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Beans: They're Not a Fruit, but they are Magical | November 6, 2013

As the weather has cooled off over the past few weeks, it is nice to take comfort in warm, savory foods that heat you to the core.  Those cool, crisp salads that refreshed us in the summer are no more – it’s time for warm, hardy dishes!  The most humble of all foods, the lowly bean, not only adds flavor and texture to this season’s soups and casseroles, but provides a plethora of health benefits.  With literally thousands of types of beans found across the globe, the options for eating beans are limitless.

Beans not only contribute to keeping your waistline trim, but your grocery bill tiny, as well.  Beans are the cheapest protein source on the market, are low in fat, and have no cholesterol.  Beans are high in fiber, with a half-cup serving providing 25-30 percent of the recommended amount of daily fiber.  For intestinal and heart health, about 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed is recommended for most adults.  High fiber diets are also linked to reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease, and can also be instrumental in managing these and other diet-related conditions such as high cholesterol.

They are also a great source of B vitamins, which promote healthy liver function and cell health, and help break down carbohydrates, fats and protein to provide energy.  Other nutrients found in beans include folate and minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphate, potassium, copper and zinc.  Researchers have found at least eight different flavonoids in the black bean’s color coat.  Flavonoids are color-producing phytonutrient pigments that have great antioxidant potential.  They work together with vitamins to help the body avoid oxygen-related damage.

As a protein source, on-half cup weighs in at 7-10 grams of protein, which is about the same amount in half of a hamburger.  So they’re low fat, high protein, high fiber, helpful in maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the risks of multiple diseases – and delicious.  That’s why we call them magical!

The only downside to eating beans is – well, you know they are called the musical fruit.  This is a result of particular oligosaccharides found in beans called raffinose and stachyose.  The human body doesn’t make the enzymes to break down these sugars completely, so they can ferment in the intestine, causing flatulence.  Generally this is a harmless and, to some extent, providing those beneficial bacteria in the gut with oligosaccharides can encourage better intestinal health.  Nonetheless, it can be embarrassing.

Fortunately, there are ways around this.  Using dried beans and soaking them for 12 hours, replacing the water 2-3 time, then rinsing soaked beans before cooking can reduce the amount of oligosaccharides by 20-33 percent, as they leach into the soaking water.  There is also an over-the-counter enzyme supplement, Beano, which can alleviate any remaining issues.  Dried beans and canned beans are nutritionally similar.

So what are you waiting for?  Try out some new recipes and add a little magic to your fall with beans!