Beans, beans, the magical fruit.

By Claire Benoist, Healthy Aggies Nutrition Peer Counselor

Ok so I know that’s not how it goes, and beans aren’t actually a fruit. But beans really are a magical food. Let me explain. Foods are usually put into a single food group: broccoli is a vegetable, rice is a grain, fish is protein, etc. But beans are so cool, they can be considered a protein AND a vegetable! Beans not only contain comparable amounts of protein, zinc and iron to meat, chicken or fish landing them in the protein food group, but they are also packed with fiber, potassium and folate which puts them in the vegetable food group as well!

Though most beans are an incomplete source of protein (the exception being soybeans), they can easily be combined with other foods such as grains, nuts or seeds to make a complete protein profile. And because beans are a plant food, they are lower in saturated fats than animal proteins. Beans also pack a punch when it comes to fiber. The recommended daily intake of fiber is about 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men, and just a half a cup of beans packs a whopping 14 grams of fiber! You’ve probably heard about fiber being good for a healthy and regular bowel, but did you know that fiber also feeds the good gut bacteria which help support healthy immune function? Not sold yet? Fiber can also help to stabilize and lower blood sugar levels. Without fiber slowing it down, sugar is digested and absorbed in the blood stream very quickly. This can lead to a blood sugar spike and the ever-dreaded sugar crash very soon after. Fiber helps to slow down the digestion of sugar which help prevent that issue. Preventing sugar spikes is also important for diabetics. If that’s not enough, fiber also helps people feel fuller longer after a meal. The fiber found in beans is referred to as soluble fiber. As opposed to insoluble fiber, soluble fiber dissolves in water and other liquids found in the digestive tract to form a gel. As soluble fiber is digested in the stomach, this gel starts forming and expanding which helps to slow down gastric (stomach) emptying. This is what makes you feel full longer. Keep in mind that since soluble fiber absorbs water, it is important to increase your water intake as you increase soluble fiber to make sure your body is getting the water it needs to do all the other amazing and important things it needs to do. So keep that Hydroflask handy and check out some of our tips for staying hydrated here.

Not only are beans good for us, they’re good for the planet too! It takes a lot less water to grow beans than it does to farm animals for meat production and because beans are sold in canned, dry or frozen form, they result in less food waste than other common proteins and vegetables.

All that power in one tiny little package. Now do you believe me when I say beans are magic?

Versatile, affordable, and widely available, beans are easy to incorporate into your diet. As an omnivore myself, I am not suggesting you should completely eradicate meat from your diet, buy a ton of beans and never look back. But there are tons of sneaky ways to add beans to your diet:

  1. Chilis, stews, and soups

Fall is the perfect time to try eating more beans as you can easily add black, pinto or kidney beans to any of your favorite cold weather comfort foods, whether that be in addition to or as a replacement for meat. Check out my fall chili recipe at the end; it’s a Benoist family favorite!

  • Minced or ground meat dishes

Replace some of the meat in your favorite meatball or hamburger patty recipe with mashed up beans. You’ll still get the texture and flavor of the meat, but with added bean benefits!

  • Salads

Add some beany heartiness and texture to a fall salad by adding chickpeas or lentils to some mixed greens, roasted squash, and sunflower seeds with a simple vinaigrette. Yum!

  • Smoothies

I know this one sounds a little weird but I told you beans were magical remember? If blended up completely with some yummy fruits like bananas and berries, you won’t even know they’re there! This is a more natural alternative to protein powder and will make your smoothies thick and filling.

  • Black bean brownies

I know, I know. I already freaked you out with the smoothies and now I’m telling you to add beans to brownies? But stay with me here. Remember, the fiber in the beans will help with the digestion of the sugar and you’ll be getting extra protein while eating dessert! And there’s chocolate involved so it can’t be too bad an idea, right? There are a ton of recipes online to try. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it!

Now, to address the title again, yes beans certainly can be a bit…musical. So I wouldn’t recommend going from 0 to 100 with bean consumption as that can certainly cause a good bit of discomfort. Start slow and see how you feel. After all, since we’re taking our classes at home anyway, this is the perfect time to experiment!

Claire’s Hearty Fall Chili:

For the shopping:
1lb ground turkey (replace with 1 more can of beans to make it Meatless Monday approved!)
1 onion (diced)
2 bell peppers (diced)
1 acorn squash
1 jalapeño or serrano (optional)
1 15oz can of beans (red kidney beans are my fav here)
1 15oz can of corn
½ jar tomato sauce
Cumin (to taste)
Paprika (to taste)
Cayenne pepper (to taste…I don’t measure my spices sorry!)

For the cooking:
1. Start by roasting your squash. I like acorn squash because it’s not too big but you can use any squash you’d like or even a sweet potato if you prefer. Cut your squash in half (carefully!) and put each half cut-side down on a baking sheet. Put it in the oven at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. Might take a little more/less time depending on the size of your squash. You can tell your squash is done when the skin/outer shell is soft. Once ready, take it out of the oven, and set it aside to cool.

2. While your squash is cooling down, start dicing your onion, bell peppers, and spicy peppers if you’re using them. Add these to a pot over medium heat with a bit of your cooking oil of choice.

3. Once your vegetables are tender, add the ground turkey and cook until no longer pink.

4. While the ground turkey is cooking, you can cut the squash. Start by cutting each half of the squash in half (to make quarters) and then use a spoon to separate the skin from the flesh. Dispose of the skin and cut your squash in cubes.

5. Add your squash to the pot along with the tomato sauce, beans, corn and spices.

6. Simmer on low heat until you’re ready for a warm bowl of hearty fall chili goodness.

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