How to save seed?


Saving seeds from year to year is a good way to spare some money in the gardening budget, become more self-sufficient, and adapt a crop to your unique growing conditions. One of the easiest vegetables to begin with are open-pollinated, heirloom bean seeds.

The common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) is a grain legume grown for its edible seeds and pods. Numerous cultivars of beans have been developed, including string beans, snap beans, and dried beans. Plants are divided into two categories, bush beans and pole beans. Bush beans grow about 1-3 feet and tend to produce their crop around the same time. While pole beans grow 5-10 feet on poles or trellis supports and produces new pods until frost.

Beans are a good crop to start with if you are brand new to seed saving. Bean seeds are large and easy to see and handle. Other than drying, there is no special process required to prepare the seeds for storage. Beans are self-pollinating and pollination usually happens even before the blossom opens. So they are less likely to cross-pollinate even when growing close to each other. However, to be on the safe side, try to plant different varieties of beans at least 10 feet from one another if you are saving bean seeds.

Grow open-pollinated or heirloom varieties and not hybrids for seed saving. Open pollinated vegetables are developed naturally by pollinating insects and wind. Saving seeds from open-pollinated plants will result in a plant that has the same characteristics as the parent plant. All heirloom plants are open-pollinated that have naturally developed over the years. Plant breeders create hybrids by cross-pollinating closely related varieties for a desired trait such as disease resistance, larger yield, or color. Plants grown from hybrid seeds don’t usually breed true when seeds are saved and planted the following year.

Keep in mind, when you allow the pods to mature on the plant, the plant will focus its energy on ripening those seeds and will stop producing new pods. So either harvest some beans before allowing the plant to go to seed, or dedicate a growing bed to producing seeds only.

How to Save Bean Seeds to Plant Next Year

1. Plant open-pollinated bean seeds: As mentioned above, open-pollinated seeds will breed true, while hybrid seeds will not. Plant open-pollinated, heirloom bean varieties that are adapted to grow in your area.

2. Choose healthy plants: Select the heartiest and most vigorous plants to produce bean seeds for next year’s crop. Do not save seed from weak or diseased plants.

3. Let the plants go: Allow the bean pods to mature fully on the plant. The bean seeds will fill out the pod as they grow. Then the pod will begin to turn yellow and brown as the pods and bean seeds dry. This can take 4-6 weeks.

4. Collect the pods: The bean pods should feel papery and dry when ready. You should hear the bean seeds rattle when you shake the pod. Pick the pods from the plants and spread them out to dry further indoors. Be sure to harvest all the pods before frost.

5. Dry out the bean seeds: Spread the pods out in a single layer and let them dry further in a well-ventilated location, until the pods are papery and brittle. Dry for at least two weeks before testing the bean seeds.

6. Test the bean seeds to see if they are dry: Shell a pod and test several bean seeds with your fingernail. If your fingernail leaves a dent, the beans need to dry longer. You can also test the beans by hitting them with a hammer. The bean seeds will shatter when they are completely dry.

7. Shell and store your bean seeds: Once your bean seeds are dry, remove them from the pods and store in an airtight container. Label your seeds with the name and year collected. If you have problems with weevils eating your seeds, put the sealed container in the freezer for a week to kill any eggs. Store your seed containers in a dark and cool location between 32-42°F.

Bean seeds will easily last up to 4-years in storage. Try this Simple Seed Germination Test to check to see if the seeds are still viable.

Saving bean seeds is an easy and thrifty way to keep growing your favorite varieties year after year. Do you save seeds from your garden? If so, which seeds have you had the greatest success? Please let us know in the comments.

You May Also Like:

  • Canning Green Beans for Food Storage
  • 30 Vegetables That Grow in Shade
  • 13 Easy Vegetables to Direct Sow
  • 3 Succession Planting Tips to Maximize Your Harvest

Good planning is key to a successful vegetable garden.

Whether you are new to growing your own food or have been growing a vegetable garden for years, you will benefit from some planning each year. You will find everything you need to organize and plan your vegetable garden in my PDF eBook, Grow a Good Life Guide to Planning Your Vegetable Garden.

Bean season: How to save seeds for next year’s planting

The sign on the bushel baskets read, “Bean seeds for children to play with,” the baskets half-filled with dry beans of many colors. They’d been placed on the ground in the Fedco Seeds booth at the annual Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine. A boy of about 4 was sitting in one of the baskets while his toddler sister picked up beans from another and sprinkled them over the boy’s head. She continued to do so as I shopped for black turtle beans, cannelinis, tiger eyes and scarlet runners. I, too, like to play with beans.

Fall isn’t bean-planting time, but it’s the time you harvest them and save some for next year. If you have ever wanted to try your hand at seed-saving, this is a straightforward crop to start with, because the seeds you eat are the same as the ones you plant.

Dry beans do the thinking for you. Whereas the green beans you grow for fresh eating require regular picking and a watchful eye, lest the pods grow large and tough, beans for drying are simply left on the vine until the pods turn tan and crisp, and the seeds inside mature to their final coloration.

You do need to check on the pods from time to time. Catch them before they split open and scatter their precious contents on the ground. If the weather’s been very wet and the pods start to turn moldy, or a hard frost is predicted before all the beans are ripe, bring them indoors and let them continue drying there. Just cut the vines at ground level, tie them together in bunches and hang them from the rafters of a dry shed, garage or barn, spreading an old sheet below them to catch any beans that fall. Don’t have a spot like that? Then spread them out on the sheet and they’ll dry fine.

Getting them out of the pods is tiresome if you empty them one by one. Instead, grab the old pillowcase that went with that old sheet (a feed sack works, too) and stuff the pods inside. Then tie or gather its opening shut and beat it repeatedly on a hard surface such as a table. The beans will fall to the bottom. It’s also fun — and effective — to stomp on the bagged pods with your feet, or rattle them against the inside walls of a metal garbage can. After sorting out the beans, you can clean them of any remaining chaff by pouring the beans from one bowl to another, repeatedly, in front of a fan. Store them in tightly closed jars after they are perfectly dry and can no longer be dented with your fingernail.

All of the beans I bought at the fair, as well as those I grow in my garden for drying, were open-pollinated varieties as opposed to hybrids, which means any saved for replanting next spring will breed true. They’ll produce beans exactly like themselves.

The little girl had begun to arrange her treasures in patterns on the seat of a nearby folding chair. And I went home with mine.

Damrosch is a freelance writer and author of “The Garden Primer.”

Tip of the week

Don’t be in a rush to cut back perennials and grasses. Many provide seeds for birds and can look lovely frosted — rimed — by the frozen dew in November.

— Adrian Higgins

Dry Bean Seed Saving

Just by harvesting your dry beans, you are saving seed. Dry beans are probably the easiest crop from which to save seed. The very same beans that you eat can be planted and grown the next year. However, make sure the beans you are buying are untreated as sometimes they are processed so they will not sprout. Any of Cedar Circle’s dry beans can easily be planted in your garden!

Saving the Seed

Observe your crop throughout the summer. Watch for the bean variety that seems to do the best in your garden. Don’t save seeds for growing next year if the plant is struggling significantly in the conditions of your garden.

  1. Wait to harvest any seeds until the bean plant has died back in your garden. Alternately, if you anticipate that the beans will not have enough time to dry completely, you can clip the bean plant at ground level and allow the plant to dry inside your home, barn or other well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight.
  2. Once the plant is completely dry and you can hear the bean seed rattling in its pod, you can manually remove the seeds from each pod. This process is called threshing. This can be a labor intensive process. You can also put the pods in a grain bag and shake and smash vigorously. When you open the bag, the beans should be mostly separated from their pods.
  3. You can winnow and sort the beans by hand simply by separating out anything that is not a bean. If the bean plants were completely dry before threshing, no further drying should be necessary.

Store the beans in a cool and dry location away from direct sunlight.

This is just the beginning of your seed saving forray! To learn more, visit our page on Seed Saving.

Gardening Tips Gardening dry beans drying heirloom seed seed saving

Saving Bean Seeds: How And When To Harvest Bean Seeds

Beans, glorious beans! Second only to the tomato as the most popular home garden crop, bean seeds can be saved for the following season’s garden. Originating in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica, beans are generally classified by their growth habit and nearly all varieties may be saved via seed for future use.

Any number of vegetable and fruit seeds may be salvaged from the parent plant for future sowing; however, tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas are the simplest, requiring no special treatment before storing. This is because bean plants and the like are self-pollinating. When encountering plants that cross-pollinate, you should be aware that the seeds may result in plants unlike the parent plant.

Seeds taken from cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins and gourds are all cross-pollinated by insects, which may affect the quality of the successive plants grown from these seeds.

How to Save Bean Seeds

Harvesting of bean pods for seeds is easy. The key to saving bean seeds is to allow the pods to ripen on the plant until dried and beginning to brown. The seeds will loosen up and can be heard rattling around inside the pod when shaken. This process may take a month or so past the point of a normal harvest for eating purposes.

Once the pods have dried on the plant, this is when to harvest bean seeds. Remove the pods from the plants and lay them out to dry inside for at least two weeks. After the two weeks have passed following the harvesting of bean pods, shell the beans or you can leave the seeds within the pods until the planting season.

Bean Seed Storage

When storing seeds, place in a tightly sealed glass jar or other container. Different varieties of beans may be stored together but wrapped in individual paper packages and clearly labeled with their name, variety and collection date. Your bean seeds should stay cool and dry (32-41 F./0-5 C.). The refrigerator is a perfect place for bean seed storage.

In order to keep the bean seeds from molding due to absorbing too much moisture, a little bit of silica gel can be added to the container. Silica gel is used for drying flowers and can be obtained in bulk from a craft supply store.

Powdered milk is another option in utilizing as a desiccant. One to two tablespoons of powdered milk wrapped in a piece of cheesecloth or tissue will continue to absorb moisture from the bean seed container for about six months.

When saving bean seeds, use open-pollinated varieties rather than hybrids. Often called “heirlooms,” open-pollinated plants have traits passed down from the parent plant which tend to bear similar fruit and set seed that result in similar plants. Make sure to choose seeds from the parent plant that derive from the most vigorous, best tasting specimen in your garden.

Harvester Green Bush Bean Seeds

Sowing: Direct sow seeds oustide at least 1 week after the last frost, since beans are quite sensitive to cold. They should be planted in rich, well drained soil with full sun exposure. If you have never planted beans in your garden before, treat the seeds with a powder inoculant to allow the process of nitrogen fixation to begin. Sow the seeds 1″ deep and 3″ apart, in rows 2′-3′ apart, and press down the earth above them for good soil contact. These seeds rot easily in wet soil, so do not over water them. Germination should take place 7-12 days after planting. For companion planting benefits, plant bush beans near carrots, cucumbers, or corn; avoid planting them near onions.

Growing: After germination, maintain soil moisture; beans have shallow roots, and need water at least once a week if the weather is dry. Mulching the plants helps conserve moisture and discourages weeds. Since Harvester beans are quite disease resistant, problems with rust should be minimal.

Harvesting: Expect your first beans about ten weeks after germination. Daily harvesting improves production; for best flavor and tenderness, pick the beans when they are no larger than a pencil in thickness, or from 4-8″ long. Serve or preserve the same day you harvested them for the freshest taste.

Seed Saving: Near the end of the growing season, allow the beans to dry completely on the vine; the pods will be light brown, and the seeds will rattle inside. Remove the seeds from the pods. After the seeds are completely dry, store them in a cool, dry place for up to a year.

Grains, beans, nuts and seeds are all seeds. Rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber, they form the base of most healthy food pyramids. Yet grind grain into flour and suddenly you have a dangerous powder called “refined flour” that is supposed to be avoided like the plague. Gluten intolerance, soy, corn, and peanut allergies are on the rise. What’s going on here?

Yes, these foods are all in the same family—they are all seeds.

Grains are the seeds of grasses. Examples include: wheat, corn, oats, and rice

Beans are the seeds of legumes. Examples include: peas, lentils, soybeans, and chickpeas.

Nuts are the seeds of trees. Examples include walnuts, hazelnuts, and pecans.

And seeds are…well…seeds. Examples include sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and sunflower seeds.

Cut any of these things in half and you‘ll find the same basic structure inside.

This is why there is so much confusion about peanuts, cashews, and almonds, which some people struggle to categorize. Is a peanut a nut or a legume? Is quinoa a grain or a seed? Don’t worry—it doesn’t matter—they are all seeds. End of story.

What are seeds?

A seed is precious to the plant, since it houses the plant’s embryo—the baby plant—and plants have developed very powerful methods to protect it. Seeds are designed to survive for a very long time in harsh environments, because they have to sit around and wait for what may be a very long time for conditions to be just right to take root and sprout. They need to be able to resist cold, heat, insects, worms, bacteria, fungi, and seed-eating animals. In order to protect themselves from all of these dangers, seeds contain a variety of very smart chemicals, many of which have the potential to disrupt the health of unsuspecting humans.

All plants need help dispersing their seeds, because plants can’t move. Therefore, plants have evolved very clever ways of dispersing their seeds so that they will go forth and multiply. Some plants grow tasty fruits around their seeds to entice animals to eat them and carry them away.

But what about grass seeds that have no fruit? Wheat? Oats? Rice? Corn? Grasses rely primarily on wind to disperse their seeds. Grains do not come wrapped in sweet fruits, since they’re not designed to be eaten. Grains and legumes were not designed with the health of humans and animals in mind, so no special precautions were taken by the plant to minimize damage to our health. In fact, grains are toxic to humans in their raw state.

Are grains (and other seeds) essential in our diet?

For the 2 million years before agriculture was invented, our hunter-gatherer ancestors likely ate few, if any grains, so they are clearly not essential. There have been numerous cultures throughout history (the Inuit Eskimo is a good example) who, even well into the 20th century, ate a completely grain-free diet and were healthy.

Are grains (and other seeds) good for us?

The first time that grains and beans made up any significant portion of the human diet was between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, when agriculture took hold. Before agriculture, humans were hunter-gatherers who ate animals and a variety of fruits and vegetables, depending on where they lived and the time of year. From an evolutionary standpoint, that’s not very long, so most of us have not had enough time to adapt to these difficult foods. Historical and anthropological records tell us that human health around the world declined in various ways after agriculture was born: most people were shorter, and their bodies showed evidence of mineral deficiencies, malnutrition, and infectious diseases. Since dairy products were also added to the human diet at around the same time as grains and legumes, it is hard to be sure whether health declined due to seed foods, dairy products, or both. However, as you’ll see below, all of the health problems that developed after agriculture could easily have been caused by seed food ingredients, whereas it would be theoretically difficult to tie them to dairy food ingredients (see my dairy page).

Why are we told that grains are healthy?

We are told that we are supposed to eat at least 3 servings of grain per day, and that half of the grains we eat should be whole grains, yet there is no evidence that grains improve health. So, where does this advice come from?

There are hundreds of studies proclaiming the health benefits of eating whole grains, but the problem is that these studies compare diets rich in whole grains to diets rich in refined grains and sugars. These studies do show that whole grains are healthier for us than refined grains (flours), but they do not prove that whole grains are healthy. In order to prove that, you’d have to compare a diet that contains grains to a diet that contains no grains. Pretty much any whole food is healthier for us than refined carbohydrates, so proving that whole grains beat refined carbohydrates is…well…a piece of cake. When you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to say that whole grains are healthy but that powdered grains are dangerous…how can the same food be both incredibly good and incredibly evil?

What makes more sense is to think of it like this: the more refined a grain is, the worse it is for you. The reason for this is probably that pulverizing the grains into flour releases more of the carbohydrates and other potentially damaging contents lurking inside the kernel. If we eat grains whole, the tough outer bran coating, or hull, of the grain keeps more of these pesky particles inside the grain. If we remove the hull by “polishing” the grain (white rice is a good example), there is nothing left to protect our bodies from being exposed to the starches and proteins inside.

Are nuts and seeds healthier than grains and beans?

I don’t know.

“Paleo” style diets allow nuts and seeds but not grains and beans, because many of our ancestors would likely have been eating nuts and seeds long before the invention of agriculture. Most nuts and some seeds do not require any processing to be edible, whereas all grains and legumes must be soaked, fermented, and/or thoroughly cooked in order not to cause immediate illness. Our ancestors have probably been eating nuts and seeds for a lot longer than they have been eating grains and legumes, so even though nuts and seeds contain similarly risky ingredients, it is possible that our genes have learned how to better handle nut and seed compounds because we have been exposed to them for hundreds of thousands of years. The best theoretical explanation I can think of for why nuts in particular may be healthier than grains, beans, or seeds, is that nuts and seeds are protected by their hard shells and therefore may not need to incorporate as many defensive chemicals in their flesh as naked beans and grains, but I have not been able to find evidence of this possibility in the scientific literature .

Are grains, beans, nuts and seeds nutritious?

Grains are so low in nutritional value that most cereal products in the United States are fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Of the four categories of seed foods, beans are usually thought of as being the most nutritious, due to their high protein content. As you can see from the nutrition information for cooked pinto beans, they are mostly made of starch (carbohydrate–something the body has no need for), along with some protein, fiber, and some iron.

Yes, there is some protein and some iron in these foods as well. However, all of these nutrients, because they come from seed foods, come with some baggage, as you’ll see below.


Seed proteins are typically of lower quality due to missing essential amino acids (quinoa and soy are notable exceptions). For example, wheat protein is particularly low in lysine. Corn is especially low in tryptophan. Legumes (including soybeans) are especially low in sulfur-containing amino acids, cysteine and methionine.

Some of the proteins in seeds are naturally difficult for us to digest because of their special structure.

Some seed proteins are defensive molecules that are designed to irritate non-plant cells.


The outer coatings of seeds are armed with proteins called lectins (aka phytohemagglutinins, or agglutinins), which are part of the plant’s immune system. Lectins can recognize friend from foe by reading carbohydrates on the surfaces of the cells of would-be invaders. When a seed is stressed or damaged, lectins are released to identify and attack potential enemies. One of the many ways they can fend off an attack is to zero in on targets (such as bacteria), bind to their signature carbohydrates, and then cause them to clump together (agglutination) so they cannot advance. Insects, not people, are the natural predators of grains, so lectins can also cause infertility in insects.

Lectins are found in all plants and animals, not just in beans and grains. However, animal lectins and plant lectins are different; animal lectins are not known to harm the cells of other animals, whereas plant lectins can be risky for humans and other animals. The highest concentrations of the most potent plant lectins are found in the seeds, roots, young shoots, and bark of plants. In seeds, lectins are primarily found in the bran-rich outer coating, which is one reason why even whole grains are not necessarily healthy. Lectins can also be found in the oils of seeds and nuts. The most important food sources of lectins are grains, beans, nuts, seeds, tomatoes, white potatoes, limes, cinnamon, and Jerusalem artichokes.

What can lectins do to humans?

Lectins, because they bind to specific carbohydrates on the surfaces of living cells, are very reactive. You can think of them as being sticky.

Lectins can bind to glycoproteins on the surface of our intestinal cells. Lectins have been shown in laboratory studies (in vitro) to damage human intestinal cells and in animal studies to poke holes in their intestinal linings, causing increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Leaky gut syndromes in humans have been associated with autoimmune diseases such as: rheumatoid arthritis, Celiac disease, type I diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.

We know that lectins cross into our bloodstream because healthy people have antibodies to lectins in their blood. In the bloodstream, lectins can bind to red blood cells, causing them to clump together (or “agglutinate”). Clumped blood cells are then destroyed by the body, so high doses of lectins can cause anemia.

Lectins can also bind to our immune cells and cause them to clump together, weakening our immune system. However, lectins can also bind to immune cells (mast cells and T cells) and activate them; this is a potential path to allergies and autoimmune diseases. They can also trigger white blood cells to release pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Lectins can enter cells, and once inside, they can bind to and inactivate ribosomes, which are the tiny protein factories inside of our cells.

In laboratory science, lectins are well-known as “mitogens”—which means that they can cause cells to multiply in a cancerous fashion. In laboratory studies, lectins can bind to immune cells called lymphocytes (T cells in particular) and trigger cancerous changes. In clinical human studies, ingestion of peanuts has been shown to have the ability to cause cancerous proliferation of colon cells.

How to reduce the lectin content of foods

Most lectins can be completely inactivated by pre-soaking foods and then bringing them to a full boil for 15 minutes. Dry heat (baking or roasting) is not as effective as prolonged boiling, so baked goods made with grain or bean flours are not as safe as boiled products. Dry roasting only removes about 75% of the lectins from raw peanuts. Toasted wheat germ contains active lectins, as well. Lectins laugh at stomach acid, and many lectins resist digestion by our intestinal enzymes. Lectins are the reason why grains and beans should never be eaten raw (kidney bean lectin is very toxic if eaten raw or undercooked, and will cause severe vomiting).

Sprouting reduces (but does not eliminate) lectins because once the seed starts to germinate and form a baby plant, much of the lectin protein gets broken down to nourish the growing seedling. However, some lectins remain to protect the growing plant.

Thus, there are really only two ways to protect yourself from the many potential hazards of lectins: prolonged boiling or avoidance.

There are many different types of lectins, with different carbohydrate targets, attack strategies, and potencies. The best-studied of the food lectins are: wheat germ agglutinin, peanut lectin, kidney bean lectin, soybean lectins, potato lectin and tomato lectin. In the future I will be writing more about these foods and their specific lectins.


What is gluten?

Gluten is not a single protein; there are hundreds of proteins in the gluten family. Glutens are proteins found only in the following grains:

  • Wheat (bulgur, durum, farina, graham, kamut, matzah, seitan, semolina, spelt)
  • Barley (malt)
  • Rye
  • Triticale

Glutens are simply seed storage proteins—they are designed to nourish the plant embryo when it comes time to sprout. Sounds innocent enough…yet, glutens are not only the well-established cause of Celiac disease, a serious autoimmune condition affecting more than 1 in 100 people, but are also the cause of gluten sensitivity, which affects (probably many more than) 7 in 100 people.

Glutens and other storage proteins are found on the inside of all seed foods (in the endosperm), not in the bran-rich outer coating, which is probably why refined (powdered) grains are potentially less healthy than whole grains. All seeds contain storage proteins, but only the wheat family contains glutens. So, what’s so special about gluten?

Glutens contain stretches of repetitive amino acid sequences (rich in proline and glutamine) that are particularly difficult for our enzymes to digest. Proteins that contain proline-rich sequences are called “prolamins”, and they are thought to be particularly irritating to our immune systems. All grains contain prolamins, but the types found in wheat (gliadin), rye (secalin), and barley (horedin), seem to be particularly irritating to the immune systems of susceptible individuals.

The problem with gluten being poorly digestible is not just that we have a hard time extracting nutritious proteins from gluten-rich foods. The problem is that partially digested glutens, which are called “toxic gliadin peptides”, can wreak havoc with the digestive and immune systems of genetically susceptible individuals, leading to gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease.

Wheat Allergy

People who are have a true allergy to wheat are reacting to a specific wheat protein called omega-5 gliadin. This protein is only found in wheat—not in barley, rye, or triticale.

Seed “Antinutrients”

An “antinutrient” is anything that interferes with the ability of the body to digest, absorb, or utilize a nutrient. Antinutrients in seed foods include enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid.

Enzyme Inhibitors

Seed foods contain compounds that work against our digestive enzymes, making it harder for us to break foods down. These include protease inhibitors, which block protein digestion, and amylase inhibitors, which block starch digestion. Amylase inhibitors do not survive digestion, so they are not a concern. Protease inhibitors are mostly destroyed by cooking, so, in well-cooked seed foods, these would also not be a problem.

Phytic Acid

Phytic acid, however, cannot be destroyed by cooking. The name phytic acid essentially means “plant acid” and was so named because it is not found in animal foods. It is located primarily in the bran-rich outer coating of seeds, which is one reason why even whole grains are not necessarily healthy.

Phytic acid is a mineral magnet. It binds to certain minerals in the foods we eat, and removes them from our bodies. This can lead to mineral deficiencies, such as iron deficiency anemia.

Below are results from an experiment showing that bran blocks the absorption of about 90% of the iron in wheat rolls, both in omnivores and in long-time vegetarians. This demonstrates that, even in people who have been eating high-plant diets for years, the body does not adapt to the antinutrient effects of phytic acid:

*Taking vitamin C or eating vitamin C-rich foods along with high-phytate foods can improve mineral absorption.

Phytic acid can also bind to food proteins and to our digestive enzymes, interfering with protein absorption.

Which foods are highest in phytic acid?

Phytic acid is found in all parts of plants, and therefore is found in all plant foods; however, the vast majority of it is located in seeds, where its job is to hold on tightly to the essential minerals (phosphorus, iron, zinc, etc.) that the baby plant will need to grow. Once the seed begins to sprout, phytic acid gets broken down so that those vital minerals can be released to the baby plant. This is why non-seed parts of the plant contain extremely low concentrations of phytic acid.

The amount of phytic acid in any given seed food varies tremendously, depending on a variety of factors—environmental conditions, age, plant variety, etc, so it’s hard to say, but some research indicates that seeds contain highest levels, followed by grains, and then legumes. The phytic acid content of nuts runs the gamut from low to high.

How to reduce phytic acid content

Most phytic acid is not digested; it survives our stomach acid and our intestinal enzymes, making it all the way down into the colon, where bacteria can start to break it down. Phytic acid does not appear to be absorbed by our systems, so it can only interfere with minerals in our digestive tract, not in our bloodstream or inside of our cells. Most phytic acid leaves our system intact, carrying minerals away with it.

Phytic acid is not affected by prolonged storage. Phytic acid cannot be destroyed by cooking, not even with prolonged boiling. Extrusion cooking, which is used by manufacturers in the industrial production of breakfast cereals, for example, barely reduces phytic acid content.

Phytic acid might be partially reduced by soaking and/or sprouting. For example, when performed properly, under just the right conditions, between 1/3 to 2/3 of phytic acid can be removed from beans.

Fermentation, particularly sourdough fermentation, is the most effective method for removing phytic acid from foods, because microorganisms, unlike humans, have the ability to digest phytic acid.

Seed Starches

Plants store energy as starch, which is just a bunch of simple sugar molecules linked together. Seeds are very high in starch because the baby plant will need a source of energy when it starts growing.

Much of the starch inside seeds is either amylose or amylopectin, which are both made of long chains of glucose molecules, and therefore easily broken down into glucose and absorbed as glucose into the bloodstream. However, there are two types of seed carbohydrates that our digestive enzymes can’t break down:

  • Fructo-oligosaccharides (chains of fructose molecules)
  • Galacto-oligosaccharides (chains of galactose + glucose + fructose). Examples include raffinose and stachyose.

Beans, beans, the wonderful fruit…

Most seed foods contain some combination of the indigestible carbohydrates listed above, but beans are best known for causing digestive problems. This is because legumes are especially high in the galacto-oligosaccharides stachyose and raffinose.

Bacteria living in the colon make an enzyme called “alpha-galactosidase” which can break apart the sugar molecules in these carbohydrates. Then the bacteria proceed to ferment those sugars, creating unwelcome gases: carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and/or methane. Beano® contains the same enzyme that bacteria use. By swallowing Beano® before eating beans, raffinose and stachyose will get broken down into sugars long before reaching the colon, so the small intestine can absorb the sugars before the bacteria can get to them.

Of note, rice is extremely low in indigestible carbohydrates, and therefore very little gas is produced during its digestion. Spelt is also quite low in these substances.

Cyanogenic Glycosides

These innocent chemicals are mainly found lurking deep inside the rugged pits of fruits, such as apricots, peaches, cherries, mangoes, and plums. These types of seeds are virtually indestructible without tools, and it’s a good thing we can’t chew them open. When these seeds are damaged, the nontoxic glycosides mix with an activating enzyme and poof—you’ve got cyanide. Other foods that can generate cyanide include: bitter almonds, marzipan, bamboo shoots, cassava root (tapioca), lima beans, sorghum, apple seeds and pear seeds. Proper processing of these foods by grinding, boiling and soaking can remove the cyanide and make them safe to eat.

The human body can detoxify tiny quantities of cyanide, but at higher doses, cyanide can interfere with iodine within your thyroid gland and cause goiter or hypothyroidism. At higher doses still, cyanide can suffocate your mitochondria (your cells’ energy generators), which can be fatal.

Bottom line about seed foods

Of all natural plant and animal foods available to humans, seed foods are the foods most likely to endanger human health. Therefore, eliminating foods from this family is the single most important dietary change you can make to improve and protect your health.

For people who either choose not to eat animal foods, or do not have access to animal foods, this food group does contain the highest amounts of protein of all of the plant foods, and can be a far less expensive source of protein than meat and dairy products.


  • these proteins can be difficult to digest, partly due to their nature and partly due to anti-nutrients within these foods
  • certain proteins, such as gluten, can be particularly irritating to the digestive tract and immune system of susceptible individuals
  • lectins within seed foods are potentially hazardous, making boiling or steaming to remove these risky substances before consumption very important.

Some of the starches in seed foods cannot be digested by our intestinal enzymes, therefore they ferment in the colon, creating gases.

The mineral thief phytic acid is very difficult to completely remove from these foods, even with fermentation techniques, therefore these foods significantly increase the risk for mineral deficiencies, especially iron deficiency and associated anemia. Taking Vitamin C can improve the absorption of iron.

If you choose to eat seed foods such as grains, it is best to eat them whole, rather than ground into refined flours.

Rice may be safer and more comfortable to eat than other grains because it

  • does not contain gluten
  • is extremely low in indigestible starches
  • is typically boiled (or steamed) before eaten, which destroys all lectins

It is unclear to me whether nuts and seeds are healthier than grains and legumes.

Biesiekierski JR et al. Quantification of fructans, galacto-oligosacharides and other short-chain carbohydrates in processed grains and cereals. J Hum Nutr Diet 24: 154–176. Brady PG et al. Identification of the dietary lectin, wheat germ agglutinin, in human intestinal contents. Gastroenterology 1978; 75(2): 236-9. Brune M et al. No intestinal adaptation to a high-phytate diet. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1989; 49: 542-545. Cummings JH and Stephen AM. Carbohydrate terminology and classification. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007; 61(Suppl 1): S5-S18. Dalla Pellegrina C et al. Effects of wheat germ agglutinin on human gastrointestinal epithelium: insights from an experimental model of immune/epithelial cell interaction. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 2009; 237(2): 146-153. DeHoff PL et al. Plant lectins: the ties that bind in root symbiosis and plant defense. Mol Genet Genomics 2009; 282(1): 1-15. Fassano A. Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases. Clinic Rev Allerg Immunol 2012; 42: 71-78. Goodman AH et al. The chronological distribution of enamel hypoplasias from prehistoric Dickson Mounds populations. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 1984; 65: 259-266. Lajolo FM and Genovese MI. Nutritional significance of lectins and enzyme inhibitors from legumes. J Agric Food Chem 2002; 50: 6592-6598. Mummert A et al. Stature and robusticity during the agricultural transition: evidence from the bioarchaeological record. Economics and Human Biology 2011; 9: 284-301. Nachbar MS and Oppenheim JD. Lectins in the United States diet: a survey of lectins in commonly consumed foods and a review of the literature. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1980; 33: 2338-2345. Ovelgonne JH et al. Decreased levels of heat shock proteins in gut epithelial cells after exposure to plant lectins. Gut 2000; 46: 679-687. Pietzak M. Celiac disease, wheat allergy, and gluten sensitivity : when gluten free is not a fad. J Parenter Enteral Nutr 2012; 36: 68S-75S. Pusztai A and Grant G. Assessment of lectin inactivation by heat and digestion. Methods Mol Med 1998; 9: 505-14. Pusztai A et al. Antinutritive effects of wheat-germ agglutinin and other N-acetylglucosamine-specific lectins. British Journal of Nutrition 1993; 70(1): 313-321. Ramadass B et al. Sucrose co-administration reduces the toxic effect of lectin on gut permeability and intestinal bacterial colonization. Dig Dis Sci 2010; 55(10): 2778-84. Rhodes JM et al. Lectin–epithelial interactions in the human colon. Biochemical Society Transactions 2008; 36(6), part6: 1482-1486. Ryder S. Peanut ingestion increases rectal proliferation in individuals with mucosal expression of peanut lectin receptor. Gastroenterology 1998; 114(1): 44-49. Schlemmer U et al. Phytate in foods and significance for humans: food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis. Mol Nutr Food Res 2009; 53: S330-S375. Sollid LM and Jabri B. Celiac disease and transglutaminase 2: a model for posttranslational modification of antigens and HLA association in the pathogenesis of autoimmune disorders. Current Opinion in Immunology 2011; 23(6): 732-738. Thcernychev B and Wilcheck M. Natural human antibodies to dietary lectins. FEBS Letters 1996; 397(2-3): 139-142. 697 Shares

Plant-based diet: Nuts, seeds, and legumes can help get you there

Published: November, 2014

It’s not as hard as you think. Here are some helpful tips.

Evidence continues to mount that a plant-based diet—rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy plant oils—may help reduce the risk of male health concerns, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Adding fresh fruits and vegetables is a no-brainer for adopting a plant-based diet, but don’t neglect nuts, seeds, and legumes.

Nuts and seeds provide healthy mono- and polyunsaturated plant oils as well as protein. Legumes, which include beans, are filling and also contain lean protein. All of these foods are packed with vitamins and minerals. Eating more nuts, seeds, and legumes “is a good way to encourage a more plant-based diet that satisfies people in a healthy way,” says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Botany: It will drive you nuts

It’s hard to sort out the differences between nuts, seeds, and legumes. They have particular botanical definitions, but most people tend not to observe those in everyday language. Some nuts, like hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds, are true tree nuts, composed of a seed surrounded by dry fruit and encased in a hard shell.

The ubiquitous peanut is actually a legume. Legumes are the edible seeds from pods you can split in half. Widely consumed legumes include the splendid spectrum of beans: black, soybean, navy, lima, chickpea (garbanzo), red, great northern, pinto, fava, and kidney. Legumes also include peas and lentils.

Portioning is key

Regardless of what you choose to call a nut, seed, or legume, for healthy meals, portioning is a key consideration.

Nuts and seeds are rich in vegetable oils, which pack nine calories per gram. That means if you eat too many nuts and seeds in one meal, you will get an overload of calories. An ounce of nuts, for example—just a handful—contains 160 to 190 calories and 3 to 7 grams of protein.

Legumes generally pack more carbohydrates than nuts and seeds, but a roughly similar amount of protein per serving. A half-cup serving of cooked beans contains 115 to 125 calories and 7 to 9 grams of protein.

But it doesn’t pay to obsess over exact portions. A loose handful of nuts can be a healthy “dose” on your morning cereal, yogurt, or oatmeal, as is a heaping tablespoon of sunflower or chia seeds. A handful of cooked beans on a salad is also a healthy meal-enhancer.

Add gradually

McManus emphasizes that nuts, seeds, and legumes should be added gradually to your daily diet. Evolution, rather than revolution, is the best way to adopt a more plant-based dietary pattern.

Incorporate nuts, seeds, and legumes into foods you already enjoy and know how to cook. To get the full benefit of a plant-based diet, substitute plant-based proteins for some of your usual intake of red and processed meat.

“Pick one or two days a week to use more plant-based proteins instead of traditional red meat,” McManus says. Trying to change too many things too quickly may fail.

How to eat more nuts, seeds, and legumes

Here are some practical suggestions for ways to evolve toward a more plant-based eating pattern using nuts, seeds, and legumes.

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Or make that, their fruits. Oh, drat. Which is it?

Actually, all four of these produce items are classified as fruits by scientists, regardless of what consumers, grocers and nutritionists think, said Amy Litt, director of Plant Genomics and Cullman curator at The New York Botanical Garden.

“The thing that is funny from my point of view, and it’s always a mystery to me, is that everyone knows that a tomato is a fruit, but they don’t know that a squash or a string bean or a cuke is also a fruit,” said Litt, who lately is studying the genes that make tomatoes fleshy. “I’m not sure how it got into the public realm of knowledge that a tomato is a fruit. But it’s like, well, all these other things are a fruit too.”

In reality, the public is fairly clueless on all of this. In a straw poll of 35 people in Manhattan yesterday, about half (18) said tomatoes were a fruit. All but one person said string beans were a vegetable and most (30) said squash is a vegetable.

Avocadoes, string beans, squash, eggplant, green pepper and okra are all technically fruits, Litt says. On the other hand, rhubarb is not a fruit. Let’s not even start with strawberries just yet.

Totally lost?

OK, in the world of botany, a fruit is the structure that bears the seeds of a plant. It is formed in the plant’s flower. In the center, the female parts of the flower include the ovary. The ovary has structures inside that become the seeds when fertilized. So the ovary will develop into the fruit.

To the plant, fruits are basically a means of spreading the seeds around, generally by wind or animal poop. In the latter case, fruits such as raspberries become thicker and accumulate sugars and bright colors, thereby attracting birds or other animals that eat and then “we say, they deposit the seeds in a package of fertilizer,” Litt said. In other cases, the fruit dries out and opens and the winds carries the seeds to their next home to start the cycle over again. A good example is cotton or a milkweed pod.

How about vegetables?

The term vegetable has no meaning in botany, which is the study of plants, Litt explained. Instead, the other produce is also classified, like the fruits, by whatever part of the plant they are. For example, rhubarb and celery are the stems, albeit very enlarged and juicy stems, of a leaf.

Lettuce, kale, spinach and cabbage are the leaves of a plant.

What about legumes? They’re easier because that is one situation where consumer lingo mirrors botany’s. Legumes are family of plants and they all have the same type of fruit — a bean, actually, that is technically called a legume. Examples: snow peas, string beans or sugar snap peas. All fruits (of the legume variety).

Peas (also kidney beans, chick peas and fava beans) might fool you. They are fleshy and don’t look like stems or leaves, but they are not fruit. The pea (or bean) is the seed. They all grow in the same kind of pod that is the fruit, and are very high in protein. The plant, the pod and the vegetable are all called legumes, Litt said.


Berry complicated

Strangely to us, that makes all these other things berries to botanists: tomatoes, eggplants, grapes, persimmons and chili peppers.

And guess what aren’t berries to botanists? Strawberries, blackberries, mulberries and raspberries, of course. They are aggregate fruits, because they form little fruitlets from many ovaries that remain separate, rather than being fused into a single structure.

Strawberries, with their seeds on the outside, are especially weird. In your classic fruit, the apple or the peach, the seeds inside are surrounded by the ovary wall. That applies to blueberries. But in strawberries, for instance, “the ovary wall sort of drops off and what enlarges is the patch of tissue that is underneath the structures that contain eggs (the ovules) which then develop into seeds,” Litt said.

“As it enlarges, it separates all the seeds from each other and they end up on the outside of the fruit,” she explained.

In another twist, pineapples are called a multiple fruit. Each one is actually a whole bunch of fruits, formed from the fused ovaries of many different flowers, Litt said.

“That is also a very different fruit type,” Litt admitted. “There are many, many different variations.”

  • Top 10 Poisonous Plants
  • Good Foods Gone Bad
  • Nutrition Quiz

Beans, pulses, nuts and seeds

Types of pulses

A pulse is an edible seed that grows in a pod. Pulses include all beans, peas and lentils, such as:

  • baked beans
  • red, green, yellow and brown lentils
  • black-eyed peas
  • garden peas
  • runner beans
  • chickpeas
  • broad beans
  • kidney beans
  • butter beans

Reasons to eat pulses

Pulses are a great source of protein. This means they can be particularly important for people who do not get protein by eating meat, fish or dairy products.

However, pulses can also be a healthy choice for meat-eaters. You can add pulses to soups, casseroles and meat sauces to bulk out meals and add extra texture and flavour. This means you can use less meat which makes the dish lower in fat and cheaper.

Pulses are a good source of iron.

Pulses are also a starchy food and add fibre to your meal. The fibre found in pulses may help lower blood cholesterol so are good for your heart.

Pulses are often bought in tins. If you buy tinned pulses, check the label and try to choose ones that have no added salt or sugar.

Pulses and ‘five a day’

Pulses count as one of your five recommended daily portions of fruit and vegetables. One portion is three heaped tablespoons of cooked pulses.

However, if you eat more than three heaped tablespoons of beans and pulses in a day, this still only counts as one portion. This is because we need a variety of fruit and vegetables to make sure we get all the important nutrients.

This does not apply to green beans, such as broad beans and runner beans, which can count as more than one portion a day.

  • Fruit and vegetables

Nuts and seeds


Nuts are high in fibre, rich in a wide range of vitamins and minerals and a good source of protein (which is important for vegetarians).

Nuts can be a good alternative to snacks high in saturated fat. They are a good source of monounsaturated fat, which can help reduce the amount of cholesterol in our blood. They also contain other unsaturated fats called ‘essential fatty acids’ which the body needs for good health.

However, nuts are also high in fat so it’s a good idea not to eat too many of them. Try to avoid salted nuts because they are very high in salt.


There are many different types of seeds such as:

  • sunflower
  • pumpkin
  • sesame
  • poppy
  • flax

Seeds contain protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals. They also add extra texture and flavour to various dishes and can be used to coat breads.

They make a healthy snack and you could try adding them to salads, casseroles, breakfast cereals, yoghurts and smoothies

You can eat them raw, or try dry frying or dry roasting them in a frying pan or in a roasting tin without any oil.

Cooking and storing beans and pulses

Typically, pulses are bought in one of two forms: tinned or dried. Cooking times vary depending on the type of pulse and how old they are. Follow the instructions on the packet, tin or a recipe. Pulses need to be stored properly once cooked.

Tinned and dried pulses

Tinned pulses have already been soaked and cooked, so you only need to heat them up or add them straight to salads if you’re using them cold.

Dried pulses need to be soaked and cooked before they can be eaten.

Dried kidney beans and soya beans contain toxins, so it is important to make sure they have been cooked properly before you eat them.

Cooking kidney beans

Kidney beans contain a natural toxin called lectin. This can cause stomach aches and vomiting. The toxin is destroyed by proper cooking.

Tinned kidney beans have already been cooked so you can use them straight away.

When using dried kidney beans, follow these three steps to destroy the toxins:

  • soak the dried beans in water for at least 12 hours
  • drain and rinse the beans, then cover them with fresh water
  • boil them vigorously for at least 10 minutes – then simmer the beans for around 45 to 60 minutes to make them tender

Cooking soya beans

Soya beans contain a natural toxin called a trypsin inhibitor.This can stop you digesting food properly. The toxin is destroyed by proper cooking.

Tinned soya beans have already been cooked so you can use them straight away.

When using dried soya beans, follow these three steps to destroy the toxins:

  • soak the dried beans in water for at least 12 hours
  • drain and rinse the beans, then cover them with fresh water
  • boil them vigorously for one hour – then simmer the beans for about two to three hours to make them tender

Storing cooked pulses

If you cook pulses and you aren’t going to eat them immediately, cool them as quickly as possible and then put them in the fridge or freeze them.

As with all cooked foods, don’t leave cooked pulses at room temperature for more than an hour or two because this allows bacteria to multiply.

If you keep cooked pulses in the fridge, eat them within two days.

It should be safe to keep pulses frozen for a long time, as long as they stay frozen. However, keeping food frozen for too long can affect its taste and texture. Follow the freezer manufacturer’s instructions on how long certain types of food can be kept frozen.

More useful links

  • Eat well
  • The Eatwell Guide

Grow and Save Bean Seeds

How to Grow Beans

Dependable and easy to grow, beans produce rewarding crops in gardens across the country. Beans grow best in full sun, planted in well-drained and warm soil. While pole beans require trellising, bush beans can grow unsupported. These growing instructions are for common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). There are several other species of beans, including runner beans, lima beans, cowpeas, and soybeans.

Time of Planting

Direct sow after the soil has reached at least 50 degrees F, but preferably when the soil is 60-80 degrees F.

Spacing Requirements

You can build bamboo trellises for pole beans before planting the seeds. Garden spacing is the same whether growing for seed or to eat.

Time to Germination

8-10 days

Special Considerations

You can build bamboo trellises for pole beans before planting the seeds. Garden spacing is the same whether growing for seed or to eat.

Common Pests and Diseases

Common beans can be affected by a number of diseases. Some of these diseases can remain in the soil for several years, so grow your beans in different areas of the garden each year. To prevent the spread of fungal and bacterial diseases among plants, avoid working in your bean patch when the foliage is wet. The best way to get rid of beetles and bugs that might eat the leaves of your plants is to pick them off and toss them into a jar of soapy water.

When and How to Harvest

Beans can be harvested in the snap/green stage, the shelling stage, or the dry stage. Try to harvest beans before the first frost. Some gardeners extend their season by covering their plants with sheets, blankets, or row cover ahead of cold weather. Snap or green beans are ready for harvest when the pods are still tender, before the seeds start to swell. Shelling beans are ready for harvest after the pod has changed color and the beans have plumped, but before the pods and seeds have dried. Dry beans are ready for harvest when the pods are dry and brittle and the seeds inside are hard.


Green (snap) beans are best eaten fresh, canned, or frozen. Shelling beans are best eaten fresh and must be removed from their shells before being eaten. Dry beans must be soaked and boiled before eating.


Beans can be stored dry for months or years. They last in the refrigerator for about a week.

Life Cycle


Recommended Isolation Distance

Separate varieties by 10-20 feet.

Recommended Population Sizes

To ensure viable seeds, save seeds from at least 1 plant. When maintaining a variety over many generations, save seeds from 5-10 plants. If you’re saving seeds for genetic preservation of a rare variety, save seeds from 20 plants.

Assessing Seed Maturity

Only save seeds from healthy plants. Harvest the bean seeds when they are very hard and their pods are dry and brittle. Mature seed pods will have begun to fade in color.


The fruits of bean plants split open at maturity, but the pods of most varieties of common beans can be left on the plant to dry fully without fear of losing seeds to shattering. Bean pods can be handpicked, or whole plants can be cut at the base. Most gardeners collect fruits from pole beans by hand as they mature, and even if entire bush bean plants are to be harvested only for seeds, handpicking pods is common on the home garden scale. If harvested prior to the pods turning tan and papery, the pods should be allowed to dry on screens or landscape fabric in a protected place until the seeds become too hard to dent with a fingernail.

Cleaning and Processing

If bean pods are not completely dry before the first frost, pull the plants up and dry them further indoors. When the bean pods are completely dry, break them open to release the seeds. Separate the seeds from the chaff.

Storage and Viability

Store beans in cool, dark, and dry places and always keep them in an airtight container to keep out moisture and humidity. Under these conditions, you can expect your bean seeds to live 3-4 years.

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