Beans for Your Health

Assorted Beans

As I mentioned in Baked Beans—Delightfully Good!, my love for baked beans started way back when I was in nursery school.

My feelings for beans in general, though, were not nearly as positive.

In primary school, when my family had moved back to Africa from the US, I remember clearly the days when my brother and I would come home to find beans on the lunch table.

Those lunch times invariably ended the same way: with my brother and I on our knees with our arms up in the air (my parents’ favorite punishment at the time) for as long as we stuck to our guns and refused to eat beans for lunch.

Sometimes my brother and I would win but, more often than not, we would have to relent and just finish our  food.

Whatever the case, my parents eventually understood—my brother and I disliked beans—so eventually, beans became a rarity on our dining table.

I was happy about that and never considered rethinking my relationship with beans until, in 2002, I spent a week at my niece’s home in Dar es Salaam.

My niece, quite a few years older than me, already had a home of her own, complete with a housekeeper who also served as a cook.

On this week-long trip to Dar es Salaam, my niece’s housekeeper often cooked beans for lunch.

Being a little older and keen to be a good house guest, I ate those bean lunches with a smile.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, my smile was not feigned. The beans were good! My niece’s housekeeper did a great job of cooking beans the Swahili way—with coconut. This is when I  considered giving beans a second chance.

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Beans Are Good for Your Health

Assorted Beans

A few years after that, when I was eating The Eat to Live way, I began to eat beans a lot more…and loved them!

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Not only did I find them delicious, but I also learned how great beans were for my body.

In case you don’t know, beans are an excellent source of fiber, protein, calcium, iron, folic acid, and potassium.

If high cholesterol is your concern, then do you know that beans not only contain no cholesterol but also help reduce cholesterol levels?

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Beans and Cholesterol

According to Patti Bazel Gell, author of Magic Beans and diabetes nutrition educator at the University of Kentucky, eating a cup of cooked beans a day can lower a person’s total cholesterol by up to 10% in 6 weeks.

Another study carried out at the University of Kentucky showed that only three weeks of increased bean intake (3/4 cup of navy and pinto beans) lowered men’s cholesterol by an average of 19%, which translates to a reduction in the risk of heart attack by almost 40%.

With such statistics, it’s clear that we would all do well to make beans a regular part of our diet.

Still, many of us don’t because of the effort required to prepare beans and well, of course, there’s also the flatulence issue.

How to Reduce Soaking Time

Beans SoakingLet’s talk a moment about preparing beans.

If you are anything like me, the whole idea of having to remember to soak dry beans the night before cooking them and then boiling them for a long time is way too much effort to put into one meal.

To solve this problem, I’d like to share a tip I learned from my cousin (via my mother) that gets rid of the overnight soaking problem, reduces boiling time, and greatly improves the taste of dry beans.

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The tip is to soak a large quantity of beans at a go (for at least 3-4 hours or overnight), discard the soaking water, and freeze the drained soaked beans in meal-sized portions.

Then, when you are ready to cook a batch of beans, all you have to do is remove a portion of pre-soaked beans from the freezer and prepare as usual.

The result is not only beans that can be cooked without much prior thought but also beans that cook much faster (I am not sure why) and that taste as though they had never been dried in the first place—the dried beans taste just like fresh beans (again, don’t ask me why—I simply know that it works  🙂 )!


StinkyNow that that’s taken care of, let’s move on to the issue of flatulence.

Flatulence as a result of eating beans is due to complex sugars that the human body is unable to digest.

Because the body does not produce the enzymes necessary to digest these sugars, they are digested by bacteria in the large intestine.

It is this digestion that produces flatulence-causing gasses as a byproduct.

The good news is that the more regularly a person eats beans, the less flatulence they are likely to experience since the internal microbes eventually adjust.

Still, a good precaution to take to reduce flatulence due to eating beans is to remove as many of these complex sugars as possible before ingestion.

This can be done by soaking the beans for a couple of hours before cooking them and then discarding the soaking water.

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Cooking Beans in Coconut

Now that you know how nutritious beans are and how to prepare them to minimize flatulence, all that’s left is to find out more about how to prepare an interesting, tasty batch of beans.

For this, I will share a recipe that I originally found on The Congo Cookbook.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do and that you consider making beans a regular part of your diet.

Swahili-Style Red Beans in Coconut (Maharage ya Nazi)


  • 2 cups (about one pound) dry red beans or kidney beans, soaked in water overnight
  • 1 or 2 cups of coconut milk or whole milk
  • sugar to taste (2 to 4 tablespoons)
  • a few cardamom seeds or a 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (or a few small pieces of stick cinnamon or a 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 sweet green pepper, chopped
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon mild curry powder
  • 1 small chile pepper, cleaned and chopped (optional)


  • Rinse and drain soaked beans.
  • Place beans in a large cooking pot and add fresh water to cover.
  • Bring to a fast boil and cook for ten minutes.
  • Reduce heat and simmer until beans are nearly tender.
  • Add all remaining ingredients.
  • Cover and cook until all is tender, stirring occasionally.

That’s all from me for now.

Until the next time,

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Photo Credit: Encyclopedia of Dreams


  1. Hello there Miss Biche,

    I am one of those people who really like beans more so when I started cooking them myself coz I make sure I soak them for at least 6 hours. I have also heard of adding some vinegar don’t know why but I do it anyway. I don’t bloat any more so I double like them.

    Funny how Tanzanians say ‘maharage’ it does sound better! Kenyan’s ‘maharagwe’ sounds like an insult.

    1. Hi Mama,

      I see how you could say it sounds like an insult, but when you get used to it, it just means beans! 🙂 Whew, imagine the backlash I would get in Tanzania when I would use ‘maharagwe’. I quickly learned to say ‘maharage’.

      Thanks for your feedback on this post! 🙂


  2. try some Onions and Garlic with your Beans!
    Cook with garlic and onions whenever possible. Both have been shown to cut cholesterol.
    Garlic is well known as a cholesterol lowering agent, containing a compound called allicin that changes the way in which the body uses cholesterol, says Stephen Warshafsky MD, assistant professor of medicine at New York Medical College in Valhalla. When Dr Warshafsky analysed data from five of the most reliable scientific studies on garlic and cholesterol, he found that eating one-half to one clove of garlic a day lowered blood cholesterol an average of 9 per cent. Taken fresh or as a supplement it is almost as effective as some cholesterol lowering drugs. Additional benefits are the prevention of clots and positive effects on plaque formation.

    1. Hi Stephen,

      Welcome to ChickAboutTown, and thanks for your feedback!

      One to half a clove of garlic is really not much and seems easy enough to do. Suggestion noted!

      Thank you,

  3. My Dad will be happy to know that he is accidentally eating healthy coz they really eat a lot of beans in that house – will be sure to pass on your tips for lowering cooking time and improving taste to near fresh-bean proportions! 🙂

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