In 2007 the American Institute for Cancer Research published the most comprehensive review on diet and cancer that had ever been undertaken. Nine independent research teams went through half a million studies on the subject and created a scientific consensus report. This was then reviewed by 21 of the top cancer researchers in the world.
Based on this study, one of their cancer prevention recommendations was that people should be eating whole grains and / or legumes with every meal. Yes, you read it correctly - every meal, not every day or every week. Eating beans for breakfast is not common in North America although it is in countries such as Japan and India in the forms of miso soup and lentil cakes respectively.
Dr Michael Greger recommends three servings a day from this group. One serving is a quarter of a cup of hummus or bean dip which is very easy to do as an afternoon snack with carrots and celery or sliced peppers. Half a cup of cooked beans, split peas, lentils, tofu or tempeh also comprises one serve. Again, very easy to do with just a bowl of vegetable soup with lentils, beans or split peas in the recipe. Finally, one cup of fresh peas or sprouted lentils is a serve too.
The soy milk you have on your breakfast cereal or in a smoothie can count towards your daily serves. Remember though, it is a processed food, as is tofu. About half of the nutrients that are associated with legumes - fibre, iron, magnesium, potassium, protein and zinc are lost when soybeans are made into tofu. Even with this loss of nutrients however, tofu is still a very healthy food, especially if you choose brands that are made with calcium. Tempeh is a better choice than tofu as it is a type of fermented soy bean patty made with whole soybeans. It is something you will have to experiment with in order to find ways of cooking it that you will enjoy.
Miso is another fermented whole soy food. It is a thick paste which is easy to make into a delicious soup with the addition of vegetables such as scallions, or whatever you have in the fridge. Concerns about the relatively high salt content were allayed after a four year study in Japan that showed people who were eating two or more bowls of miso soup a day had five times lower risk of getting high blood pressure than those who had less.
If you are short on time, canned beans can be a useful addition to your pantry. They are quick and easy to use, and are only about 20 cents per serving more expensive than cooking your own beans from scratch. That’s a price most busy working parents would be quite happy to pay. Lentils are the exception to this rule for me. They cook incredibly quickly and I usually add a cup of dry red lentils to soups such as my favourite cauliflower-curry soup and they just cook as the soup simmers.
Now I know many of you reading this are concerned about gas! Researchers have shown that adding a half a cup of beans a day to peoples’ diets made no difference to their level of flatulence in most people. In those who did notice a difference, the symptoms usually settled within two to three weeks. More common causes of gas are chewing gum, eating too fast, talking while you eat, sucking on hard candies and smoking cigarettes. So maybe have a look at all of those before you give up on the health benefits of beans!