Beans are an incredibly nutrient-packed food and they are also a very affordable ingredient when cooking on a budget (not to mention the great taste and texture that they add to many popular dishes). Some of the health benefits of beans come from the following properties:
- They are high in fiber which helps keeps our bowls regular, reduces the risk of certain types of cancer, reduces our risk of heart disease and can lower cholesterol levels. The fiber in beans also aids in weight management because it keeps us feeling fuller longer and can help keep blood sugars more stable.
- They are a good source of protein. Protein is necessary to build and maintain muscle mass. Whether you are following a vegetarian diet or trying to make your diet a little heart healthier, beans provide a good alternative to animal proteins. In addition to the heart health benefits, having a vegetarian meal or two throughout the week can also be a good way to get a little variety in the diet.
- Beans are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. While the nutrients do vary among the different types of beans, they are generally rich in: folate, manganese, potassium, iron, phosphorous, copper and magnesium. All of these nutrients are important in overall health and energy levels.
- Beans are naturally free of saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, which, as stated above, makes them a heart-healthy alternative to many animal proteins.
When purchasing beans, you can either choose dried beans or canned beans. Canned beans are much more convenient because you open the can and they are ready to go. However, they do also contain more sodium.
One way to reduce the sodium in canned beans is to buy “Reduced Sodium” or “low sodium” versions which often have less than 50% of the sodium of the original versions, but it is important to compare labels to see how much sodium is still in the product because different brands do vary in sodium content. Another option is to drain and rinse the beans. Draining the beans removes up to 36% of the sodium and then rinsing the drained beans can remove a total of 41% of the sodium according to a study done by Jones and Mount entitled: “Sodium Reduction in Canned Bean Varieties by Draining and Rinsing.”
If you want to avoid the added sodium all together, you can opt for the dried beans. However, I find that many people avoid dried beans because they are not sure how to prepare them. The following are two methods for cooking beans, the traditional method and the time-saving “quick” method.
- Traditional Method: In a large pot, add 6 cups of water per lb. of dry beans. Let beans stand at room temperature overnight for about 6 – 8 hours. Drain and rinse beans. They are now ready to be used.
- Quick Method: Add 6 – 8 cups of hot water for each lb. of dry beans, heat water to boiling, and cook beans for 2 minutes. Then cover pot and let beans stand for 1 hour. Drain, rinse, and they are ready to be used.
Regardless of whether you choose canned beans or dry beans, the nutritional value will be very similar and they are a great choice for overall health and wellness. So, next time you are planning a dinner, why not look up a recipe that includes beans. Some popular dishes that include beans are chilis, Mexican dishes, soups (i.e minestrone or vegetable soup), hummus, etc. The following is a link to one of my personal favorite dishes that includes beans, Santa Fe Chicken from www.SkinnyTaste.com.