As February is heart month I thought it fitting to write about things that are good for your heart, and beans is one of them.
As a child, I remember all the teasing that went on with the cute little jingle “Beans, beans the musical fruit…. the more you eat, the more you…” (You can probably guess the rest). If you’re not familiar with that one, you may remember another such rhyme as “Beans, beans they’re good for your heart…the more you eat, the more you…” Well, you get it. They still make me chuckle!
Considering beans have been an important part of the human diet for thousands of years, these humble little legumes never seem to make it to the spotlight. One of the most nutritionally complete foods available, beans are a great source of protein, antioxidants, folate and dietary fiber. They’re high in complex carbohydrates, low in fat, rich in vitamins and minerals and cholesterol-free. They’re good for the heart, blood sugar levels and can even help keep arteries clean.
If you’re wondering what distinguishes beans from peas and lentils, it’s the physical shape of the seed that determines which is which. For example, beans are oval or kidney-shaped whereas peas are round and lentils are flat disks. Most dry beans grown in North America belong to the species Phaseolus vulgaris, or common bean, and are available uncooked in bags or pre-cooked in cans.
In North America, beans are usually planted in mid May and they’re harvested anywhere from late August to late October depending on the location. According to Northarvest Bean Growers Association, “America is the leader in quality bean production. Because the equipment used for harvesting is the most technically advanced in the world, U.S. farmers are able to plant from 1.8 to 2 million acres of dry beans each year.” According to their website, Americans are the chief consumers of these beans, consuming approximately 7.5 pounds per capita, and twenty percent of American-grown beans are shipped to international markets, helping to feed the world.
Beans contain approximately the same amount of calories as a one-cup serving of cooked pasta, cooked rice or a 6 to 8 ounce baked potato yet they are significantly higher in dietary fiber. Because they offer much of the same nutrients as meat, but without all the fat and cholesterol, beans provide an excellent nutritional alternative for vegetarians. And because the soluble fiber in beans slows down digestion, it helps blood sugar rise at a slow steady rate rather than a spike, making beans a good choice for diabetics as well. Beans are also loaded with protein, which doesn’t raise blood sugar and helps the body process the carbohydrates in a meal more effectively.
Dietary guidelines suggest eating at least three cups of beans a week, but most of us probably don’t average even one cup a week. Considering all we have to do to eat them is open a can, there’s really no excuse not to. Just remember that canned beans can contain high amounts of sodium so you may want to rinse them in cold water before using, and if you’re worried about the ‘toot” you can ‘degas’ dried beans by following the directions on the package and soaking them.
From pinto to navy, black to white, dried to canned, beans make an ideal addition in our diet. Add them to soups, salads, and casseroles, mash them and make a dip or do up an old-fashioned crock-pot of baked beans. Yummy! There are numerous recipes available on the Internet and in recipe books that suggest hundreds of different ways we can use beans.
So instead of wondering what to have as a healthy food choice, reach for the beans. After awhile you’ll be able to say, “bean there, done that.” Enjoy!
A Product Consultant and Member of The AIM Companies for over twenty years, Joanne Jackson takes pride in sharing her knowledge of nutrition and the AIM products with others. As an advocate of healthy eating and proper nutrition, Joanne understands that the choices we make, and choosing them wisely, is the key to wellness. Sign up for her informative free newsletter by visiting http://awealthofhealth.myaimstore.com