The healthiest and longest living cultures in the world eat beans. A long-term, global study found beans were the only dietary item consistent across age, race, sex and other factors when it came to predicting longevity and health. These nutrition-dense foods come packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and a host of other health benefits that include lowered risks for cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. We should be eating roughly two cans a week or half a cup daily but Americans on average manage a paltry couple of pounds a year (which is like two to four cans in total). Our health is also in the gutter. Beans are an easy and cheap way to turn that around.
Here’s how to get more beans into your diet while upping your health but not your gas levels.
The Toot Song
Anytime I mention eating beans to most Americans, I get the toot song dance: either they sing this little ditty or they complain that they can’t eat beans due to gas. Two things on this that you might find surprising:
1. Studies done on bean consumption and gas found that gas levels actually didn’t rise in most cases. People just noticed the gas they already had since they were expecting gas as a byproduct of their bean eating. In other words, it’s usually all in our heads.
2. In the few cases where gas levels increased, within weeks the gas subsided as individuals adjusted to the new inclusion of beans into their diets. You have to remember that whenever we change our diets, our bodies have to adjust. We are chemical beings and what we eat or drink affects us. Take caffeine for example. When you try to quit caffeine, you feel the physical impact of withdrawal and may feel irritable or have headaches. Conversely, people who switch to caffeine also feel the side effects in jitteriness, alertness or even nausea. The same can happen with the introduction of any new food. Beans might initially cause gas but it will subside as you grow used to eating them. Here are simple ways to lessen or prevent discomfort when switching over to legumes.
Ease into it. If you’re worried about gas, start small. While research suggests half a cup daily at minimum, if you slowly add in beans to your diet over a couple of weeks rather than all at once you might find an easier transition. Start with a quarter cup, then up it to half a cup, then as much as you like.
Cans first. Canned beans are actually pre-cooked (and possibly overcooked) and pretty easy to digest because of this. Start there rather than preparing dried beans first thing and risk the digestive problems of eating undercooked beans. Dried beans are much healthier since canned versions usually come with sodium or calcium chloride (also a salt) and sometimes other preservatives we really don’t need. Nonetheless, cans are really convenient to cook with since they only require reheating rather than the hours of soaking and cooking for dried beans. If eating a bean salad, they don’t even need heating. Make sure to drain and rinse canned beans though no matter how you are going to use them.
Mix it up. People react differently to the same foods. In studies on bean consumption and gas, researchers found that people had differing reactions to various beans and changing the beans could help. Even so, gas levels declined for all bean types over a period of weeks.
Dried beans. For those who have the time and inclination, dried beans can’t be beat in terms of nutritional content. They just require a lot of soaking and cooking for ease of digestion. Studies recommend 12 hours of soaking in order to make them more digestible and produce the least gas. Canned beans are fairly inexpensive but dried beans even more so. Personally, I’m looking forward to growing my own garden beans and drying them for personal consumption throughout the year. If you have the garden space, think of adding in these gems.
Now on to ways to sneak these into your diet!
#1 – Breakfast Beans
Beans for breakfast are actually a great way to start your day. Packed with nutrition and filling, they will keep you going until lunch. Baked beans make an easy breakfast addition, nicely paired with eggs and fruit. But don’t go the American route with its molasses and high fructose corn syrup. Do British baked beans which are tomato-based. You can usually find these with in the canned beans or foreign foods section but I make my own to cut out the preservatives, sugar and high fructose syrup that increasingly sneak into even the British style.
The quick version:
Can of any white bean (cannellini, navy, white bean) heated with half a can of diced tomatoes and a tablespoon of soy sauce (you can use Worcester sauce but it’s usually more expensive or again includes high fructose corn syrup). You can heat this on the stove or in the microwave in minutes to warm it up since the beans are already pre-cooked.
Optional: add a quarter cup diced onion and 1 small minced clove of garlic
#2 – Bean Salads
A great lunch option is making or buying bean salads. These are super easy and convenient. You really just need a can of beans of any type. Throw it together with ingredients like tomato, cucumber or maybe cous cous while adding a vinegar and olive-based dressing.
My favorites are garbanzo beans with tomato, cucumber and onion with a pinch of dill or cilantro and a drizzle of vinegar and olive oil. Or I’ll make this with a white bean like cannellini or navy and add diced red pepper. Some people love to mix this with grains like quinoa or barley and top with different vegetables.
The options are pretty open-ended for bean salads which makes for great variety so that your taste buds don’t get bored.
#3 – Soups
Beans are so versatile they can go into practically anything. They’re fantastic as soups – from the humble lentil soup to the popular minestrone. You can eat a simple split pea soup or go for full diversity with a 15 bean soup.
Bean soups pair well with all sorts of vegetables and with various meats for the carnivores out there. One of my favorite dishes I learned in Italy was a cannellini and tomato-based soup with Italian sausage and cabbage. So flavorful and delicious!
#4 – Chilli
This is a great fall and winter staple for bean-lovers. You can make a huge pot of this to last for days and get as simple or creative as you like. While some love kidney and pinto beans for their chilli, others prefer a mixture of black, white and red. You can add veggies to this from red bell peppers and corn to cauliflower and diced potato. Carnivores will love to add their choice of meats. As long as the seasoning is right, this chilli will be fantastic no matter what you do.
#5 – Mexican Food
Who doesn’t love tacos? Make yours with beans and top with your favorite ingredients. Do the same with burritos or quesadillas. There are more dishes than refried beans in Mexican cuisine that contain these power house legumes. If you need a quick and tasty dinner option, you can’t go wrong with beans and rice as a base either – that’s how Chipotle runs its business after all.
Make your own taco or burritos bowls, salads or quesadillas. All you need is that half a cup of beans to start.
#6 – Dips and Spreads
Hummus, that wonderful dip for veggies and pita chips, is all about the garbanzo bean but you can make similar-tasting dips with most beans – black or white varieties work fantastically as substitutes in any hummus recipe. Then there are your other bean dips to try. These also go great as spreads on garden veggies like sliced cumber, zucchini or yellow squash.
#7 – Dessert, Asian-style
If you’ve ever been to Asia then you’re familiar with beans as a fantastically delicious dessert (something we Americans can’t even begin to wrap our heads around for some reason). My exposure to Japanese cuisine opened my eyes to the plethora of tasty snacks, treats and desserts made with beans, usually the small red bean known as the azuki bean. They and other Asian cultures make sweet concoctions of all sorts with this type or similar bean for anything from fillings for steam buns to pastries to mochi to ice cream.
If you’re looking for creative desserts that will astound your taste buds, you have to check out these 18 incredible dishes.
As you can see, beans are amazingly easy to incorporate into any meal. Like any diet change, they may cause increased gas for a small minority of people (6-12%) but in general, gas levels usually don’t change (just our perception of them) or will quickly return to normal after two to three weeks. Beans are a cheap and easy to prepare food packed with more nutrition than about any other which probably explains why their consumption is linked to the longest-living and healthiest cultures and people (read my article Bean Consumption Linked to Longer Lifespans?). Why not take up their example and follow these 7 easy suggestions to start putting beans into your daily diet?
If you need amazing recipes to whet your appetite, check out 55 mouth-watering bean dishes from Bon Appetite Magazine.
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