Beans for Health
A multitude of research studies continues to reveal that the natural ingredients and nutrients in beans can help reduce risks for certain chronic diseases.
In some Eastern cultures, legumes were a basic dietary staple that can be traced back more than 20,000 years. The lima and pinto bean were cultivated for the first time in the very earliest Mexican and Peruvian civilizations more than 5,000 years ago, being popular in both the Aztec and Inca cultures.
The United States is by far the world leader in dry bean production. Each year, U.S. farmers plant from 1.5 to 1.7 million acres of edible dry beans. And while Americans are the chief consumers of these beans, 40 percent are shipped to international markets in more than 100 different countries around the globe.
Dried beans or legumes are an inexpensive and healthy way to include into your diet. A serving (1/3 cup of cooked beans) contains around 80 calories, no cholesterol, lots of complex carbohydrates, and little fat.
In addition, beans are a good source of B complex vitamins, potassium, and fiber, which promotes digestive health and relieves constipation. Eating beans may help prevent colon cancer, and reduce blood cholesterol (a leading cause of heart disease).
Beans are often thought of as a side dish; however, they make excellent meat free entrees. You don't have to be vegetarian to reap the benefits of legumes -- start slowly, eating beans instead of meat twice a week.
Before eating legumes, there are few things to know:
Dried Beans are not complete proteins. Beans alone are not complete proteins, but combined with a grain are as complete as a meal. So it is important to eat beans with grain products like these dishes that already contain these combinations. For example beans and rice, a bean burrito, split pea soup and corn bread, and a peanut butter sandwich.
Legumes may cause intestinal discomfort. You can minimize this effect by changing the soaking water several times when you prepare dried beans, or switching to canned beans. When canned, some of the gas producing substances are eliminated. Be sure to rinse the beans well to wash off excess salt. Another option is Beano, which contains an enzyme that breaks down gas producing substances in the beans.
Eating legumes means drinking more fluids. As you include more beans into your meals, it's important to drink adequate fluids and exercise regularly so that your gastrointestinal system can handle the increased dietary fiber.
Beans are a low-glycemic food. This means they won't spike your blood sugar as fast as high glycemic foods. High glycemic foods include white bread, pretzels, chips and other junk foods.
So, which bean to choose from? There are hundreds of varieties of beans. Try one of these:
Adzuki Beans are small, with a vivid red color, solid flavor and texture. Originally from Asia, its name means "little bean" in Japanese. Its red coloring -- red being the most important color in Eastern celebrations -- means that it is greatly used in festive or special meals. (For a recipe using adzuki beans, see Warming Mexican Beans and Rice Recipe)
Here's a really unique recipe using adzuki beans - a super summer milkshake!
- Red Bean Tapioca Milkshake: Blend 1 pint vanilla ice cream, 1/2 cup canned azuki beans (Asian red beans), 1/4 cup milk and 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Place 1/4 cup cooked large pearl tapioca in each glass and top with the ice cream mixture.
Large Lima Bean are large and flat with a greenish-white color. It has a buttery flavor and creamy texture. This bean is named after Lima, Peru, and is extremely popular in the Americas, both in its natural state and dried.
Pink Beans have beautiful pink color and is very popular in the countries of the Caribbean. Pink beans are of medium size (similar to the Great Northern and the Pinto) and have a refined texture and delicate flavor.
Green Baby Lima Beans come from Peru and are very popular in the Americas. The baby variety is much loved in Japan for making desserts from bean paste known as "an." These are medium-sized flat beans with a greenish white color, buttery flavor, and creamy texture.
Small Red Beans are particularly popular in the Caribbean region, where they are normally eaten with rice. Dark red in color, small red beans are also smoother in taste and texture than the dark red kidney bean. Red beans are a good source of iron and folate - and they're high in fiber. For a quick and tasty cold bean salad, toss canned red beans with chopped celery and scallions, olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Dark Red Kidney Beans are large and kidney-shaped with a deep glossy red color. They have a solid flavor and texture. These beans are produced mainly in the northern U.S.A. and owes its popularity in America and Europe to its large size, bright color and solid texture.
Black Beans are sweet tasting with an almost mushroom-like flavor and soft floury texture. These beans are medium sized, oval, with a matt black color. They are the most popular beans in the Costa Rica and Cuba. Black beans are well known in nutrition circles for their high fiber content. In fact, black beans have more fiber than the other legume powerhouses - lentils and chickpeas. The fiber in these treasures has been shown to be perfect for helping the lower digestive tract stay healthy, lowering the risk of colon cancer and helping to create efficient digestion.
Light Red Kidney Beans have a solid texture and flavor. They are characterized by their large, kidney-shape with a pink color. This bean is popular in the Caribbean region as well as in Portugal and Spain for its similarity to the canela bean.
Navy Beans are small, white and oval with a refined texture and delicate flavor. These are the beans used for the famous Boston and English baked beans because their skin and fine texture do not break up on cooking. These beans were named for their part of the U.S. Navy diet during the second half of the 19th Century. Navy beans are loaded with resistant starch, a powerful fat burner (one half cup serves up nearly 10 grams of resistant starch!). If you eat navy beans and other foods rich in resistant starch at just one meal a day, you'll burn 25 percent more fat than you would otherwise, according to researchers at the University of Colorado.
Cranberry Beans are known for their creamy texture with a flavor similar to chestnuts. Cranberry beans are rounded with red specks, which disappear on cooking. These beans are a favorite in northern Italy and Spain. You can find them fresh in their pods in Autumn. They also freeze well.
Black-Eyed Beans have a scented aroma, creamy texture and distinctive flavor. These beans are characterized by their kidney shaped, white skin with a small black eye and very fine wrinkles. Originally from Africa, it is one of the most widely dispersed beans in the world. Black-eyed peas are really a type of pea, which gives it its distinctive flavor and rapid cooking potential, with no pre-soaking needed.
Pinto Beans are the most widely produced bean in the United States and is one of the most popular in the Americas. It also contains the most fiber of all beans. Characteristically known by their medium size oval shape, with speckled reddish brown over a pale pink base and solid texture and flavor.
Great Northern Beans are a North American bean, which is popular in France for making cassoulet (a white bean casserole) and in the whole Mediterranean where many beans of a similar appearance are cultivated. These beans have a delicate flavor, thin skin, and are flat, kidney shaped, medium-sized white beans.
One cup of white beans gives you 13 percent of your daily calcium, 30 percent of magnesium and 24 percent of potassium.
Garbanzo Beans or chickpeas are the most widely consumed legume in the world. Originating in the Middle East, they have a firm texture with a flavor somewhere between chestnuts and walnuts. Garbanzo beans are usually pale yellow in color. In India there are red, black, and brown chickpeas.
Incorporating Beans Into Your Diet
- Sprinkle cumin onto beans while cooking and serve with rice and a salad for a quick complete meal.
- Be sure to serve beans with vitamin C rich vegetables to help iron from the beans be better absorbed.
- Don't limit beans to just entree dishes or soups, use them for dips, in salads, and dessert!
- Substitute beans for a meatless meal 1 to 2 times a week.
A Bit of Bean Folklore
The Twelfth-Night Bean
The tradition of the bean and pea came from medieval France. If you got the bean, you were crowned King of the Bean and everyone had to do as you directed. It's said that Mary Queen of Scots brought the custom to England, and added the pea. Whoever got the pea shared the throne with the king. Other items were also be hidden in the cake: if you got a clove, you were a rogue; if a twig, you'd best look to your spouse's virtue; if a bit of rag, your morals might be in question. The finding of these items sparked plenty of jokes and laughter.
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