As a registered dietitian, I’m thrilled with the increased interest in plant-based eating, but at the same time, I’m discouraged by the fact that overall, produce intake has declined. We all know that produce is great for our health. Yet cost, availability, concerns about food waste or how to prepare may limit how much produce people eat.
That’s why I’m such a fan of the bean family — beans, peas and lentils — as they check all the boxes for:
— Easy to prepare, no matter your cooking skill.
— No-waste shelf stability, canned or dry.
Why Should We Love Beans?
Beans are an excellent source of protein: ¼-cup beans is equal to 1 ounce of animal protein, and beans are a great source of fiber as well. For example, make a blended burger with 2 ounces of meat and ¼-cup of beans to add some plant to the plate, as well as fiber, flavor and texture. Beans do double-duty, counting as both protein and vegetable.
Beans average less than 10 cents per serving, making them an affordable choice.
[See: 11 Cheap Plant-Based Meals.]
Beans are a source of prebiotics, helping to support the health of our gut microbiome. Beans contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which also can help to control cholesterol and blood glucose.
Because they’re a good source of fiber, beans can keep you feeling full longer, making you less susceptible to between-meal snacking. That means beans can help with weight management to fill you up, not out.
I love the versatility that beans bring to the dish for any eating occasion. They can be eaten as is, pureed for a creamy texture or roasted for a delicious crunch.
Some people don’t eat beans because they’re not familiar with them. The beauty of beans is that they can be added to familiar foods such as soups, stews, chili and even desserts. They can also be pureed and blended into foods for those who don’t like the texture of beans.
And beans with animal protein, grains or vegetables are great combinations for nutrient amplification. For instance, beans add fiber and potassium to a bean-beef burger; beans added to a salad increase the protein, and beans mixed with grains, such as lentils with bulgur wheat, increases the potassium, fiber, protein, folate, iron and manganese.
Here are some easy ways to add beans to meals, snacks and even desserts.
Menu Ideas for Beans
— Beans as a side dish to eggs.
— Pureed beans in smoothies.
— Pureed beans added to oatmeal.
— Black beans or pinto beans in a breakfast burrito.
— Bean, pea or lentil soup.
— Beans added to a salad or a bean salad.
— Bean-grain salad, such as lentils and rice, or pasta salad with vegetables and beans.
— Cannellinii beans and tuna with capers and grape tomatoes.
— Roasted chickpeas or fava beans.
— Bean dips such as pinto bean, hummus and black bean.
— Bean-based nutrition bars (Lupii).
— Bean-based “nut butters” on bread or with crackers.
— Beans and greens — made with escarole or spinach and cannellini beans.
— Pureed beans added to pasta sauce.
— Pureed beans to add creaminess to macaroni and cheese.
— Vegetarian chili.
— Refried bean tacos.
— Black bean burgers.
— Lentil patties or meatballs.
— Bean-based brownies.
— Bean-based cookies.
— Bean-based cakes.
Myths About Beans
>Many people avoid beans, peas and lentils because of the potential for gas and bloating. Although they do contain raffinose, which is the carbohydrate responsible for those unpleasant digestive symptoms, you can reduce the gas effect by presoaking dry beans before cooking them. If you use canned beans, rinsing and draining them before use also reduces the amount of the gas-causing culprit.
Misinformation about carbohydrates is another reason why beans may be avoided. Those on low-carb diets shun beans. But beans provide protein and necessary fiber at a low calorie cost.
For those concerned about salt in the diet, dry beans have negligible sodium, and canned beans can be rinsed to decrease the sodium content.
Some people avoid beans because they’re worried about the presence of lectins (anti-nutrients). Lectins are proteins that bind carbohydrates and may contribute to digestive distress. Uncooked beans, peas and lentils do contain lectins, but we don’t eat them in a raw state. The good news is that there are negligible amounts of lectins in boiled beans and canned beans.
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