(known as legumes - a pod that splits along two sides, with the seeds attached to one of the sutures) are a fruit eaten as a vegetable. They provide a unique combination of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Research has shown that diets including beans may reduce the risk of heart disease
and certain cancers. So, for people who have a family history of these diseases, beans are an especially smart choice. It’s no wonder the latest government dietary guidelines
say Americans need to eat more beans. Read on to learn more about the benefits of beans and how you can easily incorporate beans into your diet.
Beans have long been known as a healthy food. But recently, beans have received increased attention from both the federal government and research scientists as a food that can play a significant role in a healthy diet.
Dietary Guidelines from the USDA recommends that Americans eat 3 cups of beans per week. This represents a three-fold increase over the current average consumption of one cup per week.
What Makes Beans So Healthy?
Beans truly are a super food
. They contain a bundle of nutrients that play a role in helping your body stay healthy and fight disease. Consider these nutrition facts:
- Beans are a good source of the protein your body needs. Plus, unlike many other protein sources, beans are low in fat, saturated fat free and cholesterol free. This makes beans a great choice for vegetarians, as well as for people trying to cut back on their intake of higher-fat meat products.
Beans are an excellent source of fiber. One serving of beans provides 20% or more of your daily fiber needs. Fiber has many benefits, such as helping you feel full after a meal, helping maintain blood sugar levels, reducing cholesterol levels and helping maintain regularity.
Beans are a good source of vitamins and minerals such as folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. Research in both adults and children has shown that people who eat beans get more of these key nutrients in their diets than people who do not eat beans.
Getting 3 Cups a Week is Easy
If you want to include more beans in your diet, start by keeping a variety of beans on hand in your pantry. Dried beans have an almost unlimited shelf life. Then get creative and try using beans in new and different ways. If you are trying to limit your sodium intake, just drain and rinse canned beans before using them. This will reduce the sodium content by about 40%. Or, prepare dry bagged beans without adding any salt. Most beans can be soaked in water or vegetable stock covered in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours, then cooked for 1-2 hours, depending on type of bean. So start them soaking in the morning before you go to work and they will be ready for you to cook when you get home. Spend some quality time with the kids, in the garden, or going for a walk while they simmer. Many beans cook well in slow cookers on low.
Here are some simple, delicious ideas for using beans to boost the nutritional content of your meals:
Top your salad with garbanzo or kidney beans.
Add black beans to store-bought or homemade salsa to create a tasty black bean salsa.
Stir a can of pinto beans into pasta sauce and serve over whole wheat pasta.
Heat up some baked beans – a perfect vegetable alongside beef, pork, chicken or fish.
Sauté black beans with your choice of vegetables, top with cheese, then wrap in a soft tortilla.
Make your own refried beans. Just sauté some onion and garlic, add pinto beans, and mash with a fork or potato masher.