Beans Enhance Meals & Health

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Legumes are low in fat, virtually free of saturated fat, and are an exceptional source of fiber-especially the soluble type that lowers blood cholesterol. They are also among the best sources of folate and are rich in iron. Some provide calcium as well. Legumes also contain phytochemicals such as saponins that may protect against cancer. According to the Adventist Health Study, eating legumes may help to protect against colon cancer and may be particularly effective in reducing the harmful effects of red meat on the colon.

Beans are among the world’s best nutritional bargains. A pound of dried beans purchased for less than $1.00 cooks up to 12 one-half cup servings. They are so versatile that it’s easy to use them for many of your meals.

As the chief ingredient in many wonderful ethnic dishes, legumes lend themselves to all kinds of tasty preparations. Here are some simple ideas for including more beans in meals. Use either canned or home cooked beans for any of the following:

• Add beans to any favorite chili or stew recipe.
• Jazz up legumes with fruit. Add dried fruit like dates, raisins, or apricots to lentil soup or canned pineapple to baked beans. Chopped figs are perfect with white beans flavored with garlic and Italian herbs.
• Toss chickpeas or kidney beans with leftover cooked grains and vegetables and season with olive oil, vinegar, and herbs for an impromptu main dish salad.
• Combine one cup baby lima beans, one cup black beans, and a half-cup of oil-cured sun dried tomatoes in a blender until smooth. Serve as a dip with crackers or chunks of French bread.
• Beans for breakfast? Why not? Baked beans on toast is common fare in England for vegetarians and black or pinto beans-seasoned with an eye-opening dash of salsa-can be wrapped in a warmed tortilla for a Mexican-style breakfast.
• Look for ethnic restaurants that serve bean dishes. Good choices are Indian for curried chickpeas or lentil dal; Italian for traditional soups like minestrone, pasta fagioli (pasta and bean soup), or lentil; Middle Eastern for falafel or hummus (both made from chickpeas); or Mexican for bean burritos.

Test kitchen tips:
Beans do take time to cook, but it’s no-fuss cooking. Soak them in water as soon as you get home from the store and keep in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them.

Follow package directions for cooking times and avoid adding salt or acidic ingredients that slow cooking time. Cook large batches of beans and freeze them in small packages so they are ready to be added to chili, dips, salads, pasta, soup and casseroles.

When time is tight, canned and dehydrated beans just need to be heated and seasoned for faster meals. Read labels to select products that are lower in sodium. Rinse canned beans before using to remove excess sodium and the sugars that cause gas.

While gas is a problem for some, research suggests that beans become more easily digested when regularly consumed. Commercial digestive aids like Beano can help, too. So can cooking techniques that reduce the indigestible sugars in beans. Before cooking, soak the beans several times, discarding the water after each soak.

By Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, co-author of The Vegetarian Way and The Simple Soybean and Your Health. FMI visit www.olympus.net/messina.

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