Okay, so beans are not a fruit, but they’re so healthy, it’s almost magical! Beans and peas are difficult to categorize because of their unique nutritional properties. According to ChooseMyPlate they actually belong in both the protein AND vegetable group. Let’s find out why:
Beans and peas belong in the protein food group, well, because they contain protein. They also contain iron and zinc which are classically found in meat. Therefore, beans and peas make great meat substitutes for vegetarians or if you just want to have a meatless meal. Beans are far less expensive than meat so they can help out your grocery budget!
Beans and peas are also considered vegetables because they have fiber and nutrients like folate and potassium. These are nutrients typically found in vegetables.
What They Are, and What They’re Not
When I say beans and peas, what exactly am I talking about? Beans and peas refer to things like black beans, kidney beans, chick peas (AKA garbanzo beans), black eyed peas and things of that nature. I’m not talking about regular old green peas, lima beans or green beans- those are just considered to be standard vegetables.
So Much Fiber!
Beans contain fiber, specifically soluble fiber. This kind of fiber has the ability to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It also makes you feel full and satisfied, which could potentially help with weight loss. Because of all the soluble fiber, I’ve heard beans referred to as “cholesterol sponges”. Soak up all that cholesterol and get it out of there!
How to Prepare Them
Beans are available canned or dried. Canned beans are easy and convenient so they’re generally what people choose. As with all canned foods, they are going to be higher in sodium. Buy the no salt added or lower sodium versions whenever possible. Also, be sure to rinse your canned foods well as this can get rid of a significant amount of sodium.
Dried beans are the better option, but some work is involved. They must be soaked and then cooked before you can eat them, which can be a little time consuming. There are a few different soaking and cooking methods, and I think this article sums it up best. *TIP: When soaking beans, be sure to use a large enough container that has room for the beans to grow.*
At my house, we like to cook a TON of different kinds of beans at once and then freeze them. Put some preparation time in once, and then you’re good to go for many, many meals! We split them up into 1 ½ cup portions as that is about how much comes in a standard size can. So, when a recipe calls for one can of black beans, you just take out one bag.
Eating More Beans
If you’re not used to eating beans regularly, think outside of the meat and potatoes routine. Here are some ideas:
Make chili a wintertime staple and add plenty of beans. Keep the ground meat in, or feel free to get rid of it.
Add beans to omelettes, tacos and quesadillas.
Switch up your soup and add minestrone, black bean and split pea into the rotation.
Put hummus on your grocery shopping list. Use it as a dip or spread.
Add beans to salads. Chick peas are a classic, but black beans on a sante-fe style salad is great too.
Try classic bean recipes like beans and greens as well as rice and beans.
So, we all know how the rest of the song goes…the more you eat, the more you… Some people are nervous to eat beans because they don’t want to have gas. Don’t let that stop you! Some gas is normal and healthy, and the amount of gas people think that beans produce is probably overexaggerated. If you’re concerned, increase your bean and other fiber intake gradually, and make sure to drink plenty of water to avoid excess gas and bloating.
If you have diabetes, you may be tracking how many carbohydrates you’re consuming at meals. Unlike meat, beans and peas contain carbohydrates. Therefore, if you’re trading in your hamburger for a black beans burger, the carbohydrate content of your meal is going to go up. Don’t let that stop you though! To be clear, people with diabetes can and should eat beans, they just have to be careful how many other carbohydrates they’re consuming at that same meal. You can check your blood sugars 1-2 hours after a meal containing carbohydrates to make sure it didn’t go too high, or talk with your dietitian about fitting beans into your meal plan.