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High-fiber beans carry loads of benefits for heart, blood, weight

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Dried beans have been a part of mankind’s diet since 7,000 B.C. Today they are an ingredient in just about every cuisine. Think Latin beans and rice, Asian black bean sauce, and the British and American favorite of baked beans. Yet you might not recognize them as a super nutritious food.


Varieties of dried beans include Adzuki, black, black-eyed, cranberry, garbanzo, great northern, Lima, kidney, navy, pink, pinto and red. Each provides an excellent source of fat-free, cholesterol-free, saturated fat-free protein. Dried beans are also rich in the blood-building B-vitamin folic acid as well as minerals such as iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium.


With all of these goodies, it’s no wonder that bean-eaters enjoy a lot of nutritional of benefits. In fact, Canadian researchers back in 2008 found that people who ate dried beans had higher intakes of dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron and copper. Plus, they had a lower body weight and smaller waist size compared to non-bean eaters.


The bean diet? It’s not a fad. It’s a fact. A high-fiber, bean-rich diet is just as effective as a low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss, according to a study published in the April issue of the Journal of Human Nutrition. What’s more, only the bean-rich diet – not the low-carb one – also lowered total cholesterol and the bad LDL cholesterol.


It’s the soluble type of fiber in beans that can help lower cholesterol. This fiber, along with the protein and minerals in beans, creates a triple-whammy that also provides bean eaters better control of diabetes (if they are type 2 diabetic) and lower blood pressure. This is according to a 2012 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.


So how many beans do you have to eat to get these health benefits? One to two servings daily will do the trick. A serving is a half cup of cooked beans. If you eat canned beans, rinse these with cold water and drain before eating to get rid of excess sodium. If cooking dried beans, don’t add baking soda as it robs the beans of the B-vitamin thiamine.


Once cooked, you can safely store beans in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or several months in the freezer.


So what types of beans are best? Variety is indeed the spice of life where beans are concerned. For example, the iron in Lima beans is the most available to our bodies. The zinc and calcium are best absorbed from kidney beans, according to research reported in a 2010 article in the British Journal of Nutrition.


There are many ways to enjoy beans. Make dip (hummus), sprinkle in salads, in place or in addition to ground beef in tacos and burritos, in soups and stews, in pasta sauce, or mash and fashion them into veggie burgers. You can also mash cooked beans and add to breads and brownies.


Likely the biggest reason many people don’t eat more beans is fear of flatulence. It’s the complex carbohydrates in beans that provide the benefit of fiber and also risk of intestinal gas. If you’re cooking beans from scratch, place the beans in a cook pot and add lots of water, about 5 cups of water for every cup of beans. Heat the water to boiling and boil the beans for 2 to 3 minutes.


Remove the beans from the heat, cover the pot and let the beans stand for 4 to 6 hours. Then drain the beans, toss the cooking water, rinse with fresh water and cook until tender. This method also makes the beans more tender.


Whether you cook beans from scratch or use canned, add them gradually to your diet. Gradually increasing the amount of beans you eat can also lessen the chance of uncomfortable gas.


Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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