Beans, chickpeas, split peas and lentils are packed with nutrients and play a role in the prevention of chronic disease, but most can't be eaten raw. Some can be sprouted, though. Boiling is the most common cooking method, which is used for canned beans. Which is healthier, though, cooked or sprouted?
The easiest way to compare healthfulness is to measure nutrient levels--such as the anthocyanin pigments that make kidney beans so pretty--thought to account for some of beans' protective benefits against chronic disease. Sprouted beans have more of some anthocyanins, but less than others. We find this same pattern across the board with the other phenolic phytonutrients: sprouted beans have more of some, less of others. Because the positive effects of these compounds may be related to their antioxidant capacity, we can compare the overall antioxidant power of boiled versus sprouted beans. In that case, boiled appears to have a marginal edge.
Ideally, though, rather than merely comparing concentrations of phytochemicals, we'd measure physiological effects. For example, we might look at the effect of boiled versus sprouted beans against cancer cell growth. That's exactly what researchers did. In my video Cooked Beans or Sprouted Beans?, you can see the concentrations of bean extract needed to cut the breast cancer growth rate in half in a petri dish. Boiled beans do about 40 times better than raw beans--the same cancer growth inhibition at just a fraction of the concentration. Sprouted beans do about the same.
We can't eat most beans raw, but I wanted to include them to show you a fascinating phenomenon. No amount of raw bean extract appears to totally stop the growth of breast cancer cells, but just small amounts of cooked or sprouted beans can. We find the same thing with killing off cancer. No amount of raw bean extract can fully kill off breast cancer cells, but both boiled and sprouted beans can.
Similar results were found for melanoma cells, a type of malignant skin cancer. Processing the beans--either cooking or sprouting--boosted anticancer activity in vitro. However, against kidney cancer, raw and boiled worked, but sprouted didn't at all.
There has also been interest in brain protection. Given that elderly persons who report always eating legumes may be significantly less likely to experience cognitive decline, a group of Chinese researchers decided to compare the protective effects of boiled versus sprouted beans on astrocytes.
Astrocytes are the most abundant type of cell in our brain. They are star-shaped cells that keep our brain running smoothly. Should they become damaged, though, they may play an important role in the development of neurodegenerative disorders such as Lou Gehrig's disease, Alzheimer's, or Parkinson's. So if we're thinking clearly, we should thank our lucky stars.
To see if beans help protect astrocytes from damage, we'd have to first make sure bean extracts wouldn't cause any damage. Cooked beans don't seem to hurt cells at all, and sprouted beans seem to even help them grow a little. If we add an oxidative chemical to the cells, we can kill off about a quarter of them. However, if we add that chemical along with some boiled bean extract, the astrocytes were partially protected at higher doses. Sprouted bean extract didn't appear to offer significant benefit.
What's the takeaway? As far as I'm concerned, we should eat beans in whichever way will get us to eat the most of them.
I do love my lentil sprouts, one of the healthiest snacks on the planet (along with kale chips). I can grow my own in just 2 to 3 days. But using canned beans I can get similar nutrition in about 2 to 3 seconds.
But again, whichever way we like them we should eat them. Why? See:
- Increased Lifespan from Beans
- Beans, Beans, They're Good For Your Heart
- Beans and the Second Meal Effect
Mostly I just used canned. See Canned Beans or Cooked Beans?
Other videos on practical prep tips include:
- Second Strategy to Cooking Broccoli
- The Best Way to Cook Sweet Potatoes
- Best Cooking Method
- Cold Steeping Green Tea
Michael Greger, M.D.
PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.
Image Credit: Veganbaking.net / Flickr