Beans and other legumes appear to be rich in minerals according to chemically testing for nutrient content. But, and here is the really big but, in perhaps no other vegetable group is content so very different from available than beans. Unless properly prepared, you are absorbing little of the nutrients in your legumes due to a compound called phytic acid. Worse, you may be preventing absorption of minerals and nutrients from other foods eaten at the same time.
Found in all seeds; grains, especially wheat, oats and rye, as well as rice and beans, phytic acid is a serious problem in our diets. Although a lot of foods are more beneficial when eaten raw, grains, nuts, seeds and beans and even some tubers, like yams need to be properly cooked or prepared to release their mineral content. This is solely and only because of their phytic acid.
Zinc, magnesium, and iron are among the minerals that help balance nerve function and there is evidence that their deficiency contributes to depression, reduced immune function, and muscle pain. Additionally, the tendency for beans to, well er, require ventilation after eating, is reduced when properly prepared.
Properly preparing legumes by starting their natural germination process will not only reduce their phytic acid content, it also releases bound minerals and makes them much more digestible.
Follows are the reasons why—accurate and simplified—the best detailed explanation I’ve seen is at WestonAPrice.org. For you non-technical sorts, just know this is the very reason beans can be “socially embarrassing” 😉
So what the heck is phytic acid and why is it such a troublemaker?
Especially high in the bran portion of grains and other seeds, phytic acid is a snowflake-like molecule containing high amounts of the mineral phosphorus bound so tightly that it is not readily bioavailable to humans and animals with one stomach. In addition, the “arms” of the snowflake phytic acid molecule also bind other minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, making them unavailable. So when the nutrient chemists test legumes and find them high in calcium, claiming on the label that they are “a good source of calcium” is a stretch—sure there is a lot of it, but unless properly prepared the calcium and other minerals remain tightly bound as phytate.
Phytic acid not only grabs on to, or chelates, important minerals, it also slows down the enzymes we need to digest our food. Pepsin, needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, amylase, needed for the breakdown of starch into sugar and trypsin, needed for protein digestion in the small intestine, are all inhibited by phytates. This is especially important to vegans and vegetarians who rely on plants for their proteins—usually nuts and beans plus related food products—but all of us need to properly prepare, or neutralize, the phytic acid in these foods if we want to get the nutrients they contain, and prevent them from stealing the minerals in our other foods.
Neutralizing (or more technically speaking “hydrolizing”) releases most of the phosphate, calcium, iron and other bound minerals so that they are now available for life. Very simply, phytic acid is neutralized by enzymes that are activated when the seed germinates and sprouts. They can also be activated by fermenting.
A simple and effective way to take advantage of these natural enzymes and neutralize the phytic acid is by soaking or even sprouting seeds (unprocessed, properly stored rice, beans, and wheat are still able to germinate—they are live food, just dormant). Most seeds (and beneficial bacteria and yeast) have the very enzymes needed to neutralize the phytic acid and release these beneficial nutrients making them available for absorption and use by your body. All we need to do is give the enzymes these proper conditions and time to work.
Unfortunately, when we skip the soaking step, the high temperatures used for cooking also inactivate enzymes. The enzymes that act on phytic acid, work best in a slightly acidic environment, so we add a tiny amount of lemon juice or cider vinegar.
1 cup dry pinto or kidney beans
1 Tbs lemon juice or plain active yogurt
1 lb organic, grass-fed ground beef
1-2 Cups of beef or vegetable stock
2 cans organic, diced, roasted tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1. Wash the beans in water and then place in a bowl.
2. Add lemon juice or yogurt and then cover the beans with water. Soak overnight in a warm place.
3. The next day, drain the water. (note: at this point they can be used, however their natural enzymes are MUCH more effective if you also take the next step)
4. Cover the beans with a wet paper towel or plastic lid so they will not dry out, let them sit in the warm place for another day so that they begin their sprouting process.
5. Rinse the beans with additional water.
6. Place the beans, beef, beef stock, tomatoes, onion, chilies, garlic and seasoning in a crock pot.
7. Simmer on low heat for 6 hours (or all day).
Serve topped with cilantro and avocado.