red kidney beans and pinto beans also
made the top four, while black beans came in among the top 20.
But Dr. Lichtenstein says you shouldn't select beans based on
antioxidant content, because scientists are only just beginning to
identify the health-promoting compounds in plant foods and don't
fully understand how they work most effectively. "The benefits of
using beans to replace foods high in saturated fat outweigh minor
differences among beans," Dr. Lichtenstein says.
Although beans bear no FDA-approved labels advertising their
health benefits, research shows they significantly influence
America's most lethal chronic diseases. By lowering your
cholesterol, helping you control your weight and lowering blood
levels of the amino acid homocysteine, beans can reduce your risk of
developing heart disease and stroke. And, according to the American
Institute for Cancer Research, phytochemicals in beans can protect
cells from DNA damage, which can lead to cancer... may inhibit the
reproduction of cancer cells... may potentially slow the division of
cancer cells and the growth of tumors and inhibit tumors from
destroying nearby cells.
JUMPING IN THE BEANPOT
The USDA Food Guide Pyramid recommends three cups of beans per
week -- that equals six one-half cup servings -- for Americans
eating about 2,000 calories a day. When adding beans to your
diet, Dr. Lichtenstein makes these recommendations...
- Don't select beans based
on their fiber, protein or antioxidant content. Instead, eat a
variety of beans in a variety of bean dishes such as burritos,
soups, casseroles and dips or spreads like hummus (made from
ground chickpeas) to keep your diet interesting. Like with
fruits and vegetables, the more variety of your beans the
- Enjoy canned beans,
especially if that enables you to consume them more often.
There's little nutritional difference between canned beans and
dried beans you have to cook yourself -- just rinse beans or buy
low-sodium versions if that's a concern, says Dr. Lichtenstein.
Enjoy bean soups, too -- pureed beans still provide nutrients.
- Simply adding beans to
your diet can result in unwanted pounds that hurt your health.
Instead, substitute them for less-healthy foods, such as meats
high in saturated fats.
And, oh by the way, if all of the nutritional and health benefits
of beans are not enough of an inspiration, it's useful to know that
one serving of beans costs a small fraction of the average serving
of meat, fish or poultry. A nutritional powerhouse at a low price.
That's a bargain.
Bottom Line's Daily Health News
- Alice H. Lichtenstein,
DSc, Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy, Gerald
J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and
Policy, Tufts University, and director and senior scientist,
cardiovascular nutrition laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human
Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston.
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