Louis Armstrong is said to have loved red beans and rice so much that he ended some of his personal letters with "Red beans and ricely yours." Perhaps beans aren't as near and dear to your heart as they were for this jazz great, but your heart would thank you for sprinkling more of them into your meals. Beans of all varieties provide healthy amounts of folate, an essential nutrient that helps protect against heart disease, and they are a simple and inexpensive way to get more fiber. And if you’re diabetic, the fiber levels and low glycemic index of beans can help you maintain normal blood glucose levels and a healthy body weight.
Whether canned or dried, beans are packed with protein with very little fat and no cholesterol, so they make a great substitute for meat and dairy. And because they’re so versatile, beans can stand alone as your main course, or transform your favorite dishes—from salads to soups to dips. Here are some bean-friendly ideas from the editors of the new Consumer Reports Food & Fitness guide:• Give soups a kick by adding in canned, drained kidney beans and garbanzos.
• Make use of bean leftovers by mashing them into patties for burgers or sandwiches the next day.
• For a delicious dip, mix a can of black beans, garlic salt, cumin, and a bit of tomato juice or salsa.
• Try an herbed bean spread in place of mayonnaise or mustard on a sandwich.
• For a tasty Mexican meal, make tacos or burritos with cooked pinto beans or black beans, accented with reduced-fat cheese, lettuce, and lots of salsa.
• Create a super healthful pasta sauce by blending cannellini beans with chicken stock. Add fresh basil, chives, garlic, oregano, fresh tomatoes, and tomato sauce and pour over whole-grain pasta.
• Top a green salad with a colorful mix of beans, like lima, chickpeas, and adzuki.
A word on digestive discomfort: If you’re one of many people who avoid beans for fear of flatulence, you can still enjoy the flavor of beans from time to time. Gradually increase the amount of beans in your diet so as to give your body a chance to adjust to them. If you’re making beans from scratch, be sure to soak and rinse them thoroughly before cooking and try adding a splash of vinegar after cooking. Also try Beano, a non-prescription product available in many pharmacies. It contains an enzyme that breaks down the gas-producing substances in beans. And as with adding any type of fiber to your diet, drink plenty of fluids and maintain regular physical activity to help your gastrointestinal system handle the increased fiber.–Ginger Skinner
For more on the nutrient profiles for different varieties of beans and tips and recipes, check out the U.S. Dry Bean Council web site. And for more ideas and tips on cooking better meals for your family, making better food choices at the supermarket, and keeping the healthy habits going, pick up our special issue of Consumer Reports Food & Fitness magazine, on newsstands now.