Rice & Beans: Perfect Protein or Myth?
Last month Sean Hannity, conservative FOX TV personality, made an interesting comment about the state of hunger and nutrition in the United States. The context was Hannity defending prompts from a caller about whether Mitt Romney, being as wealthy as he is, is actually relatable to the masses of financially struggling Americans. Hannity jumped around a bit on his defense of the candidate Romney and claimed that, no one is actually going hungry in this country (not true) and poverty and hunger are just not linked within the borders of the United States. Then Hannity went on to explain the following:
“I don’t believe people are going to bed hungry. … For, instance I have friends of mine who eat rice and beans all the time. Beans protein, rice. Inexpensive. You can make a big pot of this for a week for negligible amounts of money and you can feed your whole family.
Look, you should have vegetables and fruit in there as well, but if you need to survive you can survive off it. It’s not ideal but you could get some cheap meat and throw in there as well for protein. There are ways to live really, really cheaply.”
I am not here to take issue with Mr. Hannity (as I think time will eventually undo all manner of untruths and divisiveness that Hannity has unleashed upon the world) but I am interested in the issue of rice and beans being all that you need to keep on keeping on. For years people have been making the claim that beans and rice, together, are a “complete protein.” This synergistic dish, which is a staple throughout most of Latin America, holds a sort of magical appeal because of its fortified nutritional value at a very low cost (for many, it is by far the cheapest thing to eat). “[The dish] was probably invented many times because it makes sense to put them together,” Indiana University cultural anthropologist Richard Wilk, co-author of the upcoming book Rice and Beans: A Unique Dish in a Hundred Places recently told NPR.
And as it turns out, this is a winning combination, just as long as the ratio to beans and rice is not too off balance. As far as the economics of the combination go, rice is the cheaper component of the meal. beans are a low-glycemic-index food that makes a person feel full, so they eat less of other things. Beans are also full of fiber, potassium, folate, iron, manganese and magnesium, and they are cholesterol- and fat-free. They’re a superfood. But people in the poorer countries tend to bulk up a bit on rice, as beans cost a bit more. So this complete protein also needs complete (or near complete) balance to provide the maximum nutrition.
However just rice and beans (even if it is the more healthy option of brown rice) is not enough to keep someone fully nourished (sorry Mr Hannity). You need fruits and vegetables for other vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients. The lesson here is, eat more (brown) rice and beans, along with generous helpings of fresh fruit and vegetables, but don’t get all of your nutritional advice from FOX News.
What are some of your favorite rice and bean combinations? Is there something better and more appealing (lentils and pasta maybe)? Is this a staple you love or hate?