“Beans, beans, they’re good for the heart, the more you eat, the more you enjoy ’em!” -William Paul Mitchell, aka, my Dad
Okay, so maybe that’s not how YOU remember that little rhyme going but in my house, we referred to farting as “shooting a bunny” (I HAVE NO IDEA WHY) and that doesn’t rhyme well with heart, so, yeah.
When I refer to beans, what I really mean are legumes. What are legumes? The term legume refers to a type of plant that grows fruit in a pod that opens at a split on one side and the plant is grown primarily for the fruit inside the pod. Types of legumes include what we refer to as beans, peas, lentils, peanuts (yes, peanuts ARE legumes), tamarind and others.
I love beans in many formats, but there are two reasons beans rock: they’re super nutritious and they’re CHEAP. Yes, you heard me. Beans are DIRT CHEAP. (The exception being maybe fava beans, which are well worth splurging on every once and a while.) Cheap, healthy and delicious? YES PLEASE! Here are some of the best things about beans:
They’re Loaded with Fiber
A cup of cooked beans contains between 25 and 38 grams of fiber. Fiber is imperative to the health of the human body in a myriad of ways. It can reduce bad cholesterol, improve heart health, keep the digestive tract functioning in the way it should, and, bonus, fiber helps you feel fuller, longer. Women should get about 25 grams of fiber a day, so just one cup of beans covers that, easy!
They’re a Low GI Food
The Glycemic Index ranks food on how it affects blood sugar. Beans are low on the GI, so they won’t cause blood sugar to spike. Eating beans on a regular basis has been proven to lower both blood sugar and blood pressure.
They’re High in Iron and B Vitamins
If you suffer from anemia but aren’t a fan of red meat, you’re in luck! Adding beans to your diet can help boost iron levels. Just make sure you eat your beans with plenty of vitamin c rich foods to help your body absorb the non-heme iron. B vitamins and folate can help boost energy levels and reduce cardiovascular disease.
A 16 oz. bag of dry beans is almost always less than $2 and will produce about 6 cups of cooked beans. Even the more expensive canned beans can be purchased for less than $1 a can on sale and usually contain about 1 3/4 cups of cooked beans. I use both in my kitchen: when I need large amounts of beans or want to carefully control the texture and salt content I use dry, and when I need a small amount of beans for a quick recipe I use canned. There are a variety of beans that you can purchase with little to no salt added, too, and I always buy those. All in all, though, cooking your own beans from dry will save you about 50% over time, unless you really hunt for deals.
And cooking beans is less complicated that you’d think. My favorite method is adding dry, rinsed beans to a slow cooker topping with plenty of cool water and setting the slow cooker on low for several hours. I skip the soaking when I do this, as I’m usually gone for 9 hours at a time and don’t have a timed slow cooker. (NOTE: Kidney beans need to be boiled for 10 minutes before being added to the slow cooker in order to neutralize a toxin that causes acute intestinal distress.)
If you want more detailed information about the science of cooking beans, check out what Christopher Kimball has to say about it.
Beans can be found in nearly every cuisine on earth, and they’re HARDLY boring. You can find recipes for beans all over the world, many of which are healthy. Here’s a list of my favorite bean dishes from around the world:
I, like many Americans and Brits, love the traditional baked bean, in particular my Godmother’s baked lima beans, but many brands of baked beans you can buy from the shelf are loaded with sugar and fat, which makes them taste great but drastically reduces their healthiness. Make your own, or eat them in moderation. (Preferably alongside the deliciously cheap hot dogs you also only eat in moderation, mmm.)
The Hubs and I try to eat vegetarian a few days a week to save money and beans are really great for keeping my protein up.
What’s your favorite recipe for beans? Let me know in the comments!