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How to boost your bean and legume intake

different species of legumes

They’re low-fat, they’re nutrient-packed, they’re high in fiber and they’re even easy on the pocketbook.  So why aren’t we eating enough of those superfood beans and legumes?

Many Reasons to Boost Your Bean Intake

Beans are one of nature’s truly “super” foods.  In general, all beans and legumes–from kidney beans in chili to black beans over your salads to chickpeas in hummus–contain good amounts of key minerals like iron, potassium or manganese, necessary for a healthy heart and bones. Beans are an excellent source of folate, a B-vitamin needed for proper nerve functioning as well as heart health.

A one-cup serving of chickpeas, for instance, delivers 15 grams of protein with only 4 grams of fat and 50% of your daily fiber needs.  The same amount of lentils ups the protein to 18 grams with only 1 gram of fat, and a whopping 63% of your daily fiber.  Obviously, these are foods we want more of!

Bypass the Bloat

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Part of the reason people avoid beans is the gas and bloating that is the natural result of fermentation of oligosaccharides (sugars) in the bean skins, which are not digestible by the human digestive tract. The skins contain insoluble fiber, great for regularity, but they can also cause bloating as they work their way through.  An easy method to decrease this effect is to buy dry beans and pre-soak them overnight before cooking (always drain, rinse well and cook in fresh water). Some of the oligosaccharides will be washed away in the soaking water. If you use canned, be sure to rinse them very well before consuming, which will achieve some of the same effect.

Add More Bang with Your Beans

Apart from eating them straight up with a fork, there are lots of ways to add beans and legumes to your dishes.

Appetizer and Snacks: Hummus is an always-popular way to consume chickpeas, but what about creating bean dips with other varieties, such as black beans, lentils or even fava beans? Bite-sized falafel or bean balls are a great nibbler that will help curb the desire to overeat on breads or pasta later on.  Roasted chickpeas are a terrific snack that’s almost fat-free. And they’re available almost everywhere now if you don’t have time or inclination to make your own.

Soup: Sneaking beans into soups is a great way to increase the texture and creaminess.  Puree beans into potato, squash, or even tomato soups.  Add them to classics like Tuscan Bean Soup, Chili or vegetable soups.

Main Course: Use bean balls instead of meatballs over your pasta; use lentils instead of ground beef.  Add whole or pureed beans to your pasta sauces for substance and texture. Look to other cultures that incorporate more beans and legumes in their main meals: Egyptian ful medames is a great main course, as is Ethiopian Lentil Stew.  A pita pocket stuffed with falafel is another delicious way to meet your protein and fiber needs for the day or wrap beans in lettuce leaves.

Desserts: Asian cultures have been using beans in cookies and pastries for ages.  Red bean cookies are not only tasty, but really nutritious, too.  These days, black bean brownies are almost considered a classic; or add beans and legumes to other baked goods.  A sweet spread made from a base of beans is a perfect way to lower the fat and increase the fiber of your nut butter.

Breakfast: Yes, you can even add a couple of spoons of beans to your morning smoothie if you have a strong blender. And here’s an intriguing idea: lentils in your morning granola!

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By: Ricki Heller

Ricki Heller is a whole foods chef, TV personality and author of the Canadian bestseller Sweet Freedom: Desserts You’ll Love without Wheat, Eggs, Dairy or Refined Sugar (one of only three cookbooks endorsed on Ellen DeGeneres’ website) as well as three e-cookbooks. She has appeared on Canada AM, Breakfast Television and appears regularly to discuss healthy eating on Rogers’ Daytime and In the Know. She writes the popular food blog Diet, Dessert and Dogs, where she chronicles her ongoing challenges with candida, offers entertaining anecdotes about life, shares sugar-free, vegan, whole-foods recipes and provides a platform for her two chatty lab-border collie cross dogs, Elsie and Chaser. She lives near Toronto with her husband and two “girls.”