by John Principe, M.D.
Beanology: The Legume Legacy
Small but mighty, the bean has been properly engineered by nature to have a miraculous combination of protein and fiber that sprints ahead of many other vegetables in the nutritional marathon. Beans possess one of the largest sources of vegetable protein and fit well into the diets of flexitarians, vegetarians and those needing gluten-free options.
Beans contain zero cholesterol and the trace amount of fat in beans, as in all vegetables, is polyunsaturated. It is a perfect food for those trying to control blood sugar or lose weight. It is considered a “resistant starch,” which means it is slow to digest and gives rise to only a gradual increase in blood sugar, delaying the return of feeling hungry. This starch is further metabolized by colonic bacteria and protective compounds that keep the large intestine healthy. The fiber content also promotes bowel motility and lowers cholesterol.
There is a common side effect bean consumers—and sometimes those around them—notice: gas. Adding kombu (sea-vegetable), cumin, fennel and ginger to the cooking liquid can tame gas formation. When all else fails, keep some Beano on hand. It contains the natural enzyme, Alpha-galactosidase, a primary preventative measure to stop gas formation. It should be taken prior to meals.
Finally, beans are a great source of micronutrients and vitamins with folate, Vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium and iron packaged into these nutritional powerhouses. To achieve the maximal benefit from beans, it is recommended that one should have between 4-8 cups of cooked beans per week. If you are not near that goal, start slow and gradually add more to your diet—your bowels will adjust.
Canned beans are the dominant choice in the United States; while there are no significant nutritional differences between frozen, canned and cooked dry beans, the shopper should be aware of the dangers of BPA (bisphenol-A) lined cans. This compound acts similar to estrogen in the body and poses many health risks including reproductive problems, intestinal damage associated with the leaky-gut syndrome, increased likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and developmental brain defects in infants. Eden Organic has been canning beans since 1999 in bisphenol-A free cans. BPA-free cans are becoming widely available, but they cost approximately 2.2 cents more (14%) to manufacture than cans with standard BPA epoxy liners.
About the author:
Dr. John Principe is the founder of WellBeingMD’s Center for Life in Palos Heights, Illinois. He is also a self-taught chef. The lower level of his medical practice contains a test kitchen where he teaches patients how to prepare healthy food using seasonal ingredients and cooking methods. www.wellbeingmd.com.
Original article published in Edible Chicago's Harvest 2011 issue. Photo credits shutterstock.com and Edible Chicago.
One of Dr. Principe’s favorite culinary applications for large lima beans is the authentic Greek dish: Gigantes. The marriage of beans, spices, fresh herbs (dill) and tomatoes into a velvety sauce is the vehicle for flavor. These beans accompanied by crusty whole grain bread are a prescription for a memorable, nutritious and cost-effective meal.