On the Table

On the Table: For loads of fiber, eat more beans

CorrespondentNovember 5, 2013 

— If your city’s nickname has to be Beantown, at least it suggests a health habit to which people in any town should aspire.

As I joined more than 10,000 public health types in Boston this week for the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association, it’s hard to ignore the sense of history here. And the beans.

Early American colonists added beans to their diets, likely introduced by Native Americans for whom they were a dietary staple. Later, when Boston became a hub for the rum trade, molasses, a byproduct of rum making, was added to baked beans as a sweetener, lending the distinctive flavor to the recipe we love today.

And beans are good for you.

It’s hard to think of another food so full of nutrients you need and so low in those you should limit. For example, pintos, garbanzos, black beans, navy beans and kidney beans are all rich in protein and crazy-rich in dietary fiber – as much as 16 grams per cup.

Beans are also a good source of calcium, iron and folate.

On the other hand, they’re devoid of cholesterol and low in saturated fat and sodium, unless you add pork fat or ketchup. If you use canned beans, you can rinse them in a colander before cooking them to remove most of the sodium added in processing.

Just one cup of beans gives you half of the fiber you need in a day. That’s one of the reasons they help with chronic disease prevention.

The soluble fiber in beans helps to lower and stabilize blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels. Both the soluble and insoluble fiber in beans can protect the health of your gastrointestinal tract, too, by reducing constipation and your risk of hemorrhoids and diverticular disease.

Beans are easy to work into your diet. Buy them canned, frozen or dehydrated or fix them the old-fashioned way by soaking dried beans before cooking them. Use beans to make soup, bean dip, bean filling for burritos and nachos, bean salads and beans and rice.

And I’ll dish the same advice here that I did when I wrote about cabbage recently: Got gas? Get moving, or try Beano.

When in Boston or anywhere, eat more beans.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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