With all the hype surrounding “superfoods” and trendy diet supplements, the lowly bean has in many ways fallen by the wayside in discussions of healthy diet. But, bean nutrition has helped support the human diet for thousands of years, and no amount of new studies, and trendy diets can change their status as a reliable, if often overlooked, nutritional powerhouse. In fact, the US Department of Agriculture has recommended that Americans increase the amount of beans in their diet, shooting for about three cups per week.
What’s So Great About Beans?
Beans in general provide a variety of essential nutrients, including:
- Complex carbohydrates
They’re also ideal for a fat restricted diet, since beans contain very little fat (about 2-3%). What fat they do provide is of the polyunsaturated variety–essential to a high-quality diet.
Beans also provide a variety of B vitamins such as B6, niacin and folate. Across the board, beans provide a veritable cornucopia of nutrition in a small, tasty package.
Choosing for the Best Bean Nutrition
While all beans are good for you, recent studies at Michigan State University indicate that, much like fruits and vegetables, darker colored beans provide a higher level of powerful antioxidants. Some of the healthiest bean choices, then, are:
- Black beans. A staple in Mexican food, black beans are great in soup, burritos, or bean salads.
- Red beans. Combined with a grain, beans create a perfect protein, so enjoy your red beans and rice, preferably brown rice.
- Kidney beans. Don’t wait for the next church potluck to whip up your mom’s five-bean salad
- Pinto beans. A great addition to chili.
- Navy beans. A popular choice for baked beans. Just don’t overdo the bacon.
One word of caution–many bean dishes are flavored with bacon fat, bacon, butter or other high-fat additions. Take a close look at recipes and substitute spices to make your beans flavorful and still low-fat.
Reducing Side Effects
In spite of their high nutritional value, many people avoid beans because of their uncomfortable tendency to produce gastrointestinal discomfort and flatulence. This is due to a sugar in beans called raffinose, which creates gas pockets in the large intestines as it’s digested.
Certain spices added to your bean dishes will not only add fat-free flavor, but will also help reduce flatulence by helping break down the raffinose in your beans. Try adding fennel, cilantro, turmeric, anise, rosemary or bay leaf to your bean dishes for a flavorful punch. If this approach doesn’t give you comfortable bean nutrition, Bean-O is a simple additive that helps the body digest beans without producing extra pockets of gas to ruin your day.
Bean Nutrition as a Diet Aid
Because they’re full of fiber, beans make meals more filling, helping that fat restricted diet stick to your ribs longer. If you’re following a vegetarian diet, beans are essential to supply essential amino acids to ensure adequate protein intake. Best of all, beans are flavorful, nutritious and easy to incorporate into numerous recipes.
Add chilis, soups, bean salads, Mexican dishes and a variety of other exciting options for better bean nutrition and a healthier diet overall.