The Health Benefits of White Beans

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The Health Benefits of White Beans

Wouldn’t you want to add more foods high in protein, low on the glycemic index, and high in vitamin content with tons of fiber and great versatility to your diet? This magic food is the simple white bean, considered a superfood — like all beans — by the American Diabetes Association. White beans are packed with folate, vitamin B1 (thiamin), potassium, magnesium, and iron. It’s an easy bean to cook with and can be a healthy substitute for the type of starch in potatoes.

“Because of their color and texture, white beans are a better substitute for potatoes than split peas and lentils,” says Jennifer Stack, MS, RDN, CDE, associate professor at the Culinary Institute of America and author of The Diabetes Friendly Kitchen.

There is a large variety of white beans, each adding not only a protein- and fiber-packed punch, but also with their own unique taste and texture, added Stack.

The navy bean has a mild flavor and lends itself well to dips and thickening soups or stews when pureed. Best of all, the navy bean provides more fiber per half cup (7 grams) than any other white bean. White kidney beans, also known as cannellini beans, have a meatier feel and retain their shape and texture, making them perfect for soups like minestrone, stews, and chili. Great Northern beans have a mild, nutty flavor and retain a firm flesh after cooking. They take on the flavors of the food they are cooked with so they can be used in a wide variety of dishes. Including Great Northern beans is an excellent way to subtly boost the fiber and nutrients in a dish without changing the flavor.

Plentiful varieties

Lima beans are perhaps the most well-recognized and frequently used white bean. They go by several names in different parts of the United States. Baby lima beans, also called butterbeans, are creamy with a buttery texture. They have more starch than other beans, but they pair nicely with simple herbs or spices and are a staple in succotash recipes.

Large white lima beans, also known as Fordhook beans, are a fantastic substitute for potatoes. Heirloom beans like the Calypso and Snowcap beans are known for their potato-like texture and flavor. You can look for heirloom beans online or at specialty grocery stores. An heirloom bean is one not produced by modern large-scale farming, but is rather passed down over generations. The yields are smaller and they are harder to grow, but they are fresher when brought to market and have a depth of flavor that is hard to resist.

Dry versus canned beans is a personal preference — either works for whatever recipe you are preparing. Some prefer the taste of one over the other, so if you are new to cooking with beans, try a few different brands to see what works for you. “Canned beans are an excellent time-saver,” says Stack. “Dry beans have the advantage of the cook being able to choose how firm or soft they want the bean.”

Bring on the beans

The foam or froth that occurs when cooking either canned or dry beans can give pause, especially to those who are new to cooking with beans. “This is the result of proteins from the beans being released during cooking, dissolving in water and trapping small pockets of air. It is harmless,” Stack explains. Even though this is a natural part of the cooking process and will not affect the taste of the dish, some prefer to skim the froth from the top.

We have all heard the mischievous children’s song “beans, beans, the musical fruit…,” but this is a real concern for many. Gas and uncomfortable stomach bloating can make you hesitate to add too much of this superfood into your diet. To keep this unwanted side effect at bay, Stack recommends soaking and repeatedly rinsing and adding new water to dry beans (at least twice) and rinsing canned beans thoroughly.

To easily add dry beans to your diet, Stack suggests soaking them in the fridge. You can leave them in there until you are ready to use them as long as they are soaking in enough water to cover all the beans. Remember, cooking dry beans gives you the advantage of controlling the firmness and texture, which, depending on your taste preferences and recipe, can give that extra punch to your dish. A great time-saver is cooking a large amount of soaked beans at one time and then freezing 1-cup portions for an easy go-to during the week.

Try these flavorful bean recipes:

Southwest White Bean Stew
Spinach and White Beans with Ginger, Orange, and Sesame Dressing

Versatile, easy, delicious, and nutritious are some of the best reasons to find new and creative ways to add white beans into your diet. Whether you use them as a substitute for another ingredient, a purée to increase nutrition, or as the main attraction of a dish, these diabetes superfoods can add a whole new level of nutrition and satiety to everyday meals.

Want to learn more about the health benefits of beans? Read “The Beauty of Beans” part 1, part 2, and part 3, then try our delicious White Bean and Orzo Salad.

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