Chew on This

Chew on This: Beans are a nutritional protein powerhouse

Black bean spaghetti, red lentil penne and lentil flour cookies are a few of the innovative foods I sampled at the most recent meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In an exhibit hall containing hundreds of products, beans were proudly showing their great taste, versatility and nutrition power. The still growing gluten-free trend might be driving the bean surge, but this is a food for everyone who cares about health and flavor.

Beans, lentils and legumes are perfect for meatless Mondays (or any day of the week) as they are high in protein. The black bean spaghetti I tasted had 25 grams of protein in a 2-ounce dry serving, equivalent to 21/2 ounces of meat, chicken or fish. Protein is only one item in the bean nutrition store. They are very high in cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber.

Epidemiological studies support the cardio protective effects of legumes. One study examined the relationship between bean consumption and occurrence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and reported that a 1/2cup serving per day of beans was associated with a 38 percent lower risk of a heart attack. Beans contain magnesium, which might prevent migraine headaches, as well as potassium, which is critical for blood pressure control. And surprisingly a 1/2 cup serving of white beans, which are delicious in soups and salads, has 100 mg of bone-building calcium. Beans, because of their rich and diverse nutrient composition, may be counted as either a protein or a vegetable in the USDA My Plate model.

Flatulence from bean eating is good for a laugh but has been dramatically overstated. A 2011 study showed that less than 50 percent of participants reported increased flatulence from eating pinto or baked beans during a trial. After a few weeks of daily bean consumption, people perceive that flatulence occurrence returns to normal levels. For recipes check out www.beaninstutute.com

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.

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