Why Are Beans So Good For Us?
Food

This Ingredient Is Filled With Fiber, Affordable, and Delicious Morning and Night

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While on a recent quest to find easy and quick recipes for my daily office lunches, I came across a dish on the Zoe app that married beans and artichokes in a delicious lemony sauce. Not only did it take just 10 minutes to make (sold), according to the app–which is brimming with recipes designed to promote good gut health–it is also one of the best meals I can make for a thriving microbiome. And much of that was due to the beans.

Beans, beans good for your heart, the more you eat… the better your gut bacteria balance, heart health and general wellbeing. As part of the legume family, which also includes peas and lentils, beans–butter, kidney, soy, cannellini, and others–are some of the healthiest and most affordable foods available to us, but according to Professor Tim Spector, co-founder of Zoe and the author of Food For Life, they’re “underrated”.

“They’re relatively affordable, widely available, and when bought in cans or dried, last a long time,” he says. “Although some people might frown on canned beans, there’s nothing wrong with the beans themselves. They’re usually picked, dried, and canned at the source, so retain most of their nutrients and make a delicious addition to meals.”

Let’s explore how, shall we?

Why are beans so good for us?

“Beans have a fantastic nutritional profile,” agrees Rhian Stephenson, a nutritionist, naturopath and the founder of Artah. “They’re a great source of plant-based protein, ranging from 12 to 16 grams of protein per cup, and provide vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, various B vitamins, zinc, manganese, selenium, potassium, as well as being a great source of folate.” If that’s not enough, they’re also packed with phytonutrients (including phenolic acids, flavonoids, and anthocyanin), which have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-hypertensive, hypoglycaemic, and cardio-protective properties, and polyphenols–“a type of antioxidant that feed your gut bacteria,” says Professor Spector.

They’re also rich in fiber

They’re also rich in fiber, providing around 15 grams of fiber per cup. And fiber serves as “primary fuel for the gut microbiome, supporting a thriving, diverse population of bacteria,” Professor Spector says. When our bacteria are fed fiber, they metabolize it, producing beneficial compounds called short chain fatty acids, which boast a number of positive properties. “They’re anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, anti-carcinogenic, neuroprotective, and are also involved in our immune response,” explains Stephenson. “When we lack fiber in our diet, our microbes essentially go hungry, so they turn to the mucous membrane of the gut for fuel.”

This membrane plays an important protective role in both our immunity and the integrity of our gut barrier, so erosion can have serious health consequences. “Studies have shown that the less fiber we eat, the thinner our mucous membrane and higher our levels of inflammation,” adds Stephenson.

Eating enough fiber has also long been linked with bowel health, healthy digestion (it can help with issues like constipation), blood sugar control, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Not to mention the fact that it helps us feel fuller for longer, so incorporating more of it into your diet–whether via beans or other fiber-rich foods–will help you to naturally consume more balanced meals.

How to incorporate beans into your diet

There are so many ways to add beans into your diet. They’re as delicious in salads as they are in tacos, plus–as my bean and artichoke recipe proves–they can be eaten with other fiber-rich and healthy foods, too. I can also attest that they make you feel much fuller for longer, plus there are so many to choose from in all sorts of flavors and textures.

“Each bean has a distinct nutritional profile, including different types of fiber and polyphenols, which help to feed the variety of bacterial species in your gut,” says Professor Spector. “Varying the types of legumes you eat each day–for example, by adding a portion of mixed beans to your meals – can really help boost dietary diversity.” Basically, the more different beans you can eat, the better your health will be.

Don’t be afraid of buying them in tins because they’re super affordable, accessible, and easy to cook, but Stephenson does recommend ensuring the packaging is BPA (Bisphenol-A) free, as it is linked to several endocrine disorders. Dried beans are her first choice because “they’re by far the most affordable and will taste the best,” but she acknowledges that they can be “intimidating,” and less convenient due to the longer cooking times. “Jarred beans, whilst more expensive than canned, are still affordable and the flavor and texture are miles ahead of canned beans.”

One note: Baked beans, while ultra popular, are combined with sugary sauces, so try and steer clear if you can.

3 delicious bean recipes

I couldn’t end this story without sharing my go-to bean recipe, plus some other excellent bean-centric dishes to help you get started.

Zoe Artichoke and Lemon Butter Beans (serves 2)

Ingredients

  • Garlic
  • 700 g butter beans, canned
  • 185 g artichokes hearts, canned in oil
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 43g shallots
  • 4 tbsp lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary

Method

  • Gently sauté the shallots and garlic until golden in a large pan.
  • Add the drained artichokes and butter beans with their liquid.
  • If using, toss the rosemary and/or any other herbs and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the liquid becomes a thick sauce.
  • Taste and adjust the seasoning before turning off the heat and squeezing over the lemon juice.
  • Serve with your favorite toast (or alone) and an extra drizzle of olive oil.

Artah Creamy Quinoa with White Beans (serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 300 ml vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red chili, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 100 g uncooked, rinsed quinoa
  • Splash of white wine
  • 400g jar white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Half a small romanesco or cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 1 tbsp good quality olive oil, salt, and cracked black pepper to taste
  • Small handful dill, roughly chopped, to serve
  • 2 tbsp coconut yoghurt

Method

  1. In a small pan, bring the vegetable stock to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Keep warm.
  2. In a separate large frying pan on a medium heat, add the olive oil. Once hot, add the shallot and fry for 2 minutes until soft. Add the garlic, chili and salt and fry for a further 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the quinoa and toast for 3 minutes, shaking the pan often to rotate it. Add the wine and warm vegetable stock, cover the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Add the white beans, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice and give everything a good stir. Reduce the heat and cover, leaving to warm through for 5 minutes while you steam the romanesco.
  4. Bring a pan of seasoned water to the boil and add the romanesco. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until cooked but still crunchy.
  5. Remove from the water and add to the risotto along with the olive oil, cracked black pepper and dill.
  6. Stir in the yoghurt and serve immediately, reserving any leftovers for another day.
  7. You can serve with salmon or increase the portion size and have it on its own with a green salad.

The Mediterranean dish Fasolada, or Greek Bean Soup (serves up to 6)

Ingredients

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 4 ½ cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 3 15-oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp sweet paprika
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

Method

  1. In a heavy pot, heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over a medium-high heat.
  2. Add the chopped onion, salt, and pepper. Cook for about 4 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring regularly. Now add the garlic, celery, bay leaf, and oregano. Cook 5 more minutes, stirring regularly.
  3. Add broth, cannellini beans, cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Raise the heat and bring to a rolling boil for 3 minutes or so. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Ladle 2 cups of the soup into the bowl of a small food processor or blender. Blend, then return to the cooking pot. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Off heat, stir in about ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil, the lemon zest, lemon juice, and parsley. Transfer to serving bowls and top each bowl with another drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if desired. Serve with your favorite rustic bread.

This article was originally published on Vogue.com

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