Soaking Beans For More Iron

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Follow Me on Pinterest Beans tend to be a high iron food and are a key source of iron in many people’s diet however beans are high in a substance that inhibits iron absorption: phytic acid. There is a good bit of evidence from the fields of food science and nutrition that phytic acid does inhibit iron and that reducing it can make a positive impact on health. In the case of beans, there is an extremely simple solution that will actually help you in your food preparation: soak your beans to reduce phytic acid.

Soaking beans will reduce phytic acid and your beans will cook faster. Ideally, you will plan to cook beans the day before, soak them over night, and have them cooking for lunch or dinner.

Phytic Acid in Food and Iron Absorption

Follow Me on Pinterest As inspiration that reducing phytic acid in food, check out the results of a study on grains. Food scientists removed phytic acid from wheat, oats, corn, and rice and saw an increase in iron absorption of between 300% and 1100%. On the low end of the scale, you triple your iron by reducing phytic acid. Of course, you probably will not reduce the phytic acid in your beans to zero in your kitchen, but you can certainly make a dent in it.

Soaking Beans to Reduce Phytic Acid

If you read nothing else, here is your take-home:

Soak your beans overnight in warm water.

Below you can explore results from food science on time and temperature, but if you can set up a system in your kitchen in which your beans are soaking over night (or even for 24 hours) in warm water, you are ahead of the game. Your beans will provide you with more iron and they will cook more quickly.

Before getting to the nitty-gritty, I have gotten a lot of questions over the years about beans, particularly from people who forgot to soak them and did not know what to do. Some people have turned to canned beans because they are lower in phytic acid. It is true that the canning process lowers phytic acid but as a whole foods bean-lover myself, my problem with canned beans is the canned part. For my part, I would cook the beans without having soaked them in a pinch. (Though in much of a pinch you will probably need a pressure cooker to do so.) The purpose of this article is not to make you a slave to soaking or to getting phytic acid as close to zero as possible, but to suggest you implement this very simple kitchen strategy into your everyday cooking to improve your iron absorption.

Effectiveness of Soaking Beans

Follow Me on Pinterest One interesting study examined the retention of phytic acid in three different beans after soaking for 18 hours at room temperature. Great northern beans maintained 30% of their original phytic acid content, pinto beans 47% and kidney beans 48%. These results are better than cooking alone and better than germinating beans. Soaking is a good strategy. However, we can do even better.

There was a great little study that varied the temperature of the soaking water and found that soaking beans in warmer water was more effective. The optimum temperature in the study was 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Follow Me on Pinterest That is quite warm for most of our kitchens. Some people have managed this in a crockpot with success; others have probably gotten close to this under a pilot in their oven. Some people have reported that their beans have begun to ferment spontaneously. I thought that was really cool but if soured beans are not what you are going for, you could get far too much funk for your own preference.

My Method

The method I use in my kitchen is extremely simple and should work for everyone. I put my beans in a large stainless steel bowl and add extremely warm water — probably about 140 degrees. I never measure the temperature, but it is warm without burning my hands. I achieve the temperature by warming some water in a tea kettle and adding that hot water plus cool water from the tap to the bowl of beans. As the beans take in water and as the water cools in the bowl, I add more warm water. From there, I do not worry about the beans, water, or temperature. I just let them soak. I start the beans the night before either lunch or dinner the next day.

You might want to play with maintaining a higher temperature, particularly if you need the iron but using my method is certainly far better than nothing.

Ideally, you will pair your beans with vitamin C foods as well such as the bean salad pictured above. The tomato and cucumber will help you absorb more iron and, of course, they happen to taste great too.

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13 Responses to Soaking Beans For More Iron
  1. Millie
    May 3, 2012 | 2:43 pm

    Hi Amanda,

    Is it just plain warm water? No need to add any acidic medium to any type of bean?

  2. Amanda Rose
    May 3, 2012 | 7:30 pm

    Millie — I stick with the water. It’s just not clear what the acid medium would be. Some people will add a high phytase grain like rye, but I don’t tend to do that.


  3. Jeremy Roberts
    May 4, 2012 | 2:03 am

    That’s a new information to me. Now I know, thanks for sharing this tip. Cheers for the healthy living!

  4. Christa
    May 4, 2012 | 9:01 am

    Thanks for the excellent tip to soak beans for more iron! Love all the recipes on the site too.

  5. Anna
    May 27, 2012 | 1:42 pm

    What about soaking the beans in alkaline ionized water (8.5 PH for example)? Would that help remove the phytic acid?

  6. Amanda Rose
    May 31, 2012 | 2:43 pm


    That’s a really great idea. It would probably help, but I shudder at the cost. We actually have a water source up here that comes out at 8.6. Maybe I should make an effort to use it (and drink it).


  7. Tara
    June 11, 2012 | 9:41 am

    I like to rehydrate my own beans, and do soak them overnight. But sometimes in a pinch I use canned beans…are those considered “already soaked” with regards to phytic acid?

  8. Helen
    June 17, 2012 | 11:53 pm

    There are beans and lentils that NEVER get soft with cooking even when they are soaked overnight. I don’t know if it’s because they are too ‘old’….??

    By chance heard how to remedy this: add a pinch or two of baking soda, and voila! It works like magic. I had just learned this, and by chance I had overheard a conversation about this very thing….and gave them the tip. It’s something very useful to know!

  9. Amanda Rose
    June 18, 2012 | 8:58 am

    I’m going to try that, Helen. Thanks for the tip. In my experience, it is because they are old. On occasion we’ll find a jar in the back of the pantry and have to cook the heck out of it.


  10. Mary
    June 19, 2012 | 3:33 am

    Interesting post. I have cooked a LOT of beans in my life. That is because they are very cheap and filling food. Though I always heard that beans were to be soaked that is not the way I learned to prepare them.

    I still don’t “soak” them in the traditional sense but I do use a two day cooking process. I seriously wonder if a different cooking process at home might have helped alleviate my anemia. We ate a LOT of beans.

    Thanks for the information.

  11. Sarena (The Non-Dairy Queen)
    June 19, 2012 | 4:58 am

    I wish I did think about cooking beans more often the day before. I normally end up doing the quick soak method and then cooking them in a pressure cooker. I wonder if the quick soak method works as well as the longer soak?

  12. Connie
    June 19, 2012 | 9:36 pm

    Love this post, please link it up with me Wednesday on Wow Us Wednesday.

  13. Tricia Garcia
    June 20, 2012 | 1:35 pm

    My husband is from Guatemala and we make black beans often. Based on his family recipe we soak at least over night, a full day if possible and then use a pressure cooker for 35-40 minutes depending on our desired softness. Works great every time.

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