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How do beans fit into your healthy diet? Beans are often thought of as a side dish; however, they make excellent meat-free entrees. You don't have to be vegetarian to reap the benefits of legumes—start slowly, eating beans instead of meat twice a week.

Before eating legumes, there are few things to know:

Dried Beans are not complete proteins
Beans alone are not complete proteins, but combined with a grain are as complete as a meal. So it is important to eat beans with other grain products.

Legumes may cause intestinal discomfort
You can minimize this effect by changing the soaking water several times when you prepare dried beans, or switching to canned beans. When canned, some of the gas-producing substances are eliminated. Be sure to rinse the beans well to wash off excess salt. Another option is BeanoTM, which contains an enzyme that breaks down gas-producing substances in the beans.

Eating legumes means, drinking more fluids

As you include more beans into your meals, it's important to drink adequate fluids and exercise regularly so that your gastrointestinal system can handle the increased dietary fiber.


Varieties

So, which bean to choose from? There are hundreds of varieties of beans. Try one of these:

Adzuki Beans are small, with a vivid red color, solid flavor and texture. Originally from Asia, its name means "little bean" in Japanese. Its red colouring - red being the most important colour in Eastern celebrations - means that it is greatly used in festive or special meals.

Large Lima Bean are large and flat with a greenish-white color. It has a buttery flavor and creamy texture. This bean is named after Lima, Peru, and is extremely popular in the Americas, both in its natural state and dried.

Pink Beans have beautiful pink color and is very popular in the countries of the Caribbean. Pink beans are of medium size (similar to the Great Northern and the Pinto) and have a refined texture and delicate flavor.

Green Baby Lima Beans come from Peru and are very popular in the Americas. The baby variety is much loved in Japan for making desserts from bean paste known as "an." These are medium-sized flat beans with a greenish white color, buttery flavor, and creamy texture.

Small Red Beans are particularly popular in the Caribbean region, where they are normally eaten with rice. Dark red in color, small red beans are also smoother in taste and texture than the dark red kidney bean.

Dark Red Kidney Beans are large and kidney-shaped with a deep glossy red color. They have a solid flavor and texture. These beans are produced mainly in the northern U.S.A. and owes its popularity in America and Europe to its large size, bright color and solid texture.

Black Beans are sweet tasting with an almost mushroom-like flavor and soft floury texture. These beans are medium sized, oval, with a matt black color. They are the most popular beans in the Costa Rica and Cuba.

Light Red Kidney Beans have a solid texture and flavor. They are characterized by their large, kidney-shape with a pink color. This bean is popular in the Caribbean region as well as in Portugal and Spain for its similarity to the canela bean.
Navy Beans are small, white and oval with a refined texture and delicate flavor. These are the beans used for the famous Boston and English baked beans. Because their skin and fine texture do not break up on cooking. These beans were named for their part of the U.S. Navy diet during the second half of the 19th Century.

Cranberry Beans are known for their creamy texture with a flavor similar to chestnuts. Cranberry beans are rounded with red specks, which disappear on cooking. These beans are a favorite in northern Italy and Spain. You can find them fresh in their pods in Autumn. They also freeze well.

Black-eyed Beans have a scented aroma, creamy texture and distinctive flavor. These beans are characterized by their kidney shaped, white skin with a small black eye and very fine wrinkles. Originally from Africa, it is one of the most widely dispersed beans in the world. Black-eyed peas are really a type of pea, which gives it its distinctive flavor and rapid cooking potential, with no pre-soaking needed.
Pinto Beans are the most widely produced bean in the United States and is one of the most popular in the Americas. It also contains the most fiber of all beans. Characteristically known by their medium size oval shape, with speckled reddish brown over a pale pink base and solid texture and flavor.

Great Northern Beans are a North American bean, which is popular in France for making cassoulet (a white bean casserole) and in the whole Mediterranean where many beans of a similar appearance are cultivated. These beans have a delicate flavor, thin skin, and are flat, kidney shaped, medium-sized white beans.
Garbanzo Beans or chickpeas are the most widely consumed legume in the world. Originating in the Middle East, they have a firm texture with a flavor somewhere between chestnuts and walnuts. Garbanzo beans are usually pale yellow in color. In India there are red, black, and brown chickpeas.


Benefits of Beans

The most popular theory of dieting and weight loss for decades has revolved around calories. Experts have loudly proclaimed that there is an immutable formula for calories in, calories out but, in fact, all calories are not the same because some calories require much more digestion than others. The harder your body has to work to digest those calories, the less of them will be absorbed. The difference between a spoonful of sugar and a spoonful of beans is startling. In fact, if you’d like to reduce your calorie “price” by 10%, add an extra 14 grams of fiber. This means that if you eat 2,000 calories per day, and add 28 grams of fiber to your meals, those calories will only “count” as 1600. Cool!
It’s easy to get 30, 40, 50 or more grams of fiber a day. There are four foods that supply lots of healthy fiber …

* Beans
* Vegetables
* Fruits
* Whole grains
… and in that order, with beans being the best source of fiber. Set a target of at least 40 grams per day. Beans have approximately 15 grams of fiber per cup.


Nutrients in Beans

Beans are loaded with nutrients that our bodies crave:

B Vitamins: are necessary for healthy brain and nerve cells, for normal functioning of the skin, nerves and digestive system.
Calcium:  for strong bones and teeth and to help keep the body more alkaline, rather than acidic.
Potassium: helps reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.
Folate: a B vitamin that our bodies don’t produce yet dry beans are our single best source of this important vitamin which helps protect against heart disease and cancer.
Preparation

With so many bean varieties to choose from, you'll now need to learn how to cook them. There are two steps to cooking beans: soaking and cooking. Soaking beans allows the dried beans to absorb water, which begins to dissolve the starches that cause intestinal discomfort. While beans are soaking they are also double to tripling in their size. Cooking the beans makes them edible and digestible.

Ready to soak and cook some beans?


Soaking Beans

Note: Lentils, split peas and black-eyed peas do not need to be soaked. Pick through the beans, discarding any discolored or shriveled beans or any foreign matter. Rinse well

There are four ways to soak beans, depending on how far in advance you plan and how much time you have, you can decide which method of soaking will work best for you.

Traditional Slow Soak: In a stockpot, cover 1 pound dried beans with 10 cups water. Cover and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse the beans.

Hot Soak: In a stockpot, bring 10 cups water to a boil. Add 1 pound dried beans and return to a boil. Remove from the heat; cover tightly and set aside at room temperature 2-3 hours. Drain and rinse the beans.

Quick Soak: In a stockpot, bring 10 cups water to a boil. Add 1 pound dried beans and return to a boil; let boil 2-3 minutes. Cover and set aside at room temperature 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans.

Gas-Free Soak: In a stockpot, place 1 pound of beans in 10 or more cups of boiling water; boil for 2-3 minutes, cover and set aside overnight. The next day approximately 75 to 90 percent of the indigestible sugars will have dissolved into the soaking water. Drain, and then rinse the beans thoroughly before cooking them.


Cooking Beans

Return the soaked, rinsed beans to the stockpot. Cover the beans with 3 times their volume of water. Add herbs or spices (not salt), as desired.
Bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until tender (the time will depend on the type of bean, but start checking after 45-60 minutes). Boiling beans will break the skins and leave you with a mushy meal. Add more water if the beans are not covered.
When the beans are tender, drain and use in recipes; or for later use, immerse them in cold water until cool, then drain well and freeze in 1- to 2-cup packages. One pound of dried beans will yield about 5 or 6 cups cooked beans.

Pressure Cooking

This is one of the quickest ways to cook beans. After you've soaked 1/2 pound of beans, place them in a 4-quart pressure cooker with 4 cups water. Cook at 15 pounds pressure following the manufacturer's directions for the type of legume you are cooking.

Bean Cooking Tips

Do not add salt or acidic ingredients, like vinegar, tomatoes or juice, this will slow the cooking process. Instead, add these ingredients when the beans are just tender.

Cooking times vary with the types of beans used but also may vary with their age.

Beans are done when they can be easily mashed between two fingers or with a fork. Always test a few beans in case they have not cooked evenly

Soaking, cooking, tips, and times provided by California Dry Bean Board.



Recipes

Three Bean Soup

Serves 12
Source: Produce for Better Health

Ingredients

1 can (28 oz) tomatoes, cut up, low sodium
3 cup water
1 tsp chili powder
1 can (15 oz) kidney beans, drained
1 can (15 oz) black eyed peas, drained
1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans, drained
1 can (15 oz) whole kernel corn, drained
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 onion, medium, chopped
1˝ tsp garlic, chopped
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
˝ tsp pepper
˝ tsp cumin, ground
1 tsp oregano, dried
1 tsp basil, dried
1 cup zucchini or celery, chopped

Combine first 13 ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 10 minutes. Stir in vegetables and simmer, covered for 10 minutes more.

Nutritional analysis per serving: Calories 172, Protein 9g, Fat 1g, Calories From Fat 7%, Cholesterol 0mg, Carbohydrates 31g, Fiber 8g, Sodium 365mg.
Beans
From the royal tombs of ancient Egypt to the Old Testament cultivation, preparation, and consumption of beans are recognized. In some Eastern cultures, legumes were a basic dietary staple that can be traced back more than 20,000 years. The lima and pinto bean were cultivated for the first time in the very earliest Mexican and Peruvian civilizations more than 5,000 years ago, being popular in both the Aztec and Inca cultures.

The United States is by far the world leader in dry bean production. Each year, U.S. farmers plant from 1.5 to 1.7 million acres of edible dry beans. And while Americans are the chief consumers of these beans, 40 percent are shipped to international markets in more than 100 different countries around the globe.


Fresh Beans

Serving size 1/2 cup cooked (63g)Amounts Per Serving % Daily Value
Calories 20  
Calories from Fat 0  
Total Fat 0g 0%
Sodium 0mg 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 5g 2%
  Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
  Sugars 1g 
Protein 1g 
Vitamin A 8%
Vitamin C 10%
Calcium 2%
Iron 2%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.