January 6: In Honor of Beans

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And you thought the holidays were over! Not quite. January 6 is known as National Bean Day. Some believe that this day is in recognition of Gregor Mendel, who died on January 6 in 1884. Mendel was a famous geneticist who conducted experiments to test his theories using bean and pea plants.

National Bean Day is an obscure, little-known holiday, but because the humble bean has so much to offer, it’s worthy of celebration. In case beans aren’t on your radar for being a regular part of your menu, let’s take a look at some of the benefits that beans have to impart.

1. There are thousands of varieties of beans. Beans go beyond the can of kidney beans that you have sitting in your cupboard. Some of the more common types (besides kidney beans) include black beans, cannellini beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, great northern beans, pinto beans, lima beans, fava beans, and lentils. But there are other kinds to try, too: edamame, cranberry beans, adzuki beans, and Anasazi beans. You need never get bored!

2. Beans are good for your heart. How could they not be? They contain no saturated or trans fat or cholesterol and they’re naturally low in sodium. Beans are a source of folate, potassium, and magnesium, which are also heart-healthy. If you buy canned beans, look for the reduced-sodium variety. Otherwise, dump the can of beans into a colander and rinse with water for about 60 seconds to remove most of the sodium.

3. Beans are high in fiber. Actually, this is somewhat of an understatement. Beans are an excellent source of fiber. One cup of beans contains about 12 grams of fiber. You won’t find this much fiber in too many other foods. One of the kinds of fiber they contain, called soluble fiber, may help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats).

4. Beans are a great source of protein. You don’t have to be a meat eater to get enough protein in your diet. One cup of beans contains 14 grams of protein, which is equivalent to eating about 2 ounces of red meat, chicken, or fish. But unlike red meat (beef, pork, lamb, veal), beans come without all the saturated fat.

5. Beans can help you manage your diabetes. I alluded to this above, but it’s worthwhile repeating it: Beans contain fiber, primarily in the form of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber can slow the digestion of carbohydrate, which means that blood glucose levels don’t spike up too quickly. Beans also have a low glycemic index, meaning that they help slow the rise in blood glucose after digestion.

6. Beans can help you lose weight. Beans have a similar amount of calories as lean meat or chicken. But the advantage of beans is their fiber content. Fiber is filling, and when you fill up, you tend to eat less. Also, fiber can slow digestion, meaning that it can keep you satisfied for longer periods of time. Research shows that people who eat beans regularly weigh less than their non-bean-eating, meat-eating counterparts. You don’t have to stop eating meat, but it’s worthwhile fitting some bean meals into your menu.

7. Beans can lower your risk for cancer. Besides being high in fiber and low in harmful fats, beans contain antioxidants and phytochemicals, substances that may lower the risk of some types of cancer.

8. Beans keep you regular. Everyone knows the saying about beans. Eating too many, too soon can leave you feeling bloated and gassy. But if you suffer from constipation, beans can help, thanks to their fiber content. As with any high-fiber food, start out eating small amounts and gradually increase your intake to allow your digestive tract to adjust. Drink a lot of water, too.

9. Beans are budget-friendly. The cost of food is expected to go up yet again. The good news is that beans are very inexpensive. A bag of dried beans costs about $1.50 and will yield about 6 cups. A 15.5-ounce can of beans costs about 79 cents, depending on the brand. Compare that to a pound of hamburger, which averages about $3.50 per pound, or chicken breast, which is about $3.70 per pound.

10. Beans are convenient. Dried beans require soaking, usually overnight, before they can be cooked. You can skip the presoaking step if you cook them in a slow cooker. Canned beans cost a little more, but they’re ready to eat. Beans go with or in just about anything: stews, soups, salads, side dishes, appetizers… There are plenty of healthful bean recipes out there. Check out this site for some ideas.

I hope this week’s posting has given you some inspiration to look at beans in a new light and most importantly, to make a point to add them to your eating plan!

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