Spill the Beans: Are They Healthy Or Not?

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“Beans, beans, good for your heart…”

You probably remember that little chant that was popular among second graders, at least at my elementary school. It lightheartedly reminds us of the cardiovascular benefits of eating legumes… among other things!

Turns out that there may be some truth in the old nursery rhyme. While it’s true that beans contain certain heart-healthy benefits (and on the downside, yes, they can cause flatulence as well), the health benefits of beans are not quite so cut and dried.

Why Are Beans Controversial?

Vegans and vegetarians often rely on black beans, lentils, and other bean varieties as their main source of protein. However, diets like Paleo and keto avoid beans entirely because they contain controversial compounds called lectins.

There are also different grades of beans. While chickpeas (or garbanzo beans), navy beans and many others are a good source of B vitamins, most Americans get their fill of beans from unhealthy soy products, which are devoid of such beneficial nutrients.

Peanuts are also technically in the bean family, as they’re classified as a legume (and not a nut). Sadly, allergies to peanuts are on the rise, especially among children.

Here’s the lowdown on the pros and cons of eating certain types of beans, and how you can prepare them to maximize their nutritional value.

The Pros: Health Benefits of Beans

There are quite a few nutrients packed into the humble little bean. They’re rich in dietary fiber, they’re a great protein source, and they contain vitamins like folate and iron.

They are also generally low-fat and contain few calories, making them a staple in the Mediterranean diet and slow carb diet.

It also turns out that the second graders in my class were right: Beans may, in fact, be good for your heart health! One study found that pinto beans, in particular, helped to reduce LDL cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart disease.

Another study showed that eating baked beans helped reduce risk factors for type 2 diabetes, while other research finds that eating kidney beans can help reduce inflammation in the colon. And if you’re trying to lose weight, good news: yet another study found that bean consumption is associated with smaller waist circumference, lower body weight, and even reduced blood pressure.

But before you go crazy eating high fiber beans for every meal, we need to understand their risk factors, and how to mitigate it.

The Cons: Can Beans Be Unhealthy?

The biggest problem with beans is that they contain lectins, which are also present in high amounts in grains. Lectins essentially act as thorns do in rose bushes — as a protective measure for the plant. Instead of prickly deterrents that harm our skin, lectins assault our digestive systems, prompting predators (or consumers like us) to stay away.

One of the experts I look to most on this topic is Dr. Steven Gundry, renowned heart surgeon and author of the book The Plant Paradox. He explains in our podcast interview:

Lectins are a sticky plant protein, and they’re designed by plants as a defense mechanism against being eaten. These plants don’t want to be eaten… so one of the ways they fight against being eaten is to produce these lectins, which like to bind to specific sugar molecules in us or any of their predators. And those sugar molecules line the wall of our gut. They line the lining of our blood vessels, they line our joints. They line the spaces between nerves. And when lectins hit these places, they are a major cause of leaky gut. They can break down the gut wall barrier. They’re a major cause of arthritis, they’re a major cause of heart disease, and they’re a major cause, in my research, of autoimmune diseases.

We can understand from this that some lectins are more toxic than others, but all lectins have some effect on the body. This is the reason that grains, beans, and other lectin-containing foods cannot be eaten raw. In fact, ingesting even just a few raw kidney beans can cause vomiting and digestive problems.

Another problem with lectins is that they can contribute to obesity and diabetes. Lectins can bind to any carbohydrate-containing protein cells, including insulin and leptin receptors, desensitizing them. Without proper insulin and leptin function, problems like metabolic syndrome can emerge.

How to Reduce Lectins in Beans and Grains

Fortunately, it’s possible to reduce the number of lectins in beans and grains by using certain traditional cooking methods. Sprouting, fermenting, soaking, and pressure cooking are all useful ways to cut down on lectins, but keep in mind that none of these methods will remove the lectins completely. You can also buy certain brands that have taken some of these steps, so you don’t have to do any of the prep yourself.

You may choose to avoid beans entirely, but if your body isn’t too sensitive to lectin, you can reap the beneficial fiber content with these preparation methods. Start by enjoying a half-cup or so at a time to see how you feel. You might also want to get your cholesterol levels checked before and after you try these methods!

How to Soak Beans

The easiest way to remove lectins prior to cooking is to soak dry beans overnight. For best results, cover the beans completely with cold water, and add a little baking soda to help neutralize the lectins further. Since the lectins will release into the water, try to replace the soaking solution at least once or twice. Drain and rinse a final time before cooking to ensure you’ve removed as much as possible.

How to Sprout Beans

If you want to take it a step further, you can sprout the beans after you’ve soaked them. To do this, its best to use special sprouting seeds, which are free of any bacteria that would be killed if you were simply boiling them as usual.

After the soaking process, put the beans in a mason jar with a sprouting lid, or a cloth secured by a rubber band. Invert the jar over a bowl, and set it on the kitchen counter out of the way. You should see sprouts within a day, but you can keep sprouting them for a bit longer if you prefer. Just be sure to give them a rinse once a day. For more details on how to sprout individual legumes and grains, this is a great resource.

How to Ferment Beans

If you like your beans a little funky, fermentation might be the way to go. Like the sprouting process, you’ll want to start with rinsing and soaking your beans, except this time you want to cook them.

I recommend boiling them for at least an hour on the stovetop, or throw the soaked beans into a slow cooker and set on low for six to eight hours. Next, add seasoning (like garlic or salt) and a culture, like kombucha, yogurt, or a culture powder you can buy at the store. Mash them up a little to get more surface area fermenting, cover, and store in a warm place for several days. Open the lid slightly every day to release the excess gas, then set in the refrigerator when done.

Serve your fermented beans as a side dish, or enjoy them as a refreshing side dish!

Use a Pressure Cooker

Another easy way to reduce and almost completely eliminate lectins is to cook foods in a pressure cooker, like an Instant Pot. This greatly reduces the lectin content of beans and is an easy and fast way to cook them.

As with the other preparation methods I mentioned above, I recommend soaking the beans overnight in several changes of water, then pressure cooking according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Buy Safe Brands

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of soaking and cooking the beans yourself, Dr. Gundry recommends Eden brand beans. They’re pre-soaked, cooked in pressure cookers, then stored in BPA-free cans. Go ahead and eat these beans straight out of the container for the ultimate low-lectin convenience!

What Level of Lectin Consumption Is Safe?

This is a difficult question with no single answer. Keep in mind that many foods contain lectins, not just beans and grains. We can’t avoid them completely. The key is finding a workable balance that minimizes the worst sources.

My personal recommendation is to soak, sprout, ferment, or pressure cook foods high in lectins, like legumes, seeds, nuts, and grains like barley, oats, and wheat.

Nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant also contain lectins, and these can be reduced by peeling and pressure cooking.

What I Do to Avoid Lectin

Personally, I avoid grains and legumes unless properly prepared, soak nuts overnight, and avoid all processed and commercially prepared foods, grains, and soy.

When I was actively working to halt my autoimmune disease, I avoided lectins much more carefully. Similarly, if you are overweight or attempting to lose weight, a more stringent avoidance of lectins might be helpful.

For many, avoiding lectins for a year or so can help soothe the intestinal lining, improve gut bacteria, facilitate weight loss, and reduce allergy symptoms. If you or your children are suffering from unknown allergies or gut problems, try removing beans entirely from your diet to see if that helps.

The Bottom Line

While many people in the United States don’t sprout or ferment their beans and grains, it might be worth trying. After all, beans are proven to lower cholesterol and fight cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, if your gut health suffers when you eat beans, or your kids have a strong reaction to them, you might want to avoid them a bit more stringently.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Lauren Jefferis, board-certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.

Do you eat beans? If so, what kind(s)? Share below!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


208 responses to “Spill the Beans: Are They Healthy Or Not?”

  1. Richard Schmidt, MD Avatar
    Richard Schmidt, MD

    Interesting article. The disappoint was referring to Dr. Steve Gundry as an expert. He has cherry-picked data from studies and is nothing more than an unqualified saleman for his untested supplements. If you are going to consult an “expert” you should do a bit more background research.

  2. Susan Avatar

    I scored the comments looking for any helpful information on HOW to cook the beans in an Instant Pot without avail.

    I’ve soaked and spouted limas and red kidney beans, and am now ready to cook. I have two books directly from Instant Pot- one states to cook 20-25 minutes while the other says 6-8 minutes.

    Any help is greatly appreciated.

    Thank you.

  3. Bethany Avatar

    The longest lived people on earth (Blue Zone areas) all eat beans. I suppose I am biased, I just read Fiber Fueld by gastroenterologist Dr. Will Bulsiewicz. 🙂

  4. Grace Avatar

    I think your article has an error. You say that “Another problem with lectins is that they can contribute to obesity and diabetes” yet also cite that beans reduce the risk of diabetes. Just wanted to let you know!

  5. Rijhu Avatar

    Hello Katie,

    Nice and clear explanations about the pros and cons of beans. Often we get confused and overwhelmed about the health benefits of beans as it has always controversial.

    Good thing is that it is nutrients packed, rich in fibre, great source of protein and contains essential vitamins which is very good for a healthy heart as it reduces heart problems, reduces bad cholesterol from our body and also reduces the risk of diabetes type 2.

    Thank you for explaining the various methods how we can remove the lectins present in it which leads to weight gain and also sometimes not good for our health.


  6. Natasha Avatar

    We love beans and introduced them to our daughter at an early age. They’re filling, digestable and don’t spike blood sugar. Our favorites are black beans with my own spice mix, Chickpea salads (we like chickpeas made curry style and meditteranean), a white bean with rosemary and garlic, and baked beans (from scratch though).

    When our daughter was quite young, we removed the outerskin of canned chickpeas so she could nosh on them. As she got older we started introducing other beans and flavors. Interestingly, we used to serve our black beans with steak or chicken, but now nobody misses the meat so it’s become a nice meatless/vegan meal. And affordable too.

    Someone else mentioned that people react to diets differently and I couldn’t agree more. For example, my husband can eat some yogurt and fruit in the morning and be satiated. I can’t. That type of breakfast makes me ridiculously hungry in a short while. But if I have a piece of toast with avocado and some beans, I’m good until lunch.

    Give beans a chance but find what’s right for you.

  7. Jen Avatar

    If the purpose of soaking is to allow lectins to be released to the soaking liquid, I wonder about chia pudding. If you soak chia seeds in – let’s say almond milk – overnight and then eat the whole mixture the next day, are all the lectins still in there? I always thought rehydrating the chia seeds was beneficial, but now I wonder…

  8. M. J. Avatar

    Why are these close-minded people reading your blogs anyway? I would expect most of your readers know that the right diet/food is what is right for YOUR body. Some do well on a vegan diet while others need meat (and those would be wise to avoid grocery-store CAFO meats and find sources of pasture-raised and -finished meat). New medical and health research emphasizes that what’s right or wrong depends on your personal health, history, and needs.

  9. Caroline Avatar

    I’ve always hated the texture of beans. I was thrilled to find out they weren’t as great as we’ve always been told they are (learned this in the mid-2000s). I guess if you like them you will focus on the pros, and if you hate them all you see are cons. I think the most up to date research is that we may be trying to lower cholesterol for no good reason, so I don’t think this can be listed as a pro. I really see no point in eating beans unless you are vegetarian or vegan or actually enjoy them.

  10. Annette Avatar

    I really didn’t read into this article that it was totally biased against eating beans. In fact, both pros and cons were included. Many may not agree with the content, but some of us who do suffer from autoimmune diseases have and continue to be affected by some of the “anti-nutrients” associated with some foods. Does not mean that we do not like those foods, only that we have suffered, or still suffer by consuming them.

    For me, I was able to eat most foods, except those that I was allergic to many moons ago, prior to allergy shots. However, as I have aged certain foods that I have always loved and eaten, began causing me major discomfort and/or negative effects. (I did see a gastrointestinal MD for a year, but came away undiagnosed and with a weak message to just stay away from the foods that don’t agree with me.). Once I realized what foods were affecting me, I began removing them from my diet. I can eat them, but know that those same negative effects will happen if I do so. Soaking, pressure cooking, etc. certain loved food items is an option, where no other solution is available.

    I try to read articles with an open mind, and extract from it information where I have found personal value, and either incorporate them into my diet and life, or not. All of our bodies react to foods, or even pharma drugs, in very unique and different ways depending on our physiological make-up. What may be good for me, may not be for someone else.

    Eat nutritious and well—whatever that means for you!

  11. Logan Meline Avatar
    Logan Meline

    Don’t want to be rude, but I am a “word nerd.” I have a couple of bachelors degrees. As does my wife. One of her’s is in journalism. If you have a background in journalism, I’m sure you know that citing Wikipedia is a HUGE no no! Why then? It’s a great article otherwise, but with the unreliable research, all value is lost. I’d cut and past quotes from reliable sources, (assuming reliable information supports your article). Again, I’m not trying to shame. I’m just trying to help. I assume you will see this, but not post it.


  12. Denise Avatar

    Hi Katie, Thank you for a clear simple explanation of the lectin/leptin issue. It’s sometimes hard to understand the scientific research literature and try to connect the dots with one’s own health. It seems there are some missing pieces to this puzzle as so many people are getting sick with autoimmune issues and gut dysbiosis at a younger age than ever before. Our grandparents ate high lectin containing foods and many lived into their 90’s and 100+ altho some did suffer with inflammatory diseases (Alzheimer’s) and joint pain/arthritis and evidence of insulin resistance (stubborn weight gain and belly fat) with carbohydrate craving, thyroid and heart diseases, etc.. Are chemical exposures and toxins the main reasons for the widespreading earlier onset of these health issues?

  13. Michael Montoya Avatar
    Michael Montoya

    You sure quote Wikipedia a lot. This hurts your credibility, because anyone can go on a wiki and type whatever they want. Try to find more credible sources, please.

  14. Amanda B. Avatar

    I haven’t seen any discussion so far (forgive me if I missed it) about the role of dietary fiber in restoring gallbladder and liver health. As someone who’s been dealing with gallstones for years, I’m eager to try Karen Hurd’s bean diet. Apparently the extremely high fiber content in beans and lentils benefits the liver and gallbladder by binding with old bile and forcing the liver to produce new, clean bile, which then begins dissolving old gallstones. It’s fascinating the amount of information on both sides of the “bean” debate. If you have time, Katie, I’d love it if you read about it and provided your feedback.

  15. Andrea Avatar

    “If lectins are bad, then beans would be the worst, and so bean counters would presumably find that bean eaters cut their lives short, whereas the exact opposite may be true with legumes (beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils)—found to be perhaps the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people in countries around the world. As Dan Buettner points out in his Blue Zones work, lectin-packed foods “are the cornerstones of” the diets of all the healthiest, longest-lived populations on the planet. Plant-based diets in general, and legumes in particular, are a common thread among longevity Blue Zones around the world—the most lectin-lush food there is. And, if lectins are bad, then whole grain consumers should be riddled with disease—when, in fact, “whole grain intake is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease,” the #1 killer of men and women; strokes, too; and total cancer; and mortality from all causes put together—meaning people who eat whole grains tend to live longer, and, get fewer “respiratory diseases, infectious diseases, diabetes, and all non-cardiovascular, non-cancer causes” to boot. And, not just in population studies. As I’ve shown, you can randomize people into whole-grain interventions, and prove cause-and-effect benefits. The same with tomatoes. You randomize women to a cup and a half of tomato juice or water every day, and all that nightshade tomato lectin reduces systemic inflammation, or has waist-slimming effects, reducing cholesterol, as well as inflammatory mediators.”

  16. Tee Avatar

    Sorry but this article has no credibility and you are basing it on your personal experience only. Not all people will digest beans as well as others, but considering your website is full of meat recipes -( I’m sure people will recreate these with factory farmed animal products ) the chances of ill health are more likely to come from that than from beans. People have been eating beans for centuries – people haven’t been eating processed heavily farmed meat for that long and the generations that have are mostly sick and obese. Spreading fear mongering atkins/paleo rubbish is dangerous.

  17. Kirstie Avatar

    Hey! So we eat beans pretty regularly. We typically eat canned beans and thoroughly rinse them the heat on the stove. Should we be soaking canned beans? If so also overnight? Also, when it comes to nuts if you buy them roasted does that reduce the phytic acid and/or lectin?


  18. Sue Avatar

    I fixed myself a pot of pinto beans because my desire for meat is practically nonexistent. I am concerned about the lectins. I am on a medication that had to be increased and one of the effects of the increase is no desire for meat. Pinto beans sounded really appetizing and I fixed some healthy cornbread to go with it. What do you think?

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