Beans: A Nutritional Power House
Beans are yet another example of an equally healthful and inexpensive food.
Beans are found in two places on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid. They are included with high-protein foods such as meat, eggs, poultry and fish. And also with vitamin-rich vegetables. The double dose of nutrition packed into beans make them a "must have" in the daily diet.
Beans for Every Diet
Beans are an extremely beneficial component in all diets because they are high in complex carbohydrates, protein and dietary fiber, low in fat, calories and sodium, and completely cholesterol-free. As little as a half-cup of beans added to the daily diet can be very helpful in reaching important nutrition goals.
Beans are an excellent, non-fat source of protein. Just one cup of beans provides as much as 16 grams of protein.
According to Food Label Laws and Regulations, approximately 10 percent of your daily calories should come from protein. Adults generally need to eat between 50 to 60 grams of protein a day.
Why is protein so important? The body converts protein into amino acids which make up and repair muscle and bone tissue. Protein also fights infections, helps heal wounds and regulates enzymes and hormones.
Beans are loaded with complex carbohydrates - the nutrient that provides energy to the muscles and brain. Just one cup of beans can provide 15 percent of the carbohydrates needed daily. Plus, beans have the best type of carbohydrate for maximum energy - those considered to be low or moderate glycemic index carbohydrates. Beans and other carbohydrates with a low to moderate glycemic index have the unique ability to provide energy over a longer period of time by being slowly released into your bloodstream to provide sustained energy.
Ounce for ounce, complex carbohydrates provide half the calories of fat. They are absorbed more slowly than simple carbohydrates, such as table sugar and candy, so beans easily suppress your appetite for longer periods of time.
Beans are one of the best sources of dietary fiber, containing both insoluble and soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber, generally thought of as "roughage" that moves quickly through the digestive system, is important in our diets because it helps promote a healthy digestive tract and can reduce the risk of some types of cancer. During digestion, soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance, which helps the body handle fats, cholesterol and carbohydrates. Soluble fiber plays a role in helping to lower blood cholesterol levels, one of the main risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease.
Beans contain an abundance of potassium, which may help reduce your risk of high blood pressure and stroke. According to a health claim recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, "diets containing foods that are good sources of potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke." According to USDA data, more than 80 percent of American adults do not consume the daily value for potassium (3,500 mg).
Many dry beans contain a good source of potassium naturally. Just one-half cup of cooked dry beans contains as much as 480 mg of potassium. Plus, dry-packaged beans are naturally low in sodium, with no more than 5mg of sodium in a one-half cup serving.
Folate. Our bodies do not produce folate, an important B vitamin that provides many health benefits, so it is important to get it from the foods we eat. Foods containing folate include dry beans, leafy green vegetables, fruit and fruit juices. Of all these foods, dry beans are the best source of folate. Eating one cup of cooked dry beans provides, on average, 264mcg of folate, which can help most Americans reach their daily recommended intake.
Budget Friendly Beans
While they are best known for their exceptionally high fiber content, beans also provide a good source of vegetable protein, along with folate and iron. One 16 ounce bag of dried beans typically costs a dollar or two, which translates into about 20 cents per serving. However, dry beans call for significant planning, as they require soaking overnight before cooking.
While soaking beans does help to minimize the gas problems associated with eating beans by removing the indigestible complex sugars (oligosaccharides) from the outer coating of the beans, it's certainly not the primary reason to soak.
The most important reason for soaking your beans is that it allows shorter cooking times, and that in turn, will preserve the most nutrients in your beans. This way you get the benefits of all the proteins, vitamins and minerals in the beans and you'll maximize their food value. According to the California Dry Bean Advisory Board, there's no need to worry that soaking is going to remove the proteins, enzymes or other nutrients that are stored within the beans.
A more convenient and almost as inexpensive solution is canned, pre-cooked beans. Be sure to rinse canned beans well before using to eliminate as much sodium as possible.
It is not necessary to recook canned beans, just heat them if a recipe calls for it. Canned beans, like dry beans, absorb flavors from other ingredients in a dish because their skins are completely permeable.
Beans in the Diabetic Diet
Beans are found in the largest food group of the Diabetes Food Pyramid developed by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Beans are an extremely beneficial component in the diabetes diet because they are high in dietary fiber and low in fat and sodium. A high-fiber diet helps control diabetes and maintain healthy blood glucose levels. In addition, beans are digested more slowly than simple carbohydrates - a good way to help control blood sugar levels. And, since fiber-rich foods like beans are filling, they are helpful in weight control. Just one cup of cooked beans can provide as much as 15 grams of dietary fiber, more than half the daily value (DV) of 25 grams.
Adding Beans to Your Diet
Like any source of fiber, beans should be added gradually to the diet. Consumption should be increased over a 4 to 8 week period, even if it's a bite or two per day, with a goal of one-half cup beans per day. It is also important to drink plenty of liquids when adding more fiber to your diet, because fluids help reduce the natural side effects of digesting fiber-rich foods. The key is to continue eating beans once the body's system is adjusted.
As you cook beans, a white scum often floats to the surface; skim this off with a slotted spoon.
Beans are quite versatile in the kitchen: add them to salads, roll them into burritos, or stir them into soups. Both unopened cans and bags of dried beans last up to two years.
- One 15-ounce can of beans = one and one-half cups cooked beans, drained
- One pound dry beans = six cups cooked beans, drained.
- One pound dry beans = two cups dry beans.
- One cup dry beans = three cups cooked beans, drained.
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