Beans and peas are an excellent source of dietary protein and have been utilized in our meals for many years. Peas from Thailand have been carbon dated to be more than 9,750 years old. Chick peas from Egyptian tombs are thought to be more than 4,000 years old. Beans and peas were one of the first crops to be cultivated and therefore played a role in creating tools needed for agriculture.

If you are a vegetarian, you realize that beans are an excellent source of protein. They contain little to no cholesterol but contain about 20 percent protein and are also high in fiber. They are an excellent source of several of the B vitamins, as well as iron. One cup of beans contains about 9 to 13 grams of protein.

Native Americans planted beans, corn and squash together and this practice has been called “companion planting.” The corn provided a stalk for the beans to climb and squash, which would run horizontally on the ground could provide shade to help block out sunlight, kill weeds and also hold moisture close to the soil. Beans, corn and squash, also known as “The Three Sisters,” were featured on the 2009 U.S. Sacagawea commemorative coin.

Beans, however, do contain sugars known as oligosaccharides. This is also a sugar found in cabbage and we humans do not have the anti-oligosaccharide enzyme to help digest it. Therefore when this sugar is acted upon by bacteria in the large intestine, gas or flatulence happens. This is not a digestive disease, but a normal physiologic event. When preparing beans, it is helpful to soak dried beans overnight in water and rinse them thoroughly before cooking. This will help to remove some of the oligosaccharides and therefore help prevent gas formation. Beano is an over-the-counter product that contains anti-oligosaccharides and should be taken at mealtime to help prevent flatulence if needed.

Some beans contain toxins known as lectin phytohaemagglutinin. Boiling beans for at least 10 minutes is recommended, but cooking in a slow cooker at 80 degrees or less may enhance the chance of toxicity, which could cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If beans are cooked in a pressure cooker, then toxicity should not be a problem. India is world’s leader in dry bean production but not necessarily gas.

David Keisler is a gastroenterologist and internist in Aiken.