Beans and Health
We love beans mostly because they are delicious. Dig a little deeper, and you discover that producing beans is a "green act". The soil can actually benefit from their production and the spent pods get cut up and go right back into the earth as "green manure". Dig deeper still and you learn that beans are one of the best foods you eat, rewarding both your taste buds and your overall health.
We've asked Lindsay Pasdera to help us out in explaining why beans are so terrific as a health food and what follows is bound to make you feel good about our products and beans in general.
Beans and Nutrition
By Lindsay Pasdera, MS RD
How could I resist when Steve asked if I’d contribute some facts about the health benefits of beans for the Rancho Gordo website? Packed with protein, and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidant phytochemicals…the story practically writes itself.
Simply stated, here’s why you should add more beans to your daily fare:
- “Green” Protein- Beans are high in protein, with a much lower carbon footprint and less ethical concerns than animal sources of protein, including seafood or dairy.
- Fiber- Beans are high in both types of dietary fiber.
- Insoluble fiber improves the health of the digestive tract and reduces the risk of colon cancer. Dried beans and other vegetables are excellent sources of insoluble fiber.
- Soluble fiber, which is available in a smaller number of foods, lowers the glycemic* index of a meal as well as lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Soluble fiber works by binding sugars, fats and cholesterol present in the meal so they cannot be absorbed into the blood stream. Dried beans are a very good source of soluble fiber…in fact, just ½ cup of black beans has twice as much soluble fiber as a whole cup of Cheerios.
*Low glycemic’ refers to a minimal impact on blood sugars; high glycemic foods spike blood sugar levels, which then sharply raises insulin levels, causing blood sugar levels to drop sharply, producing a hunger cue; this cycle can lead to increased calorie intake & weight gain, insulin resistance and type II diabetes.
- Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants- Dried beans provide a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals, including heart-healthy potassium and folic acid, and iron which protects against anemia. They are also excellent sources of phytochemical antioxidants, which fight free radicals in the body and protect against cancer. Each bean varietal has its own unique panel of phytochemicals, so mix it up during the week!
- Satiety & Weight Management- Satiety, the feeling of your hunger being sated, is an important tool for anyone who wants to manage their calorie intake without feeling hungry while doing so. There are two aspects of satiety that can help in weight control: a) reaching a feeling of fullness with less calories; and b) feeling full for a longer time, so you don’t start snacking. Foods high in fiber, like beans, and other fruits and vegetables, help with the first aspect. The second aspect is aided by meals high in protein, fiber, and fat, and a low glycemic* index. Although beans are naturally low in fat, they are high in protein and fiber, and eating beans with a meal helps keep the glycemic index of the meal low in two ways: 1) beans themselves have a low glycemic index and 2) the soluble fiber in beans actually lowers the amount of sugars from the meal as a whole that can be absorbed into the blood stream. So including beans as a regular component of meals not only offers wonderful nutrition, but also makes it a lot easier to eat the right amount of calories for you, without feeling hungry.
Adding a small portion of beans to meals once or even twice a day, as is the custom in its indigenous cuisines, can make it easier to reach your healthy weight, lower your risk of type II diabetes, heart disease and cancer, lower your dietary carbon footprint, and can be more easily tolerated than very large portions, less often.
Lindsay Pasdera is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Master's Degree in Nutritional Science. She writes about weight management and health in her blog NutritionistLindsay.com.