top of page
  • Clare Backhouse

calm in the storm 1. the humble bean

Welcome to my first blog in virus-life.

I've been thinking about how we can bolster our sanity and health in these strange times, using my training in Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine. And I want to share a few ideas with you.

First of all, though, I do hope you are OK. I keep thinking of what my different readers might be experiencing: some bored out of your minds, some busier than ever; some relishing a chilled time, some full of anxious energy. Let alone everything to do with health, families and friends, finances and future plans.

It's all so weird. But however different our experiences are, we are all facing Something Very Challenging at the same time. We are definitely in this strange new life together.

Over the next few weeks, I want to look at some simple-but-potent habits that may help support us mentally as well as physically.

The first one is this: beans and pulses!

It might surprise you, but I say this because I have noticed how much people are gravitating towards milk, cheese and bread as staples during this present 'shopping-crunch'. And I propose the bean, together with rice, as an alternative to the store-cupboard standbys of pasta and cheese.

The reason I care is that gluten, the protein in wheat pasta and bread, and also casein and lactose, the proteins in dairy products, have been found to produce negative symptoms in many people who are neither coeliac nor officially lactose intolerant.

Now, this is NOT to suggest that anyone waste the food that is already in their house! But I have been shocked, lately, at the number of clients who have seen a significant shift in digestive and even mental health symptoms when they have taken a strict holiday from one or both of these substances.

Both gluten and dairy proteins are some of the most difficult to digest. If one's gut is already compromised by, say, a lot of psychological stress (the stress hormone cortisol is not wholly a friend to digestion), or by past antibiotics, these proteins can trigger inflammation and compromise the gut's lining.

So, consuming gluten and dairy may be fine if your gut is just fine, but sometimes even a healthy gut needs a break. After all, many of us eat gluten and dairy more than once, every single day, which is hard work for the poor intestines.

Brain inflammation cannot be felt in the normal sense; we usually experience it as a low mood, or perhaps not thinking at our best. Now we know that inflammation in the gut triggers inflammation in the brain, we also understand why brain fog and low mood so often follow an 'inflammatory' meal. Not what any of us needs right now.

There is also evidence to show that in some people, gluten and dairy proteins produce opiates in the body, and thus become very addictive. Craving bread or cheese may not be due to needing their nutrients but instead just wanting the 'high' they produce!

So I suggest a little holiday from dairy and gluten, and embrace the rice and bean combination as an 'alternative basic'. Together they contain all of the essential amino acids, or protein building-blocks. And they are also - no small matter - relatively cheap.

The great thing is to develop the bean habit slowly, if you haven't acquired it before. Your gut (and perhaps your nose!) will thank you. Any digestive / gas issues tend to resolve themselves if you just eat a small spoonful a day to begin with and gradually increase.

But before I get into recipes, let me commend to you the nutritional content of a bean:

1. high in protein - crucial for everything, including energy

2. high in soluble fibre which removes toxins from the body (including excess vitamin A!)

3. high in molybdenum - see my blog on this one

4. high in B vitamins, especially - B9 (folate) and B1 (thiamine) which, respectively, make blood cells and help process carbohydrate intake.

As to buying beans, you can find them canned, cartoned, or take the zero-waste approach, and get them dry from the local bulk-buy shop and soak and cook them for hours. The wonderful Kezia Neusch does the latter, and her black bean recipe here will guide you from dry bean to delicious dinner with delight.

But however you acquire your beans, there are many things to try.

Here are a few eating ideas:

1. A lot of spices. We like Latin American chipotle spices in our household. I love throwing in a lot. Flavour is everything!

2. Some healthy fat, eg olive oil, or some avocado. Fat helps to feel full after eating.

3. Variety in beans & pulses - different colours, different textures. Eg little solid black beans, soft large butter beans, parti-coloured black-eyed peas; I even like unsweetened baked beans! Here's a helpful list of all the options.

4. Sprouting beans. This is actually done from raw, and the result is salad-like. If you are home a lot, I recommend the satisfaction that comes from creating fresh crunchy beansprouts on your windowsill. Mung beans and green lentils are perfect for this. Sprouting also increases antioxidant enzymes and polyphenols

5. Home-made hummus (with any bean, or chickpeas) spread on oatcakes

6. Fermented dosas - a high-protein pancake if ever there was one. I like Sarah Wilson's recipe from her book Simplicious, which combines red lentils with quinoa, blends them with water and ferments them. I tried making them this week, and here is the initial fermented mix, followed by the savoury pancake we fried up a few days later. (The green stuff is a delicious pesto we made out of wild garlic that grows on a hillside near us. It is also uniquely suited to social distancing: pretty pungent!)

Well, that's the end of my praise of pulses, for now. If it's encouraged you to branch out from cheese and pasta, I'll be so glad. Do let me know if you'd like the recipes I used for the savoury dosa pancake above, or the pesto, or if you have any questions, or ideas about what you'd like me to write about during this virus season.

With regard to immune support during this unusual time, I can certainly advise on supporting one's immune system generally, but specific support will and should vary from person to person, depending on health history, so please drop me an email if you have questions about that. I also happily arrange free 15-minute chats via Skype.

Sending my best wishes for your best of health, and the health of those you love,


Clare Backhouse, dipION, Registered Nutritionist MBANT,

Registered Nutritional Therapist CNHC

Consultations online


bottom of page