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Beans: Nature’s Nutrition Nuggets

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage a shift to a plant-based diet and beans are on the list of top foods to make that happen. These little edible seeds deserve the spotlight and are a smart choice to add to lunches. Beans and lentils are rich in fiber, iron, folic acid, potassium and phytoestrogens called lignans. According to Harvard’s Nurses’ Study, those who consumed beans or lentils at least twice a week were 24 percent less likely to get breast cancer than those who consumed them less than once a week.

One cup of beans provides around 15 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber, meeting half the daily recommended amount of fiber for the average adult. A good source of complex carbohydrates, beans are a low to moderate glycemic food offering lasting energy. This nutrition combination makes beans a good choice for managing blood sugar, reducing cholesterol, and promoting optimal health. They are also cheap. A bag of dried beans and a 15-ounce can both cost less than $2. Either way, you’re spending less than a quarter per serving for a whole lot of nutrition.

Here’s an added bonus: beans are included in the protein and the vegetable portion of the new MyPlate. So if you eat plenty of animal protein, count beans as a veggie. If you’re a vegetarian, well, beans can fill your protein serving.

I can’t talk about beans without mentioning gas. Raffinose is the carbohydrate responsible for beans’ notorious reputation. Our bodies lack the enzyme necessary to digest it. Soaking them in water for several hours before using and cooking them with cumin, coriander or anise seed may help prevent gas and bloating. So can taking Beano.

The new guidelines recommend eating 1½ cups of beans a week on average. Vegetarians may need more. This is easily achieved by adding beans to lunches. Try these tips and weeknight chili recipe below.

  • Cook a bunch of dry beans at once and freeze.
  • Use canned for convenience. Look for low sodium and rinse them to cut sodium by 40 percent.
  • Toss them into dishes you already make, such as soup and pasta.
  • Top salads with different beans, such as garbanzo, kidney, cannellini, and lentils.
  • Puree garbanzo, pinto or cannellini beans with olive oil and garlic for a tasty dip or spread.

Monday, Oct. 24th is Food Day. New Mexico organizers are encouraging community, workplace or family potlucks to bring people together around local food. Why not bring a pot of local beans and chile? Learn more at

Easy Weeknight Chili

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium yellow squash, chopped
1 pound ground turkey breast (optional)
1 15-ounce can each black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, rinsed and drained (use dried beans if you have time)
1 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
3 cups of vegetable broth
2 teaspoons chile powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

In a stockpot, sauté garlic and onion in olive oil over medium heat. Add squash and cook a few minutes. If using, add turkey and brown. Add canned or cooked beans, tomatoes with juice, broth, and seasoning. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Enjoy with corn bread.

Jennie McCary is a local dietitian specializing in worksite wellness, family nutrition and childhood obesity prevention. She likes to run and practice yoga, and is happy eating a green salad for lunch every weekday.