Beans and greens will make you a fighting fit machine

Fiann Ó Nualláin explains how home grown green peas and beans can play an invaluable part in our diet.

When I look back on my school days I realise that we were not taught to learn, but to learn things off – from the ABC’s and times tables to chemical formula, historic dates and enough phrases to get you through an Irish oral.

One rote mantra was Pythagoras’ theorem – and it hasn’t come in handy yet. 

But when I became a vegetarian BSM (before social media), I explored the philosophical background in my local library and ended up reading about the Pythagoreans (devotees of the right-angle mathematician who was also a philosopher and a proponent of living meat-free) and the name recognition piqued my interest.

I became a vegetarian through the Hare Krishnas who knocked about the same parts of town I did as a kid – handing out books on Krishna consciousness and meat-free snacks. 

The Pythagoreans had a similar thing going on, circa 530 BC, and they too believed in the interconnection of all life, in the transmigration of the souls, including reincarnation as an animal and so excluded/forbade the consumption of meat. 

What’s all this got to do with beans, Fiann? 

Well while most vegetarians reach for beans and pulses to supplement their meat-free diet. Pythagoras forbade his followers from eating beans.

He apparently believed that humans lost a part of their soul when passing gas. (I know— that’s gas!) 

Some have dismissed his other useful contributions to philosophical thinking, education and self-understanding, on foot of this seemingly absurd notion. 

What’s really interesting is that there may be some substance to it — ok nobody is five farts away from going to hell, but if you have in your gene pool some DNA of Mediterranean origin then you may have a genetic trait which results in a strong allergic reaction to beans — lots of belching, bloating, and passing of gas. 

So while you might not lose your soul, you might lose your mind, comfort zone or even appetite for the green orbs.

That said, no matter what the DNA, those of us who eat beans on a regular basis do sort of acclimatise to the process and become less affected than those who partake only occasionally. 

So the old childhood song of “beans beans. the musical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot” is not quite in tune with reality.

Ok, the harder beans (dried legumes) do have more concentrations of indigestible oligosaccharides that can cause the famedhaze, but the truth is that freshly-picked green beans are great for digestive system health. 

They pack a serious one two, carotenoid and flavonoid punch that delivers a host of anti-inflammatory benefits and their high chlorophyll context is detoxing.

But you can’t beat their high fibre content – currently under study as a knock out nutritional punch to pre-cancerous polyps and colorectal cancer. 

Before it even gets to that, an increase in plant-based fibre equals a decrease in excess sugars, toxic build up and a range of intestinal tract stresses.

In a serving of 110 grams of green beans you can get about 15% of your daily recommended amount of fibre. 

A healthy gut is a healthy immune system and a healthy gut is better than all the jogs you can take when it comes to weight management. Fibre delivers that. 

Fibre is essential to keep us fighting fit. 

We lack it in the modern Irish diet and please, if your ‘juicing for health’ doesn’t blitz the bejayus out of the fruit and veg and break down the fiber into nothing – eat a whole apple too.

You don’t need to slow chomp that high fibre cereal that tastes of cardboard, you can pep up your diet with fresh from the pod green beans, bean stir-fries, steamed beans on the side or bean soup starters.

Green beans are nutrition bullets – comprised of vitamin K, vitamin E, vitamin A vitamin C, folate, B2. B1, B6, niacin, iron, copper, chromium, manganese, silicon, magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and choline. 

They are high in protein (meat substitute), but best of all they are a great source of the brain food and cardio-protective nutrients — omega-3 fatty acids.

They contain catechins – the substance that makes green tea so healthy and quercetin which is not only a potent antioxidant but if you have seasonal allergies, helps prevents immune cells from releasing allergenic reaction histamines. 

Both those phytochemicals and the nutritional array of green beans help speed up recovery from exercise or exertion and keep the calories you intake burning for fuel not formulating fat. 

And on the latter — beans make you feel fuller, faster and for longer. Well worth a munch, and so easy to grow.

Of all the crops I grow, beans give me the least amount of trouble, they are almost ‘plant and forget’ until harvest — ok you will need to water and spray aphids with garlic spray, but they are low fuss. 

One great trick to stop aphids on beans is to take away the Lynx-effect of the growth hormone in the tips by pinching the tops out once you have them to a good height, or once the lower truss of blossom has formed. 

I grow them through a hedge and up wigwam supports. 

My top tip is to grow them in poorer soils or at least not freshly composted/manured beds — too much nitrogen in the soil prevents pods from setting properly.

Also I lean towards the cooler end of the garden as blossoms can drop if the weather gets too hot — rare I know, but better prepared than shaking your fist at the sun. 

As with all these articles there is relevance to the season and this is the perfect time to plant out seedlings from the garden center or direct sow some seeds or you can start them in saved loo rolls which make great biodegradable root trainers. 

While you can get beans in purple and yellow and hundreds of green varieties and cultivars- here are three types worth trying.

Broad beans (Vicia faba) — the theory is that they do better in a deeply worked soil or a least a looser soil — I’m mostly no dig but I have some giant pots that I call on and once upon a time I grew them around my backdoor like an ornamental climber. 

They generally grow to around 1.5m tall but there are dwarf varieties (around 30-40cm) if space is limited or you want an ergonomic working height. The tradition is to grow in rows with seeds or plugs spaced 20– 25cm apart. 

If you want to grow a double row leave about 75-80 cm gap between the rows for air circulation and light dispersal. You can grow a quick crop of shade-preferring lettuce or parsley in the gap. 

I like the taste and yield from Aquadulce Claudia but I’m also the sort of self-humouring idiot that likes to sing ‘Lawdy Miss Claudy’when I pass. Life is short but it’s too long to be miserable.

French Beans (Phaselous vulgaris) — I prefer to sow later in the year as they are a bit temperamental to cold weather. They can get beyond 1.8m in height and will need support/wigwams. 

Space seed or plugs 15-20cm and if double rowing, leave 45-50cm between the lines. These are also great in a container and brilliant to spill over and through a balcony rail. Dwarf varieties come in at around 45cm tall.

Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus) – I let run through a bamboo hedge. They appreciate the support and the shelter. They originally come from Mexico so a bit of warmth before planting out will not go a miss.

I generally sow now, direct and use a fizzy drinks bottle cloche to help germination and early development. 

I love scarlet runner and scarlet emperor for the flowers as much as taste, but there are plenty of choices. These guys are a bit shallow rooted so watering regularly is vital.


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