Beans, Beans, They’re Good for Your Heart…and Your Health!

| Posted by | Categories: Heart Health, YRMC Your Healthy Kitchen

Not many (if any) foods can lower cholesterol, drop blood pressure, control blood sugar, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and certain types of cancer, like beans can! Humble, but nutritionally powerful, beans are budget-friendly super-foods that can be dressed up or dressed down in countless, delicious ways. We took YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen into the studio, where we turned a simple pot of white beans into three flavorful dishes, while sharing tips on how to select and cook beans for the best texture, flavor, and digestibility!

Cooking beans from scratch – from dried beans – is really simple. All you need is water, salt, and something to cook the beans in, preferably for a few hours, for the best flavor, texture and digestibility. Add a few flavorful herbs, vegetables, or spices, and you’ll enjoy a bowl of one of the most nourishing and delicious comfort foods on the planet! The best tasting beans take awhile to cook, but the cooking time is mostly hands-off. Once they start simmering, beans cook on their own just fine.

One of the great advantages to cooking beans at home is the ability to flavor them any way you like. For example, a slowly cooked pot of pinto beans goes from simple to sublime when you simmer them with whole cloves of garlic, a dried chili, and some Mexican oregano. White beans love to be paired with bay leaves, garlic, and fresh rosemary or sage. Inexpensive vegetables, like carrots, onion and celery can provide rich flavor to all types of beans. An added bonus: home cooked beans are also much lower in sodium than canned. Check out this video to see how easy it is to prepare a delicious pot of white beans at home.

Carefully Choose and Soak Your Beans for Perfect Flavor and Texture

For the best flavor and texture, buy dried beans from a store that has good bean turnover. In other words, purchase beans from stores that sell a lot of them! Beans that have been sitting on the shelf for too long sometimes never fully cook, no matter how long they simmer, resulting in a pot of beans that are crunchy and far from tender. For guaranteed flavor and freshness, try beans purchased from local growers (locally grown pinto beans are available at the Prescott Farmers Market) or online specialty farms, like Rancho Gordo.

Soaking beans (either overnight or using the quick-soak method), then rinsing and cooking them in fresh water, shortens cooking time, improves texture, and removes some of the carbohydrates in beans that can cause gas. A long overnight soak (10-12 hours) works well, but if you are in a hurry, the quick soak method will do! Just place your beans in a pot and cover them with water. Bring the pot to a boil, turn off the heat, and let the beans soak for an hour or more before rinsing and cooking them in fresh water. The quick soak method will reduce gas a bit more than long soaking, but the texture of the beans might not be as good.

The Many Health Benefits of Beans

Cooking beans at home is the most delicious and affordable way to include them in your diet. However, whether you cook beans from scratch or simply spoon them out of a can, the health benefits from eating beans can be profound. Abundant research shows that eating beans improves glucose control in people with diabetes, prevents weight gain and metabolic syndrome, protects individuals against cardiovascular disease and several types of cancer, and even helps maintain the integrity and health of our bones. How can one food provide so many benefits? A combination of fiber, phytochemicals, and a special type of starch make beans one of the healthiest foods on the planet!

Beans contain two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. While both types contribute to good bowel function and the prevention of certain types of cancer (especially breast, colon and rectal cancer), soluble fiber takes the lead in lowering cholesterol. In fact, according to the National Cholesterol Education Program, just 5-10 grams of soluble fiber per day in the diet can lower LDL cholesterol by 5%. You can meet your soluble fiber goals with just 1 cup of beans a day.

Phytochemicals are natural substances in plants that contribute to many of the health benefits of plant-based diets. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytochemicals in beans seem to reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Some phytochemicals, like those found in deep purple-colored foods, like black beans, may also reduce insulin resistance.   Interestingly, recent studies also show that phytates, a class of phytochemicals found in abundance in beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, may improve bone density by reducing the loss of calcium from bone.

Beans also contain resistant starch, a carbohydrate that digests slowly and helps to keep blood sugars in check. Resistant starch also reduces LDL cholesterol levels and acts as a probiotic, providing food for the healthy bacteria that live in your digestive tract.

If beans are not currently a part of your diet, add them to your meals slowly. Try a few tablespoons of beans in a salad or soup or enjoy a small portion as a healthy side dish and gradually increase how often and how much you eat. Your belly will thank you for moderation!

Want to learn more? Visit Your Healthy Kitchen on YRMC HealthConnect to check out the delicious recipes and smart cooking tips we’ve collected for you. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook at YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen. I post pictures, recipes and short instructional videos about the meals I prepare at home. It’s also a good way to keep up on food- and health-related community happenings.