Beans are packed with nutrients and have almost no fat, cholesterol and sodium. (Photo designed by topntp26/Freepik.

I have never truly appreciated beans until I went off to university in Texas as a teen and was exposed to Mexican cuisine, which uses a lot of beans.

Being on a student budget, Mexican food was a welcome sustenance, so much healthier than the usual burger and fries.

Naturally, with its nutritional credential and cheap price, beans are now a staple in my kitchen.

I use them in soups, stews, curries, dips and in desserts. Beans are a good source of nutrients such as protein, fibre, folate, iron, magnesium and potassium.

Compared to other protein foods such as meat and eggs, beans have almost no fat, cholesterol and sodium.

The Malaysian Dietary Guidelines 2010 recommend that we have at least half to one cup of beans each day, as part of our protein foods.

Here’s why beans are nutrition stars:

PACKED WITH DIETARY FIBRE

The Malaysian Dietary Guidelines 2010 recommend that an average adult consume 25g of dietary fibre per day for good health.

Unfortunately, the average Malaysian falls short of this. If this includes you, then it’s time to boost your fibre intake and beans can help!

On average, one cup of beans contribute about 14g of dietary fibre. That’s more than half your requirement for the day.

Fibre is what I call nature’s girdle, because it helps you to feel full. Eating high fibre foods can help you to eat less while at the same time give you the feeling of fullness.

A high fibre intake is also a natural way to move your bowels more easily to avoid constipation. I see so many clients in angst because of constipation.

A simple solution is to be consistent with your fibre intake every day and to drink plenty of water.

FULL OF FOLATE

Beans are rich in folate, a type of B vitamin. Folate is essential for healthy production of red blood cells.

Pregnant women need to be mindful of their folate intake because it is a crucial component for the development of their baby’s nervous system.

A lack of folate in pregnant women can cause neural tube defects, which is a preventable form of brain impairment in babies.


Beans are versatile and can be added to soups and stews. (Photo designed by azerbaijan_stockers / Freepik)

GOOD FOR YOUR HEART

We know that beans are high in dietary fibre. What’s even better is that they are in the form of soluble and insoluble fibre.

Both these fibres help reduce your risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity — all main risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease.

To reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, the recommendation is to have a variety of foods that are low in artery-clogging saturated fat and plenty of dietary fibre.

ANTIOXIDANTS

Including beans in a healthy diet with a variety of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains may lessen your risk for cancer.

Researchers attribute this to the antioxidants and beans have an impressive amount of it.

The main antioxidants in beans are tannins, flavonoids and phenolic compounds, among others.

The colour of the beans have a lot to do with its antioxidant capacity. Coloured beans such as red, brown, green, black show more antioxidant activity than the white ones.

GLUTEN FREE

For those with celiac’s disease, they lack the ability to digest gluten found in wheat, barley and rye.

Many common grain products such as breads, biscuits and cereals contain wheat so inevitably, their variety of foods gets limited.

Beans are naturally gluten-free and have comparable amounts of the nutrients found in most grain products such as iron, fibre, folate, and some B vitamins. Bean flour can be used as an alternative to wheat flour too.

TIPS FOR COOKING BEANS

* Soaking dry beans with water for about eight hours or overnight helps to reduce gas-producing compounds.

Make sure that the dry beans are covered with enough water when you are boiling them. If the water runs low, top it up.

* Adding a tablespoon of oil to the water while you are boiling beans prevents it from foaming up and boiling over.

* Avoid adding baking soda to beans. It’s commonly done by some to make beans more tender. However thiamine, which is a type of B vitamin in beans gets destroyed when you do this.

* A pressure cooker is an ideal kitchen appliance for cooking beans fast. It can cook beans in half the time.

* Always add salt last, once your beans have cooked. Salt can make beans tough if you add it much earlier in the cooking process.

* If you’re short on time or find it cumbersome to soak and boil dry beans, then canned beans are your next best option.

The nutrient content of canned beans is comparable to boiled beans. But do be mindful that canned beans have a higher sodium content.

To reduce the amount of sodium, just drain and rinse the beans in a colander under running water.

NUTRITION IN THE KITCHEN

Instead of using coconut cream, I use milk with a sprinkling of desiccated coconut to lighten my favourite bean dessert. The trick is in making the milk thicker, not watery.

GREEN BEAN PORRIDGE (BUBUR KACANG HIJAU)

SERVES 2

INGREDIENTS:

Half cup green beans – rinsed with water and drained

1,250 ml water (5 cups water)

3 pandan (screwpine) leaves

2 slices of ginger

6 scoops milk powder mixed with 80 ml water

2 tbsp desiccated coconut (you can find this in the baking section of your supermarket)

1 tbsp soft brown sugar

METHOD:

1. Place the green beans, pandan leaves, slices of ginger and water into a pot and bring to boil.

2. Boil on medium heat for about 35 minutes until the green beans are softened and cooked

3. Turn off the flame and stir in the milk powder mixture, shredded coconut and soft brown sugar.

4. Discard the pandan leaves and slices of ginger before serving.

5. You can serve it warm or chilled, as you like.

* Indra Balaratnam is a consultant dietitian who believes in simple, practical ways to eating well and living healthy. She can be reached at [email protected]