I love canned beans. Legumes in general—beans, peas, and lentils—are among the healthiest foods on the planet, and canned beans make it easy to boost the nutrition of nearly any dish. They are packed with potassium, fiber, and folate, and are a preferred source of protein. Worried about gas? Check out my blog Clearing the Air.
Just as I encourage folks to keep a purple cabbage in their crisper to slice off shreds into whatever they may be eating (one of the best dietary bangs for our bucks), I’ve always recommended my patients keep an open can of beans in the fridge to spoon into whatever they happen to be eating throughout the day. Though we haven’t yet brought ourselves up to the British ideal (beans for breakfast!), I’m always trying to think of creative ways to sneak more into my family’s diet.
Eden Foods, the oldest organic food company in North America, deserves credit for being the first to remove the chemical bisphenol-A from the lining of their cans (see my video Which Plastics are Harmful?). They also add kombu (a sea vegetable also known as kelp) to their beans to improve flavor, digestibility, and nutrition. Sea vegetables represent the most concentrated dietary source of iodine (see Avoiding Iodine Deficiency), a nutrient that can be low in people eating otherwise healthy diets (see Pregnant Vegans at Risk for Iodine Deficiency). For those who don’t like the taste of seaweed and—for good reason—don’t use table salt, Eden brand beans can provide a healthy source of iodine. However, kombu is such a good source of iodine, it can actually provide too much.
In my 2-min. video Too Much Iodine Can Be as Bad as Too Little I document a peculiar case in Australia of police raiding cafés to seize kombu-containing soymilk banned for containing too much iodine. Hoping to keep the SWAT team out of my pantry, I contacted Eden Foods to inquire about the iodine content of their beans.
They claimed their beans had “1.17 mg iodine per 100 mg.” That’s obviously an error—there’s no way 1% of the can is iodine. I assumed they meant 1.17 mcg, since iodine is typically measured in millionths of a gram, not thousandths of a gram (for example, the recommended daily intake is 150 micrograms). Alternately, maybe they meant per 100 grams, which is a typical serving size. Either way, there still might be concerns about toxicity, as the tolerable upper limit is 1.1 mg a day, but I really wanted to get at the truth.
I gently explained to them that the numbers they were quoting me couldn’t possibly be correct. If they were, then a can of their beans would exceed the potentially toxic daily dose of iodine set by the Institute of Medicine by more than 450,000%. In other words, a single can a year would put someone over the tolerable upper daily limit of intake!
Incredibly, they insisted their numbers were accurate. I asked to speak to the lab. No response. I’ve talked to other nutrition professionals who contacted them and were told the same thing. Jeff Novick–one of my favorite dieticians–even got Whole Foods to inquire and still got nowhere. It’s so ironic. Normally when I challenge food companies, they make outrageous claims to try to paint their products in a more positive light; in this case, a company is insisting their food is much more toxic than it could possibly be.
I’d welcome any other attempts to solve this mystery. Their facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/edenfoods, toll free customer service number (888) 424-EDEN and email email@example.com. If anyone has better luck at unearthing the truth, please post below in the comments section. We’ll figure this out yet!
-Michael Greger, M.D.
July 5 UPDATE: See the Eden Foods President’s response and the ensuing back-and-forth at https://www.facebook.com/notes/eden-foods/re-iodine/10151036878149933
July 18 UPDATE: Eden’s tests are in, and preliminary results suggest the iodine content of their beans ranges from 36.3 mcg per ½ cup serving (Great Northern beans) to 71.2 mcg (Navy beans). That’s quite the Goldilocks sweet spot–a single can could fulfill one’s daily iodine requirement nicely, and it would take around 20 servings a day to hit the upper limit (and even I don’t like beans that much! :)