Superfoods: Beans (legumes)

Superfoods: Beans (legumes)

This is the first in an on-going series of articles on superfoods (actually one of the first posts on The Helpful Blogger was about mushrooms and they certainly fall into the superfood category -- you can read about them here and here to see for yourself why I eat them every day.).

What is a superfood?

What makes a food qualify for this distinction? I would say it's a food that is great for you and packs a punch. The technical definition is  A superfood is a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well being. 

There are many foods that meet this definition. Unfortunately, we, all too often, go through long periods of eating too few of them. Therefore, I'm starting this series to give some attention to the beneficial qualities of the nutritional giants in hopes it'll make it likely that we'll reach for them on a more regular basis.

Enough said. On to today's main attraction:

BEANS

Attributes that make them SUPER

Have a look at this list of benefits of eating beans. You'll soon see why they easily claim superfood status:

Nutritional benefits include:

They are high in minerals, high in fiber, high in protein (protein in beans ranges from 8 to 18 grams per cup), and high in antioxidants. All of these have a great healthful effect on you.  For example, Jacqueline Parisi says on the Hello Fresh blog:

People who eat more legumes have a lower risk of heart disease, thanks in part to their high concentration of potassium and magnesium. Together, the two elements remove sodium and water from your cardiovascular system while regulating blood pressure.

Other health benefits of beans include:

  • improved blood cholesterol - lowering of LDL
  • weight management - they help you stay full longer
  • decreased blood sugar levels
  • minimized sugar spikes when eating
  • increased healthy bacteria in the gut
  • reduced risk of cancer
  • lowered risk of heart disease
  • low in fat
  • good for digestion and regularity

Types of Beans

Here are some of the major types of beans and what they do:

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  • black beans - reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity; eating with rice shows a smaller rise in blood sugar than when eating rice alone
  • black-eyed peas - contain fiber (1 cup = 11.2 grams fiber) and thus helps prevent constipation; rich in potassium so helps blood pressure; reduces LDL cholesterol; contains iron which helps prevent anemia
  • chickpeas - contain bacteria that is good for the gut, intestines and helps regularity
  • kidney beans - high in fiber; reduce blood sugar levels
  • lentils - decreased risk of diabetes; slows the rate of the emptying of the stomach so you stay full longer and don't have spikes in blood sugar.
  • lima beans - (my favorite) they are rich in fiber, copper and protein; and they lower cholesterol, prevent blood sugar spikes, and are an excellent fat-free protein
  • navy beans -  due to the fiber in them, they help reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome* (*Mayo Clinic definition of metabolic syndrome = "Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels — that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes"). 
  • peanuts - good source of monounsaturated fats, protein and B vitamins. An interesting fact is that peanuts lower the risk of death from heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, but studies did not find the same true of peanut butter.
  • peas - peas have about half the protein of beans but they are good for reducing insulin resistance, lowering triglycerides, and they fill you up. Good fiber source.
  • soybeans - good source of antioxidants (isoflavones), reduced risk of cancer 

All in all, beans are great for you. I've highlighted a positive aspect or two for each type of bean, but they all have many of these attributes in common. So, eat lots of them and mix them up.

Canned versus dried

One hitch in shopping for beans is to decide whether to use canned or dried. This is totally up to you. Here are some things to consider as you choose. Canned beans cost approximately 3 times more than dried, but neither are very expensive, so it's probably not a huge consideration.. Nutritionally, they are about the same with the exception of the sodium content. Be sure to check the nutritional label on canned beans to see if there are added ingredients; and in particular, check the sodium content as many canned items are loaded with sodium. 

One concern with canned beans and all canned items is possible aluminum leaks. Aluminum in food has been linked to memory problems. And, another concern is Bisphenol (BPA) that is a toxic material in the plastic containment that lines many cans. BPA causes hormone imbalances -- causing aggression, obesity, cancer, and heart disease. There are no FDA regulations on the amounts of BPA allowed, so unless a can is marked BPA free, you might want to be cautious. 

Dried beans are definitely the safest, but the drawback with them is that takes longer to fix them. 

At times, you can also find beans in the freezer section. These are nutritionally equal to dried beans, but again, be sure to check the labels to make sure only friendly ingredients have been added to them.

Some things to do with beans

If you're using dried beans, you may want to make up a pot of them on your day off and store them in the refrigerator for use during the week. You can add them to this and that all week long for protein goodness. For example, I often add a half cup of cold cooked beans to my salad for a protein and fiber kick.  They are also excellent in a stirfry, soup, or stew. And don't forget that hummus is made from chickpeas. 

Personally I love peas or beans  over a baked potato with a little sprinkle of nutritional yeast. The combinations of beans and your other fresh vegetable and fruit choices are endless.

NOTE: here's how to fix dried beans. (The packages all contain instructions as well.)

  • Empty the bag of beans onto paper towels on the counter and sort them. Throw out any bad beans and pebbles you find.
  • Rinse the beans
  • Soak them overnight.
  • Drain the water you soaked them in and add fresh water 
  • Add any seasonings you want (I go light on the seasoning so I can add a particular seasoning when I use the beans during the week..
  • Cook until they are tender ... at least an hour or more.

 

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Summary

Beans The Superfood. People often ask me as a plant eater where I get my protein. Here it is.  All plants have protein, but beans are the highest. So load up on them everyday and get your daily dose of protein while you reap all the other health benefits too.  Enjoy!

 

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