We’ve all heard the expression “shop the perimeter of the store.” But if you skip the middle, you might miss out on some pretty good-for-you, affordable and delicious food choices, including one of my faves: BEANS!

We get where the adage comes from…the perimeter is usually where all the fresh stuff is, especially fruits and veggies! (and bulk goods like grains, beans, etc…if you shop that way)

But supermarket shelves have some hidden treasures that we shouldn’t pass up. Unless you’re buying from the bulk aisle, this is where you will find pre-packaged and ready to use beans, soups, grains, etc.

I’m going to rant on beans today because I think they are WAY too neglected and under-used.

Beans have so many health benefits, and they fit into several different food groups: Although they’re rich in complex carbs like grains, as a plant-based food, they feel right at home in the vegetable group, offering an array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, like their veggie companions. They can also hold their own in the protein group, supplying protein aplenty. Unlike some other members of this group, beans provide little to no fat and are cholesterol-free. In fact, beans actually lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels instead of potentially causing them to increase, as animal proteins have been shown to do.

Though they’ve been around for centuries, beans are a modern-day superfood. Why? Let’s count the ways.

1: They’re Heart-Helpers

Beans are “heart healthy” because they contain an abundance of soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. If you prefer the convenience of canned beans, you can ditch up to 40 percent of the sodium by rinsing them in water. I also go for the low or no sodium varieties…just make sure to read the labels.

2: They’re Low in Fat

Most beans are about 2 to 3 percent fat, and contain no cholesterol, unless they’re processed or prepared with other ingredients, such as lard. (Check labels to see what else may be in the package or can.) This is a point that many people seem to be confused about. 

3: They Pack Protein

The USDA Dietary Guidelines say we should be eating more plant proteins. About a 1/2 cup of beans provides 7-10 grams of protein, the same amount as in 1 ounce of chicken, meat or fish. Vegetarians, vegans and individuals who seldom eat meat, poultry, or fish can definitely count on beans as an alternative choice of protein.

4: They Balance Blood Sugar

With a low glycemic index, beans contain a fantastic blend of complex carbohydrates and protein. Because of this, beans are digested slowly, which helps keep blood glucose stable, and can help to curtail fatigue, dips in energy and irritability.

5: They Cut Cancer Risk

Scientists recommend that adults consume 3 cups of beans per week to promote health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, like cancer. This is due to their abundance of fiber and antioxidants. In fact, “greens and beans” have been our ancestors’ saving grace since the beginning of time.

6: They’ll Move You

Filled with fiber, beans can promote regularity by preventing constipation. To maximize your meal, be sure to accompany high-fiber foods with ample fluids, like still or sparkling water. Weighing in at 5 to 10 grams of fiber per 100 grams (3 ounces), beans are a fantastic source of soluble and insoluble fiber.

7: They’ll Satisfy You

Because beans are so full of fiber, they are metabolized more slowly than other complex carbs, and may aid in weight loss by keeping us feeling full without being high in calories.

8: They’re Convenient

Canned, frozen or dry, beans are a breeze to purchase, prepare, and store. I love that I can quickly pull together a meal with beans, avocado, lettuce, leftover rice and salsa…yum!

9: They’re Wallet-Friendly

Beans are the least expensive source of protein, especially when compared to fresh meat. Beans got me through college and my budget minded 20’s.

10: They’re Nutrient-Rich

Aside from protein, complex carbs and fiber, beans contain a ton of nutrients including antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, like copper, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium and zinc. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans refer to many of these important nutrients as “shortfall nutrients,” meaning most of us aren’t getting enough of them. Beans can help us step up to a more complete plate.

11: They’re Versatile

They can be incorporated into a main dish (chili, casseroles, tostados), side dish (rice and beans, salads), appetizer (soup, dips) or snack (dip). It’s easy to be creative when you have kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas, white beans and lentils in your pantry. Take advantage of their various shapes, sizes, colors and even textures when planning meals.

Growing up, beans were a big part of our family’s diet because of their affordability and versatility. Now that I know how good they are for us, I try to incorporate them into our family’s diet every day.

Beans, beans, the magical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot. The more you toot, the better you’ll feel so let’s have beans with every meal!


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