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There’s no question that beans and legumes pack big health benefits – with research suggesting that these little wonders can do everything from help prevent cancer and heart disease to regulate blood sugar – it’s no wonder beans have been dubbed “magical.” However, it’s hard to find the magic when you’ve got a swarm of hungry diners in your kitchen, a bag (or can) of beans, and no ideas for dinner. It’s easy to add beans to your diet – all you need are a few ideas and a little inspiration.
Beans: A Versatile Selection
Nothing beats the flavor and texture of fresh beans, but the best of beans is that you can also enjoy them frozen, canned or dried.
- Frozen: Frozen beans, picked at the peak of harvest and immediately flash frozen, ensure you’re getting a fresh, nutrient filled choice. Frozen beans are great imposters for fresh beans, and can be thawed in minutes – just add boiling water.
- Canned: Though a higher sodium choice than frozen, convenient canned beans make a meal in a matter of minutes. By draining and rinsing canned beans, you not only send almost half of the sodium down the drain, but you also reduce the effects of pesky oligosaccharides (a carbohydrate group humans can’t digest which can cause “bean bloat”).
- Dried: Dried beans are the best bargain by far, with the biggest cost being your time, since they must be soaked overnight before cooking. However, dried lentils, which you can locate in the supermarket alongside the other dried beans, escape the overnight soaking rule due to their compact size: simply add water and boil 20-30 minutes.
Make Your Own Bean Cuisine
Meat doesn’t always make the meal, since adding beans to your main dish supplies a hefty dose of naturally cholesterol-free protein (around 15 grams per cup, some varieties more or less). Like meat, beans are a good source of iron, but the type of iron in beans is called non-heme, which your body doesn’t absorb as well as heme iron (which is only found in animal sources). You can create an iron-clad power pair with foods high in Vitamin C and beans, since the combination aids in iron absorption. Try canned, diced tomatoes with onion, green pepper and black eyed peas served over rice for a satisfying and iron-packed meal.
For a carnivorous crowd, it’s easy to ease into adding beans by using them to supplement the foods you already serve. Tacos on your menu? Instead of the usual ground beef, reduce a couple cans of rinsed black beans with chopped onion and your regular taco seasoning in just enough water to cover. You can punch up a pasta salad with extra veggies and a can of rinsed chickpeas or replace kidney beans for half the meat you would normally use in chili. Lentils tossed with leftover veggies, a light vinaigrette and rice makes a quick and healthy salad. Adding beans is an easy way to add nutrition, since they can easily adapt to compliment the flavors you’re cooking!
The Bottom Line
Enhance the fiber and protein in your usual dishes with easy-to-prepare beans. Whether you choose fresh, frozen, canned or dried, it’s easy to add beans with a little creative cooking.
Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Master Degree in Public Health. An experienced nutrition counselor, writer and public speaker, Beth specializes in translating complex nutrition information into practical concepts. Beth was awarded a Nutrition Communications Fellowship to the National Cancer Institute, and has worked on the internationally recognized Nutrition Action Healthletter of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.