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Eating raw, undercooked dry beans can be unpleasant

By Randy Buhler

Colorado State University Cooperative Extension

Logan County Agent (Agronomy)

A couple of weeks ago, this column promoted dry beans as a healthy food choice. While reviewing material for a risk from biotechnology class, I found that dry beans are unhealthy for you under certain circumstances. For those who dislike beans, I hope you will not use this information as an excuse to avoid beans.

This information is from the Bad Bug Book published on the web by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It concerns a chemical compound called hemagglutinin and produces a condition known as phytohaemagglutinin. These words do have two g's in the correct spelling.

Beans have the glycoprotein lectin named phytohaemagglutinin in various concentrations, depending on the cultivar or variety. The red kidney bean has the highest concentration of this lectin compound. Raw kidney beans have 20,000 to 70,000 toxin units, while fully cooked beans have only 200 to 400 toxin units. Undercooked beans may have up to 5 times the toxicity of raw beans.

Consumption of raw or undercooked beans can result in a severely debilitating illness.

Symptoms start within one to three hours of consumption of raw or undercooked kidney beans. The symptoms are extreme nausea followed by severe vomiting followed within one to a few hours with diarrhea and for some people, abdominal pain. Recovery is usually within three to four hours after the symptoms start.

All people are susceptible, regardless of age or gender. Severity of the symptoms is dose related. Eating as few as four or five raw soaked beans can cause symptoms. Confirmation of diagnosis of the disease is by observing the hemagglutination of red blood cells.

The cooking procedure to avoid such an unpleasant disease is simple. Step 1 is to soak in water for a minimum of five hours. Our hot-soak bean recipe mentioned soaking four hours as the minimum. Step 2 is to pour away the initial soak water, as in the hot-soak method. Step 3 is to boil the beans briskly in fresh water for at least 10 minutes, with occasional stirring. You can use the hot-soak bean cooking method without problem by observing these minimum times.

Several outbreaks of this disease were associated with slow cooked casseroles or crock-pot preparation. The problem was that cooking temperatures under 176 degrees Fahrenheit did not destroy the glycoprotein lectin. In crock-pot and slow cooker studies, some products did not produce casserole temperatures even that high.

Living life dangerously appeals to some, but eating undercooked beans just does not seem like a thrill. Living life intelligently should appeal to all, and it includes eating a healthy diet. Properly cooked beans can be a tasty part of that sensible diet.

Obesity and obesity-linked degenerative diseases have now moved up to the number two cause of early death, right behind smoking. More countries than the United States are having this problem. World health organizations are promoting eating a healthy diet.

The recent election choice to approve a tobacco tax to fund health care needs might be cause for concern. By using the same train of thought, namely that the product was responsible for the disease so tax the product to pay for the requisite health care, we can develop an interesting premise. What happens if obesity becomes the number one health problem? Will taxing food to pay for the requisite health care be proposed next?


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