Functional Foods: Bring Back the Beans
Legumes don't seem to get touch attention. They're cheap, plentiful, easy to store, and often just as easy to prepare. But they're not particularly glamorous. Few people wax poetic about beans (unless you count the old chestnut: "Beans, beans, they're good for the heart. Beans, beans they make you...", well, you know the rest.) Rare is the food writer who devotes much ink to their merits. When was the last time you saw a pot of beans featured on the cover of a full-color food or lifestyle magazine?
Despite the expression "cool beans," beans are decidedly uncool. Few celebrity chefs build their reputations on their creative approaches to beans. Beans lack marquee appeal. They're too ordinary. Too common. Too boring.
But they deserve your attention. And they definitely deserve a place at your table. Beans and legumes may not be trendy, but they're quite possibly one of the most under-appreciated foods around. Beans have a lot to offer, if we'll only give them a chance. I've already mentioned they're inexpensive. Maybe that's part of the problem. Perhaps there's an unconscious bias against beans, because they're perceived as peasant food. To be sure, in many cultures beans take the place of meat. In some cultures, they're crucial, because among vegetarians they're a reliable source of protein.
But beans and legumes are more than just vegetarian sources of protein. As the child's rhyme notes, they're good for the heart. Really good. Why? Probably because just one cup of beans supplies enough soluble fiber to significantly lower blood cholesterol levels. Beans also supply antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, three types of beans are among the top four out of 100 common foods when it comes to antioxidant content. Small red beans, red kidney beans and pinto beans took top honors. Some other types of beans, including black beans, navy beans, and black-eyed peas made the top 40.
Need more convincing? A recent study concluded that people who eat beans are thinner then non-bean eaters, despite consuming more calories! Beans and legumes appear to affect feelings of hunger and fullness, while preventing sharp spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. They also help lower blood lipid levels, so they lower the risk of heart disease. A recent report in the British Journal of Nutrition noted that people who eat beans regularly tend to be less likely to be diagnosed with cancer, too.
Buy canned beans for ease of preparation, or cook your own from dried, stored beans. A pressure cooker can be used to reduce cooking time, or try soaking them overnight to reduce cooking time the next day. Whatever you do, just don't say "no" to beans.
Hutchins AM1, Winham DM, Thompson SV.Phaseolus beans: impact on glycaemic response and chronic disease risk in human subjects.Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug;108 Suppl 1:S52-65. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512000761.