Eat Well to Be Well: It’s good to be ‘full of beans’!

We’ve all heard the saying “beans, beans the magical fruit …” and we all know how that saying ends! Beans are not a fruit but actually a legume.

Legumes refer to beans, peas and lentils and they are the seeds, pods or other edible parts of a plant used as food. On the MyPyramid icon, beans have the honor of being in two sections – the meat and bean category and the vegetable section. Let’s explore the “magic” of beans and why we need to eat more of these nutrition powerhouses.

In the fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack’s mother angrily threw out beans Jack had brought home for trading their only cow. The next day, the beans had grown into a gigantic beanstalk holding many treasures. In real life, beans really can provide us with valuable treasures both health wise and economically.

Health benefits of beans

  • Beans are an excellent source of fiber. The average American only consumes 14 grams of fiber daily. The Recommended Dietary Allowance suggests our fiber intake to be at least 25 grams per day. Depending on the type of bean you’re choosing, a ½ cup serving ranges from 3 grams to 9 grams of fiber. Fiber is important as it helps to lower cholesterol, reduces spikes in blood glucose to benefit diabetics, makes us feel fuller longer, helps reduce constipation and helps decrease the risk of cancer.
  • Vegetarians use beans as one of their main sources of protein. A ¼ cup of cooked beans, peas or lentils is considered equivalent to 1 ounce of meat. One cup of beans supplies about 15 grams of protein, making it a great non-meat alternative. In addition, beans have no saturated fat, the kind of fat which can lead to heart disease.
  • Beans are loaded with antioxidants. United States Department of Agriculture scientists analyzed antioxidant levels in more than 100 different foods. Red beans, red kidney beans and pinto beans ranked No. 1, 3 and 4, respectively, as being rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants help destroy free radicals in your body, reducing your risk of cancer.
  • Many essential vitamins and minerals are found in beans to keep us healthy and promote wellness. Beans are rich in the B vitamins thiamin, folate, vitamin B6 and niacin as well as the minerals iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.

Economic versatility of beans

  • Beans are one of the most budget friendly grocery store items you will find. Dried beans are often priced at less than 25 cents per cup making them very affordable for any family.
  • Prepare a batch of bean soup and most likely you will have leftovers that can be frozen in freezer bags, providing you with at least one or more inexpensive meals.
  • Beans can be purchased dried or canned. Dried beans are less expensive but you will have to take the time to cook them. Soak dried beans overnight; drain the water in which they were soaking and rinse. Cover with fresh water and cook, which helps get rid of flatulence or excessive gas!
  • Canned beans are quick and easy to use. Since canned beans do contain sodium, rinse them under cold running water for 2 minutes in a colander to reduce the sodium content by 40%. You can buy reduced sodium beans but it is still advised to rinse them also. Rinsing beans also helps reduce the gas-producing compounds that some people experience when eating them.
  • The variety of beans available is amazing. Variety means different flavors and textures among beans and that they can be used in countless dishes – soups, casseroles, burritos, salads, chili or substituted for meat. They’re easy to work with and easy to accent their flavor with different spices and seasonings.

There is one word of caution when increasing your bean intake – do it gradually! Beans are a good source of fiber, which most of us need to increase, but adding too much fiber too quickly can cause some gastrointestinal distress. Give your body time to adjust to the higher intake of fiber and drink extra water to help ease the transition. So, let beans work their magic on you!

Here are two easy soup recipes using beans. Both recipes come from the Betty Crocker Diabetes Cookbook.

White Chili
6 servings, 1 serving contains 280 calories, 10 g fiber and 30 g protein

  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano leaves
  • 1 can (15 to 16 oz.) great northern beans, drained
  • 1 can (15 to 16 oz.) butter beans, drained
  • 2 cups chopped cooked chicken or turkey breast

1. Heat oil in 4-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic in oil, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender.

2. Stir in remaining ingredients except chicken. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered 20 minutes. Stir chicken or turkey; simmer until hot.

Tomato-Lentil Soup
4 servings, 1 serving contains 210 calories, 14 g fiber and 15 g protein

  • 1 tbsp. olive or canola oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium stalk celery, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 cup dried lentils (8 ounces) rinsed
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tsp. chicken or vegetable bouillon granules
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 can (28 ounces) diced petite tomatoes, undrained

1. Heat oil in 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook onion, celery and garlic in oil about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened.

2. Stir in remaining ingredients except tomatoes. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until lentils and vegetables are tender.

3. Stir in tomatoes. Simmer uncovered about 15 minutes or until heated through. Remove bay leaf.


Cheryl_Mussatto_pictureCheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian who works as an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, where she teaches a course called Basic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and may be contacted at [email protected].

Contact us: Osage County News | P.O. Box 62, Lyndon, KS 66451 | [email protected] | 785-828-4994 | Powered by Osage County, Kansas