Learn to Love Beans
To be fair, the low-carb craze isn’t all bad. It has motivated many of us to reevaluate how much sugar and white flour we consume, and that’s a very good thing. Still, the fad’s downside can’t be ignored: It’s made many of us lose sight of the value of some wholesome, nutritious foods. A few very healthy carbohydrate-containing foods are at risk of losing their much-deserved place on your plate, and beans are at the top of that list.
The family of beans, or legumes, is comprised of a wide variety of highly nutritious seeds from pod-bearing plants. They vary in color (black to red to white and many colors in between) and size (tiny lentils to huge Gigante beans). They are a cornerstone food in virtually every cuisine around the world with good reason: Beans are one of the original superfoods.
The Nutrient Power of Beans
The nutrient mix in beans is perfect for sustaining health and energy. Beans are powerful sources of magnesium, potassium and folic acid, all of which are low in the diets of many adults. They also provide zinc and iron. Add to this some powerful antioxidant activity for disease prevention. You can’t do much better than this nutrient profile for preventing or managing health problems like diabetes, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, heart disease and some forms of cancer.
If you’re avoiding beans because of their carb content, we’d encourage you to reconsider. The carbohydrate in beans is a unique combination of soluble and insoluble fiber and resistant starch that results in slow digestion and absorption. That’s good news for your blood sugar, your insulin levels and—in the long run—your weight. Think of beans as time-released energy food: They give you the oomph to get through your day. Beans’ particular fiber profile also helps keep cholesterol levels low. A review of 26 different studies concluded that one serving of beans a day can significantly lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
And as if all of this wasn’t enough, beans are a great plant-based source of protein with zero saturated fat, an important consideration for all us, particularly those at increased risk for heart disease. Their particular proteins are continually being researched for their ability to fight disease and inflammation.
Now that we’ve (hopefully) convinced you that beans are truly the complete nutritional package, let’s get to the part that will keep you coming back for more: Beans are just plain delicious.
They have an earthy and creamy goodness that is satisfying, and are a great contrast to garlic and Mediterranean spices, a zesty salsa or a little olive oil and a medley of fresh, green herbs. At Canyon Ranch, we use them in salads, soups and stews. They show up in appetizers, spreads, entrees and even on sandwiches and wraps.
Here are some of our most popular strategies for using beans and a few favorite recipes from the Canyon Ranch kitchen.
Tips for Cooking Beans
If you’re inspired to prepare beans from scratch in your home, you’ll be glad to know that the process is simple. Although it can take a few hours to cook a pot of beans, the actual hands-on time is minimal.
Dried beans abound in most supermarkets. The staples include black beans, cannellini, garbanzo beans, Great Northern beans, lentils, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, red beans and split peas. Occasionally you can spy an unusual variety like cranberry beans. Find adzuki and mung beans at Asian markets, heirloom and native varieties like tepary beans at local green or farmer’s markets and cannellini and Gigante beans at Italian markets.
The speediest from-scratch beans are lentils and split peas. They cook up in less than an hour without soaking.
But for most medium-size to large beans, cooking can take from one to three hours. Start by soaking these beans overnight or using a same-day quick-soak method. This involves bringing the beans to a boil in a pot of water, cooking for two minutes and then soaking with the heat off for one hour. After either soaking method, drain the beans and then cook them in fresh water until they’re tender. You can drain the beans if you want to use them immediately, but reserve some of the water if you’re storing them in the fridge or freezing them.
You can also use a slow cooker with great results and you don’t have to watch the pot as carefully. Beans can cook for as long as eight hours in a slow cooker without getting overdone.
A rainy weekend day is a great time to cook a big pot of beans. Use some that day and freeze the rest in 1- to 2-cup portions to use another time. Try our Cowboy Beans or Red Lentil Soup to get started.
Consider the Can
We understand that this kind of prep time may be hard to work in sometimes, which is where canned beans can help. You can find high-quality options in most markets today and many of our recipes use them. Canned beans are generally as nutritious as those made from scratch. They’re essentially ready to eat, which means they can be a convenient and healthy part of your regular diet.
You may want to consider a couple of factors in your choice of canned beans. The first is sodium content. Garden-variety canned beans can be very salty, as you’ll see from a quick glance at the label. Fortunately, draining and rinsing can remove almost 50 percent of the salt. Or compare brands and choose a “low sodium” option; rinsing is still a good idea.
The second consideration with canned foods, including beans, is the presence of bisphenol-A (BPA), an industrial chemical that could pose health concerns, in the white plastic can lining. The safety of exposure to BPA is controversial but if you’re trying to avoid it, know that at least one company (Eden Organic) is producing canned beans without it. Very few cans are labeled BPA-free at this point. Unfortunately, you have to open a can to tell if it has the white lining. Our hope is that more companies will use BPA-free cans or glass jars in the future.
Even More Bean Choices
Dried and canned beans aren’t where your options stop. The freezer section is home to bags of edamame, limas and black eyed peas. In the South you can easily find frozen butter beans and field peas. Feel free to go frozen when you make our Mashed Lima Beans or Green Bean & Edamame Stir-Fry.
And, finally, don’t forget the hummus and other bean spreads found in the refrigerator section of the market. Not only are these great as dips for fresh vegetables, but they’re also a delicious stand-in for mayo on sandwiches.
You may have figured out that you feel better eating less sugar and other high-carb foods. Most people do. But as you fine-tune your eating patterns to feel your best and become your very best self, we hope you feel inspired to work beans back in.
More: The Truth About Carbs