If you know “beans” about legumes, you’re undoubtedly missing out on a nutritious and delicious source of protein that goes well with everything from soups and salads to sandwiches and snacks.
Beans, or legumes, have been around for 10,000 years. A generation ago, beans were looked down upon as “poor man’s meat,” a nickname they earned for being a relatively inexpensive source of protein.
Today, bean consumption is on the rise for good reason. In fact, protein-, vitamin- and mineral-rich legumes have been dubbed the ultimate power food. Here’s why:
Beans are low in saturated fat, which has been shown to clog the coronary arteries. Consider that a cup of black beans contains less than 1 gram of fat, with under 1 percent saturated fat. On the other hand, 3 ounces of lean, broiled ground beef has 15 grams of fat, with 22 percent saturated fat.
Beans are also a wonderful source of soluble fiber that traps and removes cholesterol from the body. While they are not the only food that can help lower cholesterol, they are certainly one of the best—and best tasting, given their variety and versatility.
Beans can help stabilize blood sugar (glucose) levels. Unlike simple carbohydrates (cake, candy, table sugar and honey, for example) that overload the bloodstream with glucose all at once, beans are complex carbohydrates, digested slowly by the body. That means the glucose enters the bloodstream a little bit at a time, helping to keep blood sugar levels steady. For people with diabetes, an independent risk factor for heart disease, incorporating beans in their diets may help reduce the amount of insulin they require.
Beans can enhance weight-management efforts. Why? They fill you up fast for relatively few calories, helping to curb a tendency to overeat.
Studies suggest that low-fat, fiber-rich beans are great cancer-fighting foods. That’s because beans contain compounds shown to inhibit cancer growth. Soybeans, in particular, are rich in phytoestrogens that may confer additional protection against cancer. Experts believe these substances may help reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancers by blocking the activity of testosterone and estrogen, male and female sex hormones that, over time, can spur the growth of cancerous tumors.
You can buy beans by the bag in most supermarkets; they are also available in bulk at health food stores. If you’re trying them for the first time, consider canned beans for an easy introduction.
Don’t let the wide variety overwhelm you. If you’re looking for high fiber, try delicious black beans, which contain 6 grams of fiber in a half-cup serving. Chickpeas, kidney beans and lima beans all contain about 7 grams, while black-eyed peas contain 8 grams of fiber.
Once you get your beans home, you’ll need to do some simple prep work to ensure you get the most from a bean-rich meal. If you choose dried beans, you can either soak them overnight or try a quick soaking method detailed in many cookbooks.
Soaking is vital to get rid of most of the gas-producing sugars that make many people hesitant to eat beans. If the fear of uncomfortable and embarrassing gas has kept you from enjoying beans, try spicing them with a pinch of summer savory or a teaspoon of ground ginger, which may help to reduce the gas.
After soaking, most beans need to cook for a few hours; lentils cook more quickly and don’t need soaking. (For canned beans, follow the package directions.)
Here are some suggestions for adding more beans to your diet:
- Enjoy delicious lentil soup as an appetizer or pair it with salad and a slice of bread for an entree.
- Toss chickpeas into your same old lunchtime salad.
- Try a main course of rice and red kidney beans for a hearty and satisfying meal.
- Switch to soy milk as an interesting alternative to milk with your oatmeal or cereal.
- Serve black bean dip with corn chips instead of salsa.