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Question: I have always enjoyed black-eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day but was recently told not to eat beans anymore. My daughter, who is very up to date on all things nutrition, said beans can prevent us from absorbing other vitamins. I thought it would be interesting to find out all things bean-related from the local experts.
Answer: Many families in this area enjoy black-eyed peas, or pintos and greens as part of their tradition as well. Long thought to be a superfood, legumes have been under attack lately for containing a compound called tannins. Tannins were previously referred to as an “anti-nutrient,” but this idea may need to be revisited as tannins might actually have some health benefits. Aside from these compounds, beans, in my humble opinion, continue to be a superfood. Legumes are a powerhouse for nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals. I highly recommend continuing to add them to our diet.
Tannins are water-soluble compounds which have the ability to bind to proteins and iron during digestion. This process renders the bound iron and protein unavailable for use. In theory, eating a large quantity of tannins may lead to nutrient deficiencies or malnutrition. In fact, you might already be practicing a solution to high legume tannin levels. Soaking and boiling beans will significantly reduce the tannin levels in beans. This is because tannins are water soluble, so they come out in the water during the 24 hour pre-soak process. Tannins may be higher in pre-cooked legumes, depending on the legume, but are nothing major to be concerned about. According to the National Institute of Health, “In humans, no evidence of toxicity arising from the consumption of excessive amounts of legume tannins has ever been reported.”
Tannins are not only found in legumes. Tannin may be a familiar word known as the infamous compound in grape skins responsible for a wine’s bitter taste. Tannins can also be found in chocolate, peas, kale, coffee, tea and nuts. There are conflicting reports of tannins’ effect on health. While some reports indicate tannins impede absorption, others found tannins acted as antioxidants and have a benefit to those with diabetes. Food-bound or dietary tannins should not be confused with commercial tannic acid which has been shown to cause hardening of gastrointestinal lining reducing use of available nutrients. Commercial tannic acid, used in safe controlled amounts is useful for removing heavy metals from products like beer, and manufacturing rubber, inks and dyes.
So as long as you soak and cook your dried beans, you can continue to enjoy them worry free. Beans are a magical vegetable for many reasons. Beans contain both carbohydrates and protein, making them a viable full meal in a pinch. This is because carbohydrates provide energy and protein slows digestion leading to a sense of fullness. Beans are also higher in fiber than most vegetables, and their prebiotic fiber composition has specific benefits to the immune system. The high fiber content and protein make them have a lower glycemic index, which means they help stabilize blood glucose when eaten with a balanced meal.
In conclusion, beans are not only safe to consume, but I strongly recommend enjoying them as part of a balanced diet. Try beans as part of your meatless Monday. This may help cut down on grocery costs and help increase fiber intake. And if it is tannins you are worried about just remember to pre soak your dried beans before cooking them, as this will significantly decrease the tannin content. To give you some meal ideas, try the recipe below.
Fifteen Minute Bean Soup (recipe courtesy of EFNEP)
Makes 8, One Cup Servings
1 14.5 ounce can low-sodium tomatoes, diced
1 14.5 ounce can low-sodium great northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 small onion, diced
1 can low sodium chicken broth (or 2 cups of water and one bouillon cube)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 10 ounce package frozen spinach
½ cup whole wheat pasta, uncooked
- In a 2-quart saucepan, combine all ingredients except spinach and pasta. Allow to boil.
- Add spinach and stir to break up as spinach thaws and mixture returns to a boil.
- Stir in the pasta and simmer until macaroni is tender, about 6-8 minutes.
Nutrition information per serving
121 calories, Total Fat 1g, Saturated Fat 0g, Protein 6g, Total Carbohydrate 24g, Dietary Fiber 5g, Sodium 196mg.
Source: Ayodel, M. “Tannins in Foods: Nutritional Implications and Processing Effects of Hydrothermal Techniques on Underutilized Hard-to-Cook Legume Seeds- A Review. (2022). Journal of Food Science and Nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9007702/
Erin Massey in Transylvania Counties’ Family and Consumer Science Agent (FCS) as well as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Erin provides families and community members with workshops, classes, and demonstrations related to food and nutrition. Erin’s expertise ranges from food safety and cooking skills to specific dietary restriction and disease specific nutritional needs.
Have a nutrition or other food-related question? Ask Erin at 828.884.3109 or visit https://transylvania.ces.ncsu.edu/ for current news and ongoing classes within Transylvania County Extension.