Beans, beans, good for the heart. Don’t snicker – it turns out to be true. It’s a great health choice to add more beans to your daily food intake. The isoflavones in beans reduce the risk of heart disease and a diet rich in beans helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure, which has been shown to reduce the risk of many cancers. Eating beans may even ease the symptoms of menopause and improve bone health. And of course beans are rich in protein and high in fiber.
Should we go ahead and talk about the elephant in the room? Some people avoid beans because, lets face it, no one is thrilled with having gas (or being in a room with someone who does), and beans have a pretty strong reputation when it comes to this problem. Yeah, it isn’t much fun when it happens. The good news is that the more often you eat beans, the more used to them your body gets and (I promise!) the less of a problem this becomes. Chewing your meal thoroughly will help break everything down before it gets to your gut, so your stomach and intestines don’t need to do all the work. Products like Beano can help too. If it helps you feel better, or if you just want a fun fact, it turns out that Beethoven had some serious digestive problems (although somehow I don’t think this is because of an uptake in bean consumption). Listen to the fourth movement of his second symphony. Anything sound sort of familiar? If you listen carefully and use your imagination, you’ll hear burps, intestinal gurgles, and maybe even some gas. Like they say: write what you know. Beethoven knew about gas.
OK, now that you’ve learned some musical trivia, do know why it’s healthier to incorporate more beans into your diet? Ways to minimize gas issues? How are you going to fit extra beans into your daily eating?
One of the easiest and most delicious ways that my family adds beans to our daily life is to always have a plastic container of bean salad in the fridge. This is dead easy to make and very tasty. Simply drain and rinse a can of white beans (we like Great Northerns or cannellini) and put into a bowl. Mince about a tablespoon or two of shallot or onion and add it, then salt, lemon juice and olive oil to taste. This is a wonderful snack, side dish or as part of an antipasti platter.
Another simple bean salad is to drain and rinse a can of black beans. Add some corn (go ahead and use frozen corn – just rinse it under hot water first), season with lime juice, salt and pepper and olive oil. If you want to make it even more interesting you can add chopped tomato, cilantro, avocado, a hot pepper – whatever sounds good. This is a great side with Mexican food or things like hot dogs or burgers.
Another easily incorporated side dish is mashed beans as your carbohydrate. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and cook 1/2 chopped onion until soft. Add one chopped garlic clove, two cans of drained white beans, 2/3 cup of water or broth, and salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat for about four minutes. Using a blender (I liked my immersion blender for this – made it easy) zap this and add a little more extra virgin olive oil and some lemon juice to taste.
Looking for a healthy snack? A few years back I found this recipe for Crunchy Paprika Chickpeas in Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food and even my chickpea hating husband is a fan. Preheat the oven to 450, drain and rinse two cans of chickpeas and pat dry. Put on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with three tablespoons of olive oil to coat. Spread out and roast until brown and crispy, tossing occasionally, about 35-40 minutes. Sprinkle with 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and one teaspoon of paprika, then roast for 2-3 minutes more. Cool and then enjoy this salty, crunchy and healthy snack.
You don’t have to give up beans when you go out to eat. Plenty of places in our area have options. You could start at Mediterranean Deli for some hummis, falafel or various side salads. Tallulah’s and Kipos also have bean spreads. Tyler’s Taproom makes a good vegetarian bean chili. Margaret’s (like most of the other Tex/Mex or burrito places around) is a great place for a bean infusion. Carolina Brewery has a black bean soup. Village Burger in University Mall makes a lentil burger, and Milltown has tasty lentil and leek sliders. There are tons of options at local restaurants, and easy ways to get more beans into your diet at home. And so (how could I end this column any other way?) eat those beans at every meal!
You can follow Kari on Twitter @NoshSpiceNC.