With increasing popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, beans are an often overlooked super food.
Because beans provide a rich source of carbohydrates, they are often avoided and feared as a culprit for weight gain. If you choose to actually "spill the beans" you will be missing out on the many health "bean-a-fits."
Many dieters choose to eliminate, or significantly limit, carbohydrate-containing foods in an attempt to lose a few extra pounds or to prevent undesirable weight gain.
Are carbohydrates really a culprit for weight gain or have they just been given a bad rap? The high-fat spreads that we tend to add onto these foods are more likely the issue, along with excessive portion sizes of all foods. When choosing carbohydrate-rich foods, try to select complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and high-fiber carbohydrate sources, such as beans.
One of the major health benefits to adding beans to your diet is the addition of fiber. A diet high in fiber has been shown to help prevent heart disease and certain types of cancer.
One serving of beans (1 cup) provides a whopping 13 grams of dietary fiber, which is equivalent to about half of the recommended 25 to 35 grams per day.
In addition, the water and fiber content make beans very filling, and may play an important role in weight control — the exact opposite reason that the food is often feared. The addition of beans to the diet is an easy way to decrease caloric intake without feeling deprived because of this ability to provide a sense of fullness.
Beans are a good source of protein and may be used as a meat substitute for those choosing vegetarian diets. When combined with whole grains, beans provide a complete source of protein containing essential amino acids needed for tissue maintenance and repair. The caloric content of beans is similar to that of lean meat but the high-fiber content slows the digestive process, keeping you satisfied longer.
In addition, beans contain phytochemicals, which are found only in plant foods. These antioxidants provide a protective effect against heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Beans are not just a good source of fiber, protein and antioxidants. They are excellent sources of calcium, iron, potassium, and B vitamins. Beans can help fulfill your goal to meet the recommendations of the USDA Food Guide Pyramid by providing a source of either a vegetable or meat substitute, depending on the remainder of your meal.
Common beans that can easily be incorporated into your diet include black beans, garbanzo beans/chickpeas, pinto beans, kidney beans, lima beans and navy beans.
Given the many health "bean-a fits," try the following tips to incorporate beans into your diet:
Add to tossed salads to make a complete meal
Add to homemade or canned soups and stews
Toss into your favorite homemade or jarred salsa
Toss into pasta sauce
Combine with vegetables and low-fat salad dressing or lemon juice for a refreshing summer salad
Try pureeing with garlic, olive oil, and herbs and use as a dip or spread
— Melissa Tewes is the clinical nutrition manager at Meritus Medical Center. She has 16 years of experience as a registered dietitian and is also a certified personal trainer