More Respect, Please, for the “Musical Fruit”

New study shows that eating more beans, lentils, and peas would supercharge the American diet.

May 7, 2009

05-07-09 RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Long the subject of jokes and a well-known childhood ditty, the lowly bean is getting short shrift in a time when we need it the most. A new study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association finds that very few of us eat dry beans, or their cousins, peas and lentils, regularly. But those who do eat them have higher intakes of vital nutrients, such as folate, iron, and protein. And they have fatter wallets: Dried beans cost a fraction of the price of red meat, poultry, or pork.

THE DETAILS: Only 8 percent of the population consumes dry beans (such as kidney, chili, pinto, and lima beans), lentils, and peas on a daily basis, the study’s authors found, and those who ate at least ½ cup per day had higher levels of beneficial fiber, protein, carbohydrates, folate, magnesium, iron, and zinc. Researchers also found a lower glycemic index (GI) in the diets of bean/lentil/pea eaters than in those of noneaters; foods with a low GI won’t trigger blood sugar spikes, which then plummet and cause fatigue and more hunger. “People who ate beans also had lower intakes of fat overall,” says Diane Mitchell, RD, MS, coordinator of the Diet Assessment Center at Pennsylvania State University and a lead author of the study.


WHAT IT MEANS: Add more nutrition to your diet by adding a ½ cup of beans, peas or lentils to your lunch or dinner. “They’re overlooked as an important vegetable, one which could really improve the health of the public,” says Mitchell. Combined with a grain like brown rice or corn, dried beans are a complete protein source, equivalent to a 2-ounce serving of meat. A quick comparison of online grocery store prices reveals that you get the same amount of protein in beans for 5 times less money than you’d pay for the same serving of chicken.

Here are a few tips for cooking dried beans:

• Soak beans first. Soaking beans and then rinsing them before cooking allows you to get rid of some of the sugars that produce their notorious, unpleasant side effect. Adding a tablespoon of vinegar to the soaking solution helps, as well. If you don’t have time to let them soak overnight, you can also quick-soak them, which takes just over an hour: Put some rinsed beans in a pot, cover them with 2 inches of cold water and then bring them to a boil. As soon as the water boils, take the pot off the stove and let it sit for an hour, after which you can pour out the soaking water, add fresh water (again, covering the beans with about 2 inches), and then cook the beans until they’re tender; cooking time depends on the bean variety.

• Dried are better than canned. They use less packaging, especially if you buy them in bulk, and tin cans can be coated inside with an epoxy resin that contains bisphenol A, a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to all sorts of health problems. If you must use canned, rinse the beans first; this won’t get rid of bisphenol A, but it will cut down on the sodium content of canned beans. Alternately, cook with lentils or peas when you don’t have time to soak dried beans.

• Convert your recipes. When recipes call for a 15-ounce can of beans, cook 1½ cups of dried beans in order to get the same amount. One cup of dry beans yields 3 cups of cooked beans.

• See the Rodale Recipe Finder for more suggestions on cooking beans, peas, and lentils.

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