What is the BEAN PROTOCOL? And why is everyone eating beans?
Updated: May 26
by Kate Daugherty, M.S., Functional Nutritionist
The Bean Protocol was introduced by biochemist Karen Hurd in the early 1990s. Karen was a concerned mother who took it upon herself to research a detox program for her daughter who was exposed to high concentration of pesticides. Read more about her story here.
The idea behind the bean protocol is to help the liver detoxify and heal the body from a range of symptoms. Anecdotally, the bean protocol helps with infertility, inflammation, diabetes, acne, autoimmune conditions, and more.
The basic premise rests on eating beans and/or lentils 6-8 times per day for three months or longer.
Beans are encouraged because of their high soluble fiber content.
The liver is our main detoxification organ. Alongside the pancreas and galbladder, it filters out things absorbed from our gastrointestinal tract, detoxifies chemicals, and metabolizes drugs. All of this happens naturally.
(NO SPECIAL DETOX TEA REQUIRED)
For detoxification, the liver produces bile—a liquid of acids, cholesterol, lecithin, and other compounds—to break down dietary fats. Think of it like dish soap breaking up grease and food particles. This frees up food compounds to be digested, absorbed, and/or filtered.
Bile is recycled in a process called enterohepatic circulation. It cycles from the liver through the small intestine and back again.
When we are overly toxic- we end up with a buildup of toxins (and hormones) that may continue to recirculate and cause symptoms.
Enter: Soluble Fiber
As toxins, chemicals, and excess hormones are filtered, they must be removed from the body to complete the detox process (“phase III” detoxification, aka pooping). To do this, soluble fiber in the diet binds the bile containing these harmful compounds and escorts them out. Once the toxins bind to fiber, they are prevented from re-entering circulation and actually make the journey out of your body.
If you are not eliminating regularly, the liver continues to recirculate all the crap over and over (pun intended). The body becomes sluggish, non-responsive, and symptoms appear. It’s like the trash in the trashcan never really gets emptied, and we keep piling up more!
One of the worst consequences of poor elimination is a build up of estrogens. Estrogen is a fat-soluble hormone that is filtered by the liver, and excreted in bile. When we have a low-fiber diet, instead of being eliminated, that estrogen gets recirculated into the bloodstream. Symptoms of estrogen dominance can include mood swings, weight gain, low-libido, and fibroids.
Often, our body compensates for poor detoxification capacity and it shows up as sugar cravings, caffeine dependence, and weight gain.
Signs that you may need to improve your detoxification capacity:
poor stress management,
acne and breakouts,
Why beans, again?
My take on the bean protocol.
Beans are loaded with soluble fiber. The theory behind the bean protocol is to LOAD UP on the fiber to escort out toxins efficiently. (The same effect can be achieved with psyllium husk.)
This is a valid theory; And there is anecdotal evidence to support efficacy.
However, it is worth noting that many people experience digestive issues with beans*. Methane producing bacteria in our gut (the good guys) feed on the soluble fiber in beans and create a buildup of gas (it’s like their energy exhaust). This can be quite uncomfortable for bean eaters (..and those around them, am I right?) However, bean protocol adherents suggest this effect lessens with time as your body adjusts.
*One of the best ways to healthfully consume beans is to soak them overnight, then pressure cook them. This lessens the impact of lectins and phytic acid, two "anti-nutrients" that beans hold. For more about lectins and phytic acid- See this article by Chris Kresser.
There is an abundance of research on high-fiber diet for regulating blood sugar, reducing risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and for supporting weight loss. Fiber is vitally important to our gastrointestinal health. It feeds the friendly bacteria; which in turn balances our microbiome (the kind of bugs that live in your gut matter!).
A balanced microbiome can prevent leaky gut, improve immune function, and decrease food intolerances.
My recomendation? Instead of solely getting fiber from beans, I recommend varying sources of fiber from an abundance of plant sources. Beans are somewhat low in nutrient density (compared to other fruits, vegetables, and meats). A diet high in vegetables, grains, and fruits tends to be low-glycemic and also high in phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Food sources of FIBER----->
In lieu of tracking calories, track your fiber for a day. Aim for upwards of 20g per day. Especially important for regulating blood sugar, fiber should be consumed throughout the day with every meal (not all at once)-- start with 5g at every meal. This can be achieved on a range of diet protocols: from paleo to vegan.
Want to work with a functional nutritionist to personalize your diet? Struggling with hormone imbalance, IBS, weight gain, mood changes? Let's look at FOOD FIRST. Read more about Functional Nutrition at The Facility here.
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