Shift 1: The Benefits of Beans
Beans may come in modest packaging, but they are “humble nutritional gems,” says Kathie Swift, MS, RD, the nutrition director for Food As Medicine at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C., and creator of MyFoundationDiet.com, a seasonal eating plan based on whole foods. A single serving of beans (Ĺ cup) rivals the amount of protein in 2 ounces of lean meat. Most beans are also rich in fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and a host of minerals, including calcium and magnesium.
That said, no two bean types are identical. “Each bean has unique nutritional attributes,” says Swift. “Black beans are high in antioxidants, soybeans host the phytochemical family of isoflavones, white beans are potassium-laden, and adzuki beans pack in some carotenoids.”
Best of all, beans’ goodness comes cheap: Ounce for ounce, they are one of the least expensive sources of protein. And for just pennies a serving, they can help you achieve some very important health goals:
Dodge diabetes. Beans help control blood sugar. In 2009, Canadian researchers analyzed the results of 41 randomized, controlled clinical trials, involving 1,674 people, that measured the health benefits of eating beans, lentils and peas. Their findings, published in the journal Diabetologia, concluded that people who regularly ate legumes had steadier blood-sugar levels than people who didn’t.
The reason? The high fiber content in beans slows digestion, which slows the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream. As a result, the bean-eaters’ bodies were better at moderating sugar levels in the blood, an important factor in helping to prevent type 2 diabetes.
Resist weight gain. Results published in 2008 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that bean-eaters had a 22 percent reduced risk of becoming obese compared with people who hadnít regularly eaten beans. The authors speculated that fiber was behind the health benefit, noting that it wards off weight gain by filling you up on fewer calories and keeping blood-sugar levels steady, which staves off food cravings.
Promote proper digestion. Beans are a powerful supporter of good elimination, which in turn helps keep toxicity and inflammation at bay. “Our ancestors ate up to 100 grams of fiber a day, but most of us today get only 15,” says Beth Reardon, MS, RD, LDN, director of Integrative Nutrition at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C.
Beans deliver both insoluble and soluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, creating a gel-like substance that helps lower cholesterol and glucose levels. Insoluble fiber doesnít dissolve in water, so it passes through your digestive system relatively intact, which adds bulk to the stool and keeps traffic moving so toxins donít have a chance to build up in your system.
Regulate cholesterol. As noted, soluble fiber absorbs water as well as other things, such as cholesterol and excess sugars, which makes it a boon to heart health. Housed inside a plantís cellular membranes (rather than in the outer shell), soluble fiber forms a gooey, slow-moving gel as it travels through the gut. It gloms onto bile acids inside the intestines and ushers them out of the body, which prompts the liver to pull cholesterol out of the blood to make more bile. As a bonus, says Abdulaziz Feeney, soluble fiber sends feedback to the liver to slow down cholesterol production.
So if beans are so great, why aren’t more of us eating them more often? The two main reasons that people avoid beans are texture and digestive distress, says Swift. If beans’ texture bothers you, Swift recommends hummus or other creamy bean dips as a great entrypoint. If digestive distress is a deterrent, try adding a 4- to 6-inch strip of kombu (seaweed) to the beans as they cook to make them more digestible, or take an enzyme supplement to assist with digestion. Also keep in mind that as your body becomes accustomed to more fiber, and as your intestinal system gets cleaner, gas-related problems will likely diminish.
Best Tips for Cooking Beans