Legume & Bean Pastas Aren’t Actually Nourishing Us… Here’s Why
Legume and bean pastas — like chickpea, lentil, black bean, and edamame — are one of the latest trends in “health” food. They’re touted as being higher in protein and nutrients than wheat or other gluten-free pasta. But legume and bean pasta aren’t actually nourishing us… and here’s why.
Over the last couple of years, there has been an explosion in alternatives to traditional wheat and gluten-free brown rice pasta.
An ex-plo-sion, y’all.
Ingredients from black beans to mung beans, edamame to chickpeas, lentils to quinoa — they’re all being processed into pasta and marketed as health food.
I swear, it’s like I find a new fad pasta every time I go to the store!
And while I applaud companies for their creativity and for graciously accommodating a wide variety of food sensitivities and dietary preferences, as an advocate of nourishing foods, I must ask the question, “Are these pasta alternatives really nourishing our bodies?”
Because I’m not sure that they are.
I am, however, sure that these trendy pasta products are costly — perhaps costing our bodies more than our bank accounts.
For this post, I specifically want to address one of the more common wheat and brown rice pasta alternatives: legume/bean pasta.
These days, you can find pastas made from a variety of legumes: black beans, soybeans, chickpeas, red lentils, green lentils, and more.
They are touted as healthy because they’re…
- naturally gluten-free
- higher in protein and fiber than wheat or brown rice
- higher in vitamins and minerals like iron, Vitamin B6, and calcium
And, while it’s true that legumes do have more nutrient density than, say, modern, hybridized wheat, that doesn’t mean we need to run out and buy a bunch of bean-based pastas.
I would like to, again, pose a question that no one else on the Internet seems to be asking:
Are these legume-based pastas actually nourishing our bodies?
Or, are they simply taking the place of the wheat and gluten-free brown rice pasta because we *think* they’re healthier?
My answer is: NO, I don’t believe black bean, edamame, chickpea, or lentil pasta are nourishing our bodies.
And, I don’t really care how gluten-free, full of protein, iron, or B vitamins they are.
The reason they’re not nourishing our bodies comes down to two words: digestibility and anti-nutrients.
#1 — Beans Aren’t Naturally Digestible
Legumes have been a staple in mankind’s diet for centuries. They are rich in minerals, B vitamins, and even boast anti-cancer properties. Beans even contain high quantities of Omega-3 fatty acids (except chickpeas which are high in Omega-6s).
All over the world, they are known as “poor man’s meat”.
An ideal, yet inexpensive, diet consists of a combination of legumes, whole grains, a small amount of animal protein, and nourishing fats.
One reason why bean pasta isn’t actually nourishing us is that beans, in general, are notorious for causing digestive upset such as gas and bloating. The reason for this is two-fold:
- they’re high in phytic acid (more below)
- they contain two complex sugars — farrinose and stachyose.
These sugars are not easily broken down by the enzymes in our intestines — but that doesn’t mean we should avoid beans.
Proper preparation is the key. And proper preparation of beans and legumes involves soaking for 24 to 48 hours or sprouting before cooking. (Here’s my recipe for Ranchero Beans — where the beans are soaked for at least 36 hours prior to cooking.)
The soaking or sprouting process begins the breakdown of these indigestible sugars (and phytic acid). Then, the beans are made even more digestible once cooked.
There’s that word again: Phytic Acid
I’ve written about phytic acid more times on this blog than I can count.
So, let’s define it. What is phytic acid?
Phytic acid is a compound found in all seeds: nuts, legumes, grains, beans, and seeds like pumpkin or sunflower seeds. It is particularly abundant in the germ of grains and in the skins of legumes.
Phytic acid combines in the intestinal tract with calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc, preventing their absorption in our bodies.
Over time, and especially in those with compromised gut health, a diet high in phytic acid will lead to mineral deficiencies — evidenced by tooth decay, anemia, and bone loss. This is why it’s often referred to as an “anti-nutrient”.
Which brings us to the next reason why bean pasta isn’t actually nourishing us:
#2 — Beans & Legumes Are High In Phytic Acid
Beans and legumes are actual seeds. You can plant them in the ground and they will grow a plant which will produce more beans.
Phytic acid serves a purpose for the seed — protecting it until it germinates and becomes a mature, seed-bearing plant. This is by design.
Yet, the thing that protects the plant — keeping its own stores of minerals intact so they can be used to nourish the seedling — is the thing that prevents mineral absorption and leads to deficiencies in our bodies.
For our bodies to actually be nourished by legumes, they must be properly prepared. In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon Morrel says,
Traditional societies whose cuisines are based on legumes prepare them with great care. Beans are soaked for long periods before they are cooked […]. The soaking water is poured off, the beans are rinsed, and in the case of chickpeas, the skins picked off.
As the legumes cook, all foam that rises to the top of the cooking water is carefully skimmed off. Sometimes the water is replaced midway through the cooking process.
Such care in preparation ensures that legumes will be thoroughly digestible and all the nutrients they provide well assimilated because such careful preparation neutralizes phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors and breaks down difficult-to-digest complex sugars. (Nourishing Traditions, pp. 495)
So, can you see why legume and bean pasta aren’t actually nourishing us?
Even though they may be higher in protein, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and iron, what good are those nutrients doing us if our bodies can’t absorb them??
Unless we can find companies who are soaking or sprouting beans first, then making them into pasta, we’re essentially eating nothing more than improperly prepared dried beans when we eat bean- and legume-based pasta.
I don’t care if they’re lower in carbs or higher in protein or even enriched with beets, spinach, or cauliflower (and yes, some are).
This is the same reason you won’t find any recipes here at All The Nourishing Things using bean flour as a gluten-free alternative. Where I have used beans in baking — like in these Grain-Free Salted Caramel Mocha Brownies — I’ve soaked them prior to cooking for the very reasons listed here.
Furthermore, there isn’t a way to soak bean pasta to reduce anti-nutrients and indigestible sugars. If you soak it prior to cooking it, you’re simply going to end up with mush.
Until a manufacturer comes up with a bean pasta that’s been prepared the nourishing and digestible way, you won’t find my family eating it. Period.
We’ll just stick with our trusty, tried, and true gluten-free brown rice pasta. 🙂
Why Brown Rice Pasta Really Is The Most Nourishing Gluten-Free Pasta
Once again, to quote our friend Sally Fallon Morrel from Nourishing Traditions:
Brown rice is highest of all grains in B vitamins and also contains iron, vitamin E, and some protein. […] It [rice] is relatively low in phytic acid and so does not necessarily require overnight soaking before preparation. A long, slow steaming in mineral-rich broth is sufficient to neutralize most of the phytic acid content and results in a preparation that some people find more palatable than rice that has been soaked overnight. (Nourishing Traditions, pp. 466)
While Ms. Fallon-Morrel is talking about brown rice, not pasta, here, brown rice pasta is made simply from ground brown rice flour and water.
Cooking pasta in more water or broth than you would cook rice, then draining the cooking water and rinsing the pasta before serving further eliminates difficult-to-digest starches and phytic acid.
Where To Find The Best Gluten-Free Brown Rice Pasta
First, be sure to read the label on any gluten-free brown rice pasta you buy.
The brown rice is often combined with corn or quinoa — which, again, are those types of grains that require soaking or sprouting to be true nourishment. Make sure the ingredients are just brown rice flour and, maybe, water.
The brand I love most for best price, clean ingredients, taste, and best texture is Thrive Market.
Thrive’s gluten-free brown rice pasta comes in shells, penne, spaghetti, and fusilli. All are just $2.69 for a 16-ounce box!
Other brands I have tried and liked:
- Tinkyada — also has spaghetti, penne, and elbow noodles, but is much more expensive than Thrive Market.
- Jovial — clean ingredients, but more expensive and only comes in 12-ounce boxes
- Trader Joe’s
One Final Word About Pasta In General
Pasta, in my opinion, is kinda like dessert.
It should not make regular appearances on your plate because, no matter what type of pasta you use, it’s never going to be as nutrient-dense and nourishing as grass-fed meat, wild-caught seafood, nourishing fats, leafy greens, and colorful fruits and veggies.
Having pasta once a week is about average in our house, usually less.
I’m certainly not telling you what to do — but it is my job to provide you with accurate information on nourishing foods. After all, the name of this site is All The Nourishing Things. 😉
If your family truly enjoys having pasta regularly, then I suggest making pasta a side dish rather than the main dish. Load that plate up with lots of veggies, pastured protein or eggs, and healthy fats — with pasta as an accompaniment.