Most of us are familiar with the little guys we call beans. But bean, like the word vegetable, is a very general concept. It is used to refer to seeds of many different plants. Some people might think of green beans when they hear the word and others might think pinto beans, garbanzo or any other of the immense varieties of beans. That’s why I will focus on the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) on this post.
Although beans have been cultivated in many parts of the world for thousands of years, many of the most popular varieties that we eat today are native to Mesoamerica and the Andes. Beans (along with squash and corn) played a very important part in the agriculture and nutrition of pre-Colombian societies. Even today, beans are essential to the balanced diet of most Latin American countries. This is not a surprise given their nutritional value and their low cost.
Each half-cup serving of beans provides:
- 6 to seven grams of protein
- only 100 to 120 calories
- an average of 25 grams of carbohydrates per serving. The carbohydrates in cooked beans are mainly starch, a complex carbohydrate, and less than 1% of simple sugars, mostly Sucrose
- about 25-30% of the Daily Value of dietary fiber. About 75% of the fiber is insoluble which may reduce the risk of colon cancer. The remaining 25% of the fiber is soluble fiber which may reduce blood cholesterol.
- less than 0.5 grams of mostly polyunsaturated fat and no cholesterol. Pinto bean lipid is 84% polyunsaturated fatty acids. Most of this fatty acid is linoleic acid.
- provides 36% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of 400 micrograms of folacin and 11% of the RDI for thiamin.
- contains large amounts of iron, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, calcium, and zinc.
Other benefits of eating beans are:
- They provide a complimentary protein profile when beans and grains are served together in dishes like beans and rice, or tortillas and refried beans, .
- They produce a moderate increase in blood glucose and insulin levels which may be helpful in the metabolic control of diabetes.
- The slower release of glucose and the increased satiety from beans may also to enhance the effectiveness of weight-reducing diets.
Some tips about beans:
- Soak beans for at least 2 hours before cooking to reduce cooking time.
- Discarding the soaking and cooking water helps remove oligosaccharides and reduces flatulence. Hot soaking removes about 50% of these sugars. Extended soaking removes more, but reduces vitamins and minerals.
- Adding epazote to beans enhances flavor and helps to reduce flatulence as well.
But how do you eat beans? Beans are one of my favorite foods for their versatility. If you are looking to reduce your meat intake (we all should do this to improve our health, fight global warming and help eradicate hunger. Read about it here) you can cook with beans and other protein rich legumes. You can serve them as a side dish, in salads, combined with rice or other grains and vegetables to make a main dish. The best part is not their price, only a fraction of what you’d spend in meat, but their flavor.
Beans are one of the most convincing proofs that you can eat healthy and delicious inexpensively. With food like this the future looks less grim now, doesn’t it?
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