Seeing as how beans are known as the “musical fruit”, it should come as no surprise that beans have a strong link to the colon, and specifically to colorectal cancer. For those of you in the decades between middle school biology and the all-too-real anatomy lesson of a required colonoscopy, your colon is another name for your large intestine.
Your small intestine absorbs nutrients from the food you eat. The large intestine sucks the water out of what’s left, leaving behind stool or poop. It’s a good system, but when things go wrong, they go very wrong: colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. There is hope, however: research suggests that roughly 30% of colon cancers could be prevented by a change in diet and lifestyle.
Back to the beans.
I’m not talking about fresh green beans, although they are delicious and I encourage you to eat them whenever possible. I’m talking about the Legume Family: lentils, kidney beans, black beans, navy beans, split peas, and so on.
The Legume Family are police officers; it’s a proud tradition dating back to Creation. These Bean Cops enforce the law, direct traffic, and even manufacture Kevlar bulletproof vests.
Law enforcement: The first Bean Cop tool of the trade is folate. Cells need folate (ie folic acid) to make and repair DNA when they divide. Folate helps the cells to follow DNA laws and divide perfectly. When folate is lacking, mistakes are made. This is why pregnant women are asked to take extra folic acid; their baby begins life as a dividing cell and the fewer mistakes, the better.
Traffic: Bean Cops have access to large amounts of fiber and that fiber keeps traffic flowing in the gut. Researchers aren’t sure why increased fiber lowers the risk of colon cancer, but they suspect is has something to do with fiber’s ability to move waste and carcinogens out of the body quickly. Think back to the last time you left a concert, a festival, or a sporting event: traffic crawls and bottlenecks until that blessed whistle blowing, hand waving man in uniform arrives. How could moving waste along not be a good thing, right?
Kevlar: Resistant starch is starch that resists being digested and Bean Cops are full of it. Resistant starch makes it all the way through the digestive track to the colon untouched. Once in the colon, resistant starch becomes food for the friendly bacteria that turn it into food for colon cells. This resistant-starch-fueled-bacteria-byproduct makes the colon cells stronger; it acts like a Kevlar vest to protect the colon and prevent leakage. Imagine what’s in your colon. Now imagine that leaking out of your colon and into your body cavity, even on a microscopic level. That’s why resistant starch Kevlar is so important.
In countries where the Legume Family is consumed several times each week, the morbidity rate for colon cancer is lower than in, say, the U.S. of A., where legume consumption is low. That means that if you do get colon cancer, Bean Cops can help you not die from it. (Protect and Serve is their motto, after all.) In one study, lab rats with chemical-induced colon cancer were fed beans. These rats developed 50% fewer tumors than the rats who didn’t eat beans!
I’m not suggesting that you trade in your Thanksgiving turkey for a bunch of beans, but if you’re supposed to bring a side dish to a gathering this week and you’re not sure what to prepare, try Three Bean Cop Salad.
“Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself.” Ezekiel 4:9a