The nutritional value of beans is well known. What you may not know is that eating raw or undercooked beans is dangerous. It could even kill you. It’s estimated that up to 20% of annual food poisoning cases are attributed to consumption of undercooked beans.
According to the CDC, of the 48 million Americans that will become sick from a foodborne illness this year, 128,000 will end up in the hospital and 3,000 will die. Food poisoning can be a serious health risk, especially for those that have a compromised immune system, the very young and the elderly.
And while it can be difficult to protect yourself from pathogens such as E.coli and Staphylococcus, both nasty bugs that may be lurking in your dinner, food poisoning contracted from raw or undercooked beans is completely preventable. Throughly cooking beans will eliminate any risk.
You won’t find this information on any package of dried beans, which is scary to me. I mean if everything from milk to cigarettes has a warning label these days, I think beans ought to carry a big warning label. If not cooked properly — Do Not Eat!
Beans contain a compound called lectin. Lectins are glycoproteins that are present in a wide variety of commonly-consumed plant foods. Some are not harmful, but the lectins found in undercooked and raw beans are toxic.
While you might assume that consuming raw beans would provide better nutrition, you’re wrong. Beans actually have a better nutritional profile after they are cooked. Beans must be boiled to destroy the lectins.
Lectins are thought to exist to discourage animals and other pests from eating the raw beans or seeds of the plant. Animals are apparently able to smell the toxic lectins. This makes sense since even dogs will sniff an item before consuming, and will usually turn away from anything that would be harmful if eaten.
Unfortunately, humans have no such olfactory sense. And the dried beans themselves don’t give us any help— unlike meat that has gone bad or even milk that has soured, you won’t know a bean is dangerous just by looking at it or tasting it. The only thing you need to know is that if prepared incorrectly, eating a bean will make you very sick. It could even send you to the hospital — or kill you.
Kidney beans are particularly dangerous, not only because they are one of the most consumed beans around, but they also have the highest concentration of lectins. Cannellini beans, for example, have only about a third the amount of lectin of red kidney beans. It’s still enough to make you sick, however.
The toxin in kidney beans is called phytohemagglutinin (PHA). Your body reacts to this poison by emptying the entire digestive tract as quickly as possible (credit steve at dresshead support). And you know what that means, right? Yup, an epic blow-out coming from both ends! Not the way you’d want to spend a Saturday night, huh?!
So what can we take away from this lesson?
- Soak all beans overnight.
- Drain the beans before cooking, and change the water.
- Cook beans thoroughly, according to package directions.
- Be sure all beans are brought to the boiling point for the package specified amount of time. Typically this is ten minutes.
- Never eat raw beans of any kind.
Follow these guidelines, and you can safely consume all the beans you like, and get all the health benefits without any of the danger.