So what is all the “buzz” about beans lately? They’ve been called the new super food and have been promoted as a healthy alternative to meat. But they’re not just for vegetarians - they can be a tasty and nutritious component of any balanced diet. They’ve long been a main feature in many cuisines around the world, from eEdamame or soy beans in Japan to Mexican bean burritos. There are many varieties of beans and legumesbeans and many different ways to prepare them. Read on for a few helpful tips on cooking with beans and a great bean recipe to get you started!
Beans are often called a “super” or functional food is due to their numerous health benefits. A functional food is a natural or processed food that contains biologically-active compounds which are clinically proven to help improve health and prevent disease (1). Beans are low in fat; a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals; and an excellent source of fibre.
Fibre and Heart Health
One of the health promoting components of beans and legumes[ES1] is the amount of fibre: 1 cup of beans provides an impressive 10 – 12 grams of fibre (2). Recommendations for adults for fibre vary between 25 – 38 grams of fibre per day depending on gender (2). A high fibre diet has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and Type II diabetes (2,3,4,5). Beans contain two types of fibre: (a) soluble fibre, which works to slow digestion, reduce blood cholesterol and control blood sugar levels, and (b) insoluble fibre, which aids the passage of food through the intestinal tract (5).
Beans have long been known for their heart healthy properties. The fibre content in beans plays an important role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease (2,3,4,5). You can greatly improve your heart health by incorporating beans into your diet as a meat alternative. Beans are one of the richest source of plant-based protein and don’t contain any of the saturated fat and cholesterol that can be hard on our arteries. 1 ½ cups of beans contains approximately 20 grams of protein, which is the same as a 3 ounce serving of chicken or about half of a chicken breast (3). Also, meat contains no fibre. Recent studies have shown that you can drastically reduce the risk of heart disease simply by replacing half of your weekly servings of meat with beans (3). So why not try a couple of bean recipes this week to have some meatless meals?
Beans as Cancer Fighters
A diet that includes beans has also been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer (4). Phytochemicals are compounds found only in plants and have strong cancer fighting properties (4). Beans are high in a type of phytochemical called antioxidants, that help to stop cell-damaging free radicals in the body (4). In the large intestine, bacteria are also able to ferment undigested fibre into the short chain fatty acid butyrate (4). Butyrate helps protect against colon cancer by slowing cancer cell growth and reducing inflammation in the body (4).
Weight Management & Beans
The soluble fibre and protein content of beans can help satisfy hunger as well as control blood sugar levels. They are low on thein the low Glycemic Index (GI > 55) which is a scale that ranks carbohydrate – rich foods by how much they increase blood sugar compared to a standard carbohydrate (bread) (4). The soluble fiber in beans binds to carbohydrates and slows their digestion and absorption into the bloodstream. This prevents wide swings in blood glucose levels which make beans an excellent choice for people living with diabetes (2).
Beans for Vitamins and Minerals
And lets not forget that beans are a great source of essential vitamins and minerals. Beans are loaded with B vitamins, which contribute to liver, skin, eye, hair, muscle and intestinal health (2). Beans also contain high levels of folate, which helps form red blood cells (2). Beans are rich in various amounts of essential minerals – lima beans are higher in iron, while kidney beans are higher in zinc and calcium (2).Minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc are important to the body since they form and maintain bones, blood and skin.
To sum it up, there are many reasons to introduce beans into your dietThey are a very affordable food with amazing health benefits and can be prepared and incorporated into delicious meals.
Tips for Adding Beans to Your Diet
Want to get the health benefit of beans in your diet? Here are a few tips:
Try adding beans to salads, soups and stews: Chickpeas make a great addition to salads and kidney beans and lentils go really well in soups.
Use canned beans to save on time*. To save on cost and salt content use dried beans; try soak them king dry beans overnight before cooking.
Add beans to your breakfast: Make a wrap with scrambled eggs, black beans, salsa, and cheese in a tortilla.
Introduce hummus and other bean dips to your diet. They make tasty dips for veggies and a flavorful spread for sandwiches.
To –limit gas, make sure to rinse canned beans well before eating. They are often packed in sugar alcohols which can cause gas. If needed, you can also try an over-the-counter digestive aid called Beano, which has the enzyme needed to fully digest the carbohydrate in beans (6).
*Rinse canned beans well to reduce salt and sugar content. Also choose reduced salt canned beans.
Smokey Maple Baked Bean Casserole
3 shallots, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 large apple, chopped
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 sweet potato, chopped
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons soy sauce - gluten-free
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tablespoon ground chipotle pepper (add more to taste if you want it extra spicy)
Preheat oven to 350°.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and saute about 3 minutes.
Cook sweet potato in microwave for 2 minutes to soften. Chop.
Combine beans, apples, sweet potato and onion mixture in large bowl.
Combine tomato sauce and all remaining ingredients in blender, add chipotle pepper to taste.
Pour sauce onto the bean mixture, and stir well.
Spoon mixture into a lightly-oiled casserole dish. Cover and bake at 350° for 30 minutes.
Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes.
1) Martirosyan DM. Functional foods and chronic diseases: science and practice. Food Science Publisher. 2011.
2) Trinidad TP, Mallillin AC, Loyola AS, Sagum RS, Encabo RS. The potential health benefits of legumes as a good source of dietary fibre. Br J Nutr. 2010;103:569–574.
3) Harvard Health. Getting your protein from plants. Harv Health Lett. 2013 Oct; 38(12):5-5. 1.
4) Campos-Vega R, Oomah D, Loarca-Pina G, Vergara-Castaneda H. Common beans and their non-digestible fraction: cancer inhibitory activity—an overview. Foods. 2013;(2):374-392.
5) Dietitians of Canada. Healthy Eating Guidelines for Increasing your Fibre Intake. Dietitians of Canada. 2008.
6) Dietitians of Canada. Got Gas? Find out why and how to control it. Dietitians of Canada. 2011.