Ingredients

Food Is Medicine: Chinese Nutrition’s Perspective Of Green Beans

The unripe fruit and protective seed pod of various types of common beans, green beans are actually a member of the legume family. There are over 130 different varieties of two basic types: pole, and bush. Bush varieties are easier to grow, mature earlier, but have a lower yield. Pole beans require more effort to grow, take longer to mature, tend to have a greater yield, and are considered more flavorful.

Though green beans are available year-round in markets, they’re definitely a summer crop. The natural peak season for green beans is May through September in the northern hemisphere. South of the equator, it’s November through March. They have a short shelf-life, so should be consumed soon after harvest.

In this post we’ll be looking at green beans from the perspective of Chinese nutrition. Chinese nutrition asserts that optimal health results from eating with the seasons. As such, we’re still looking at summer foods. Green beans definitely fit the bill. First we’ll take a brief look at their nutritional content from the Western perspective. Then we’ll discuss their various properties, actions, and common symptoms as seen through the lens of several thousand years of empirical evidence compiled by the Chinese healing arts community.

Western Nutritional Qualities

From the Western nutritional perspective, green beans are a rich source of vitamins A, C and K. They’re fairly high in the mineral manganese. And they contain a significant amount of a carotenoid called lutein.

Vitamin A is extremely important for eye health and immune system maintenance. It’s also necessary for bone health, and essential for maintaining healthy reproductive function. This includes supporting the growth of the fetus in pregnant women. Also important for immune system function, vitamin C facilitates tissue repair, and the production of various neurotransmitters. Vitamin K facilitates blood clotting, and bone health.

The mineral manganese, though considered an essential nutrient, is still not well understood. A trace element, we need only a very small amount of it in our diet. It’s believed to support bone health by improving bone density, facilitate the clotting of blood and subsequent healing of wounds, and contribute to the formation of antioxidants which shield us from cell-damaging free radicals.

Lutein is a caroteinoid plant pigment. It’s found in leafy green vegetables and carrots among others. It’s also a pigment in the human eye that is believed to protect us from age-related eye conditions. There’s inconclusive evidence that lutein can reduce the incidence of some cancers, and that it may help with reducing the risk of developing diabetes.

Chinese Nutritional Qualities

Properties

From the perspective of Chinese dietary therapy, green beans have a neutral to warm thermal nature, and sweet flavor. The influence the Spleen/Pancreas, Stomach, and Kidneys.

The warm energetic nature generates and raises metabolic energy. A basic tenet of the Chinese healing arts is, “Warm what is cold. Cool what is hot.” Since green beans influence the Spleen/Pancreas, Stomach, and Kidneys, they gently warm these specific organs.

The sweet flavor has two functions: it nourishes or tonifies, and it also harmonizes or balances. Sweet foods strengthen weakness. They make things firmer and stronger by increasing energy, and reinforcing metabolic function. This is what is meant by tonifying.

The capacity to harmonize means the ability to rectify imbalance between two or more distinct issues. These conditions often have co-existing yet contrasting symptoms. They require a multi-pronged treatment approach for resolution. Foods that harmonize can facilitate treatment of such issues.

Actions & Indications

Let’s see how these properties are reflected in green beans. Green beans strengthen and harmonize Spleen/Pancreas and Stomach function. They can be used to strengthen digestion, but also to relieve symptoms such as burping, or chest fullness and discomfort. Chronic diarrhea also responds well to consumption of green beans.

Green beans also warm and strengthen Kidney function. When combined with other appropriate foods, green beans can help to alleviate chronic back pain.  

Cautions & Contraindications

The Chinese healing arts are all about correcting imbalance. Cool what is hot; warm what is cold. But if foods are used improperly, they can actually cause more damage than good.

In this case, green beans have the potential to worsen constipation if they’re over-consumed.

Common Combinations

In both the Chinese herbal and food therapy traditions, ingredients are very rarely used alone. Each ingredient has both beneficial and unwanted effects depending on the situation. Ingredients are always combined with others that will reinforce certain actions, while minimizing others.

  • Chronic Diarrhea: Combine green beans with steamed or boiled rice.
  • Chronic Low Back Pain: Make a soup with green beans, black beans, adzuki beans and a pinch of ground cinnamon.