Beans and Confusion

September 27, 2016 in Diabetic Menu Item, fiber, Food Economics by Joyce Bunderson

Beans (aka legumes and pulses) likely don’t cause confusion in anyone except me. My confusion is in the fact that people seem to know that beans are inexpensive; for example – “not amounting to a hill of beans.” Where my confusion comes in, is that I read so much about the pinched budgets of families and students (See: A Bizarre Awakening); and yet that fact seems to not touch the family budget-planning – with the use of beans, that is. Americans eat relatively few bean meals, compared with many countries. It’s really too bad on a number of fronts. If I just think back to a couple weeks ago, when I was writing about ramen, and thinking of the college students getting malnutrition, while eating ramen for breakfast, lunch and dinner – the bean shunning clouds my mind with confusion. What I’m really wondering is – if we put an extremely high price on legumes and called them the latest super miracle food (which they are close to miraculous – see below); would people start consuming them?

The United Nations pronounced 2016 as the Year of the Pulse; likely they are trying to bring attention to this underused environmentally friendly powerhouse of nutrition. Frequently I hear people talking about nutrition; they almost always talk about animal products to provide protein. But the amino acids in beans and grains (within the same day) do exactly the same job as the protein in meat. I know you likely already know that by just having grain or animal protein (like egg, milk, or meat) in the same day, you make the protein in legumes complete. In a certain sense, the legumes do a better job than meat because the excellent proteins they do provide doesn’t come laden with other components of animal meat that may be harmful.

Legumes are a wonderful healthful food that provides such nutrients as complex carbohydrates; both soluble fiber (which helps to regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol) and insoluble fiber (helps to prevent constipation); protein; vitamins, minerals and a collection of phytonutrients (including flavonoids, anthocyanins and polyphenols. They’re all that, and low in fat.

On top of that, beans are fantastic for the environment. Nitrogen-fixing legumes require about 43 gallons of water to produce one pound. If you use the self-serving beef industry’s numbers, beef uses only 441 gallons of water for a pound of beef. If you use the US Geological Survey it’s 1840 gallons for one pound of beef. OK! 43 gallons or 1840 gallons. Most people are less concerned with environmental issues and even with costs, than with their taste for meat. They are now “voting” with their food budgets, overwhelmingly, for meat. If they starting using a small portion of it for beans, we would at least be moving in the right direction.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of soaking or pressure-cooking beans, then please know that legumes are available in cans. I know that some companies (Eden Foods, for example) have GMO-free, organic products and pack their low acid varieties in BPA-free cans. If you don’t have time to make rice and beans, you can even buy it seasoned and cooked in a BPA-free can for barely over a couple of bucks.

Maybe part of the public’s avoidance of beans is because they just can’t think of ways to use them – this is a short list, but Mayo Clinic has published a longer list of recipes using beans.

  • One of the most common ways that we use beans at our home is sprinkled on salads.
  • Rice and beans – a hundred different ways
  • As a meat substitute, like our tofu (made from soybeans), vegetable and rice lettuce wraps.
  • Beans and greens – can be so amazingly delicious.
  • Don’t forget chili – ground turkey or even without meat – some use cracked wheat, make it flavorful with herbs and spices – it doesn’t need a pile of cheese.
  • Humus as a salad dressing or sandwich spread
  • Some may still be surprised that peanuts are legumes – peanut butter sandwich provides complete protein.
  • Black bean burgers
  • Burritos
  • Split pea soup
  • Minestrone soup
  • Tuscan white bean stew

When you’re trying to develop a new habit, one way is using incremental behaviors. Try keeping a list near your cooking area or the area where you generally make meal decisions. Divide the list into recipes you already know or have and those you want to try. The nice thing about the Mayo Clinic list is that the recipes are already linked to the list. If you want to increase the use of legumes (or whatever you call them – beans or pulses), start by deciding on a recipe and getting them in the house. As you try the recipe, remember to put it on your “recipes I already know list.”

Maybe if you start thinking about beans as the newest super food, it will help to improve your nutrition, our environment and clear up my confusion. It’s not a new super food fad that will soon burn out after the marketing hype is over. It has been a quiet and unassuming super food for millennia, proven in the farms and gardens of humanity over and over again.