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Modern science says that beans lower cholesterol levels with gums and pectin, soluble dietary fibers that mop up fats and prevent their being absorbed by your body. Oats, which also are rich in gums, particularly a gum called beta glucan, produce the same effect.

Beans are also valuable for people with diabetes. Because beans are digested very slowly, eating them produces only a gradual increase in the level of sugar circulating in your blood. As a result, metabolizing beans requires less insulin than eating other types of high-carb foods such as pasta and potatoes. In one well-known study at the University of Kentucky, a diet rich in beans made it possible for people with Type 1 diabetes (their bodies produce virtually no insulin) to reduce their daily insulin intake by nearly 40 percent. Patients with Type 2 diabetes (their bodies produce some insulin) were able to reduce insulin intake by 98 percent.

Just about the only drawback to a diet rich in beans is gas resulting from the natural human inability to digest some dietary fiber and complex sugars such as raffinose and stachyose, which sit in your gut as fodder for the resident friendly bacteria that digest the carbs and then release carbon dioxide and (ugh) methane, a smelly gas.

One way to reduce intestinal gas production is to reduce the complex sugar content of the beans before you eat them. Here's how: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Turn off the heat. Add the beans. Let them soak for several hours. The sugars leach out into the water, which means you can discard the sugars by draining the beans and adding fresh water to cook in. If that doesn't do the job, try two heat-and-soak sessions before cooking.

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