The Magic of Beans

Photo illustration by NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Story by Katie M. Ellis
Tue, Jan 31, 2012
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You’ve probably heard the folk tale about those magic beans — but even in the real world, there may be some truth to the notion. Because, if there’s one thing nutrition enthusiasts agree on, it’s that beans are wonderfully good for you.

“Despite myriad differences in shape, sizes, colors, textures and flavors, beans are surprisingly similar in nutrient composition,” according to the website ( of the U.S. Dry Bean Council. “While beans are naturally low in calories, sodium and sugar, very low in fat and cholesterol-free, they are also good to excellent sources of several key nutrients,” the website boasts.

In a half-cup of beans, for example, you’ll get 23 percent to 45 percent of your daily value of folate, 11 percent of iron, 24 percent to 36 percent of fiber, 14 percent to 16 percent of protein, and 10 percent of potassium, according to the website.

Beans count as a protein and as a vegetable on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s, said Weber State University associate professor of nutrition Joan Thompson.

They are high in complex carbohydrates and heart-healthy soluble fiber, she said.

“I love them. The composition of energy is fabulous. Beans are the highest natural fiber-containing food. Anything else that competes with the fiber content is manufactured, like bran. The soluble fiber binds with acids rich in cholesterol and you poop it out. It has a blood cholesterol lowering effect,” Thompson said.

To top it off, beans can lower the risk of heart disease and help with weight loss.

“The satiety value is fabulous. The food stays in the stomach longer and you stay satisfied longer,” she said.

Associate professor of nutrition Rod Hansen would like to see Americans eat more beans because they are more sustainable than animal protein and have less saturated fat.

“We don’t get enough. It’s an alternative source of protein to consider as a population,” he said.

Beans also have fewer calories than meat and are less expensive, said McKay-Dee Hospital registered dietitian Grant Cefalo.


Despite the benefits, beans are a hard sell because they often cause stomach discomfort and gas. Hansen recommends adding them to your diet slowly.

“Fiber is like giving the GI tract a workout on the treadmill,” said Hansen. “Just like exercising, you need to start slow and build up. If the GI tract is out of shape and if you get too much too soon, the GI tract got too hard a workout. If you are increasing your fiber through beans, do not get too much too soon,” he said.

Cefalo also has a suggestion: “If you rinse the beans after you cook them, you’ll get rid of a lot of what produces gas. Beano also works,” he said.

To reduce gas, the U.S. Dry Bean Council recommends boiling dry beans before soaking them and then using fresh water to cook them.

Commercial cans

Cefalo said it is cheaper and healthier to can your own beans, but he thinks many people are afraid to try.

“I can my own for half the cost of the store. If I can them, they are easier to use because they take so long to cook,” he said.

Commercially canned beans have more than 400 milligrams of sodium, so it is important to rinse them before you eat them, added Rebecca Richards, registered dietitian and adjunct professor of nutrition at Weber State University and Stevens Henager College in Ogden.

“It’s better to make your own. It’s really cheap. You can put them in the freezer,” she said.

On its website, the Dry Bean Council suggests reducing the cooking time of beans by boiling them for two minutes, then removing the pan from the heat and soaking the beans in the hot water for one to four hours. Next, drain the beans, place them in fresh water and cook until soft.

Other cooking tips from the Dry Bean Council:

• Don’t mix beans. Each variety has a distinct cooking time. Even mixing beans purchased at different places or times could compromise the quality of the finished product.

• Wait until the beans are soft to add flavor. Adding salt, other spices or acids such as lemon juice or vinegar while the beans are cooking will lengthen the cooking time.


•  Put them in vegetable soup.

•  Add cooked beans or sprouted beans to salads.

•  Use pureed beans as a substitute for fat in baked goods or boxed brownies and cakes.

•  Add great northern or garbanzo beans to smoothies.

•  Put them in enchiladas.

•  Make into soup by cooking with chicken stock, rice or pasta, and vegetables.

•  Use a high-quality wheat grinder to make bean flour, which can be used in place of some of the white flour in baked goods.

•  Mix with corn, tomatoes, taco seasoning and water for a taco soup.

•  Eat as a finger food. Kids especially like this practice and are more likely to eat beans as adults if they are introduced to them while young.

•  Experiment. Putting different types of beans into new foods is the way to find what works for you.  

 Sources: associate professor of nutrition Joan Thompson, 

registered dietitian Grant Cefalo, registered dietitian Rebecca Richards,

 Utah State University Extension’s Teresa Hunsaker


 Raisin Cookies

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter or shortening

2 eggs

3/4 cup pinto beans, cooked and pureed

3/4 cup chunky applesauce

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup nuts

1/2 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Blend sugar and shortening in a food processor or blender. Add eggs and blend well. Add pureed pinto beans and applesauce, beat until fluffy. Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl; add to creamed mixture and mix until smooth. Stir in nuts and raisins. Drop by tablespoons onto greased cookie sheet. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on rack. Makes 2-3 dozen cookies.

Nutritional analysis: 79 calories, 3 grams total fat, 47 milligrams sodium, 12 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 2 grams protein.

— Recipe courtesy the Dry Bean Council and North Harvest Bean Growers

Tuna and White Bean Salad

1 1/2 cups chopped and peeled cucumber (1 medium)

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

15-ounce can, rinsed and drained, or 1 3/4 cups cooked dry-packaged cannellini, great northern or navy beans

Two 6-ounce cans chunk light tuna, drained

2-ounce jar diced pimiento, drained

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, toss well to coat. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 278 calories, 4.7 grams total fat, 574 milligrams sodium, 28 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 31 grams protein.

— Recipe courtesy the Dry Bean Council and the Idaho Bean Commission

Tortilla and Rice Soup

Vegetable cooking spray, as needed

1/3 cup green onions, sliced

4 cups chicken broth

2 cups cooked rice

15-ounce can, rinsed and drained, or 1 3/4 cups cooked dry-packaged cannellini beans

10.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained

1 cup cooked chicken breast cubes

4-ounce can green chilies, chopped, undrained

1 tablespoon lime juice

Salt to taste

Tortilla chips, as needed

1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped

1/2 medium avocado, cut into small cubes

Lime slices and fresh cilantro for garnish

Heat a large pot coated with cooking spray over medium high heat until hot. Add onions; cook and stir until tender. Add broth, rice, beans, tomatoes and juice, chicken and chilies. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Stir in lime juice and salt. Just before serving, pour into soup bowls; top with tortilla chips, tomato and avocado. Garnish with lime slices and cilantro. Serves 4.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 452 calories, 12 grams total fat, 602 milligrams sodium, 63 grams total carbs, 15 grams fiber, 26 grams protein.

— Recipe courtesy Dry Bean Council and Idaho Bean Commission

Black Bean Brownies

1/2 cup cocoa

1/2 cup butter or margarine

2 cups white sugar

1 cup cooked black bean puree

4 eggs

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, mix cocoa, butter, sugar, black bean puree and eggs until well blended. Sift dry ingredients together and stir into wet mixture. Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan with cooking spray and pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until done.

Frost with your favorite chocolate frosting. Makes 32 two-inch brownies.

Nutritional analysis: 102 calories, 4 grams total fat, 17 milligrams sodium, 16 grams carbs, 1 gram fiber, 2 grams protein.

— Recipe courtesy Dry Bean Council and North Harvest Bean Growers


beans, diet, Fiber, recipes
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