October 2014 ISSUE

 

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Magic Beans
The common bean appears to be the stuff of fairy tales—wielding powerful nutritional effects and protecting against obesity and disease. Chili anyone?
Not to disparage the esteemed potato in any way, but we’d all be better off if beans replaced it as a dietary staple, at least that’s the view of expert Dr. Victor Fulgoni, and a host of other nutritionists who provide convincing reasons to make the switch.

“Beans are just loaded with nutrients,” says Dr. Fulgoni, (www.nutritionimpact.com) a representative of Nutrition Impact, a consulting firm specializing in food manufacture based in Battle Creek, Michigan.

“The fiber content in beans is exceptionally high, as is its potassium and protein levels. If people would trade potatoes for beans it would be a fundamentally
different diet, and a much healthier one. But people don’t know about all the great stuff in beans.”

The skinny on beans is just that—they’ll keep you slim.

According to a groundbreaking study conducted by Nutrition Impact, beans help to reduce the risk of obesity in both adults and children.

“The really interesting thing,” comments Dr. Fulgoni, “is that those people eating beans are actually consuming more calories than others but still weigh less. There are a couple of explanations for this. One is that the consumption of beans is an indictor of a healthier lifestyle, which probably includes a lot of activity. And the second reason is that the fiber content of beans obviously provides people with some as of yet undefined metabolic advantage.”

Choose from among black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, white beans, lima beans and navy beans—all members of the Phaseolus Vulgaris family—to provide fat-free protein and cholesterol-lowering fiber.

Beans have the special distinction of supplying fiber and protein, a rarity among foods.

Add potassium to the mix and is it any wonder Dr. Fulgoni recommends eating half-a-cup of beans a day?

According to Dr. Fulgoni it’s the lack of potassium that contributes to a high incidence of hypertension—he bemoans the focus on sodium: “We’ve missed the boat on hypertension. It’s not about sodium. We need to increase the amount of potassium in our diet.”

While potassium may not get the attention it deserves, fiber certainly does. Dietary guidelines throughout the world emphasize the need for high-fiber intake, giving rise to a growing interest in beans.

One cup of beans provides almost half the recommended daily intake for fiber. Kidney beans are a favorite of vegetarians, who regularly substitute them for ground beef in tacos.

An acquired taste, beans can be eaten raw after being soaked in water to soften.

“We need to develop a better set of recipes for side dishes that feature beans,” says Dr. Fulgoni. “Most people aren’t even aware of how to prepare them.”

Beans can either be soaked in water overnight, or boiled and then left to stand for a few hours. Cooking is also somewhat prolonged; an hour or more of simmering is required to further soften them. Fortunately little nutrient value is lost from either soaking or cooking.

In exchange for time spent in the kitchen, you are rewarded with a food that helps prevent heart disease, reduces blood sugar levels in diabetics, and perhaps most significantly of all, may lower a women’s risk for breast cancer.

A study of 90,630 women conducted over a period of a decade resulted in this startling finding, summarized by Dr. Clement A. Adebamowo, from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston: “We found that women who ate beans or lentils two or more times a week, compared to those who ate them less than once a month, had a 24 per cent lower risk of developing breast cancer. Beans or lentils should be an important part of a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, which may be associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.”

Uncertainty remains as to the precise nature of the agent responsible for this and other breakthrough discoveries regarding the health benefits of beans.

Bean Counter:

All beans provide the same nutritional benefits, but in different doses, so depending on your need, you might want to know the most outstanding feature of each:
  • Black beans lead the way in antioxidants—compounds that may help defend against cancer.
  • Navy beans contain high amounts of manganese, a vital trace element that assists in energy production.
  • Pinto beans boast significant levels of folate, which is important for maintaining good vascular health.
  • Lima beans are loaded with molybdenum, a trace mineral that helps to detoxify sulfites, a food preservative commonly used in salads.
  • Kidney beans are one of the best sources of soluble fiber available.
Before attempting any exercise or diet modification, always consult a fitness or medical professional.
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