Five good reasons to eat beans

Why the fuss over beans? And by beans, we also mean peas, lentils, and other legumes. We can think of five “beanefits” to start with.Beans and Rice Pic

1. They’re packed with fiber, potassium, magnesium, folate, and iron. These are nutrients a lot of people don’t get enough of.

2. Cholesterol. Beans lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, probably because they’re rich in the gummy, soluble type of fiber that does that.

3. Blood pressure. Beans help lower blood pressure, possibly because they’re a decent source of potassium. Bonus: their magnesium may help prevent type 2 diabetes.

4. Regularity. Beans contain less water than fruits and vegetables, which makes them a more concentrated source of fiber. Expect 6 or 7 grams of fiber in half a cup of most beans. The same amount of most veggies or fruits has 1 to 3 grams. Don’t worry that some brands of, say, black beans seem to have less fiber than others. The different numbers on the labels are largely due to different laboratory tests, not differences in the beans.

5. Plant protein. Beans are rich in protein. Getting your protein from beans instead of from red meat like beef or pork can help lower your risk of colorectal cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. It also helps fight climate change.

That was four diseases: heart disease, hypertension, colorectal cancer, and diabetes. Five if you count constipation.

On the downside:

Beans contain oligosaccharides, carbs that our digestive enzymes can’t break down. Instead, bacteria in our gut ferment them and produce gas.

Solution: cook beans thoroughly (or use canned), rinse away liquids, and increase your servings gradually. If all else fails, try Beano, an enzyme that breaks down the oligosaccharides for you.

Here’s a new recipe for a delicious bean dish from Kate Sherwood, our amazing Healthy Cook:

Bean Recipes

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5 Replies to “Five good reasons to eat beans”

  1. This is a prime example of the nutrition mindset that is counterproductive. The number 1 reason to eat beans has to be that they taste good. People eat for hedonistic reasons. The more we talk about health benefits the more we “medicalize the meal.” Further, we end up abdicating the “good-tasting” to the junk. The end result is that we reinforce the idea that healthy food is good for us but not particularly tasty and that junk is tasty but not particularly good for us. Research bears this out.

    Dina Rose, PhD

    1. I completely disagree. People already know what beans taste like and whether they like them or not. This information simply educates and encourages people to include more of them in their diet and in their family’s diet for all the health reasons stated. Nutritional education is vital–not simply whether or not a food is tasty. Given the choice of beans or french fries, a lot of people might choose the french fries without education on which one is the healthier choice. Food, in fact, IS medicine and it’s important that people understand that and make responsible food choices.

  2. I don’t like the comparison of french fries to beans. Everyone prefers fries to beans because of the fat and the salt, mainly the fat. My mom baked beans every Saturday when I was growing up except maybe in the summer. The best! And there are so many different beans and flavors. Hummus can be made without sesame tahini and not too much oil. The old countries knew how to eat, and in India, for example, 25% of some populations have diabetes now because folks there have been eating a lot of fried food, like imported KFC. I think Americans, and I’m one of them, are spoiled and procrastinate more than their share about taking responsibility for their diets. Vegetable gardens are the best also, grab one (community gardens) if you don’t have a few yards out back like I do. And I think it’s true that meat is not sustainable, don’t you?

  3. Just two comments, from a dietitian (Yes, we Canadians spell that differently!)
    1. The problem that most North Americans have is that we don’t know how to cook dried beans to make them delicious eniugh to eat them several times a week. I advise my patients to try a new bean recipe every week till they find several that their family enjoys and then bump it up to twice or more a week. I started this about ten years ago and my family love beans and lentils….they even ask for lentil tacos on their birthday and ask for lentil stew for supper so they can eat it for breakfast. I offer my collection of recipes to patients too. Look for good recipes from cultures that have cooked with beans for centuries. Italians, East Indians, Mexicans, Spanish and many others know how to make beans taste amazing!
    2. Adding bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) to both soaking and cooking liquids, makes the beans more tender (and may help with gasiness) but it does destroy part of the thiamine, making the amino acids (protein) less digestible. In other words, nutritional value is negatively affected. usbeanboard.com
    Try increasing beans in your diet slowly to get your gut used to them. Beano and similar products can help too.
    Bravo to Nutrition Action Newletter for giving out recipes!

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