Beans great for your diet — and budget

Posted Jan. 21, 2011, at 12:48 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 24, 2011, at 10:01 p.m.
Bean burritos are a delicious and nutritious treat.
Bean burritos are a delicious and nutritious treat.

Beans, beans, the musical fruit … you know the rest of the ditty. We all heard it as children. The simple fact is that the consumption of beans does increase gas production. So do you wonder why despite this flatulence component dietitians always are pushing beans as a healthful food choice? The easy answer is that beans are nutritional powerhouses.

What exactly are beans? Beans, peas and lentils are classified as legumes. Legumes are plants that bear pods that split when mature and the pods or seeds are used as food.

There are numerous varieties of legumes and they come in various shapes, sizes and colors.

Beans are considered one of the most versatile and nutritious foods available. They are low in fat, high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. Beans do not contain any saturated fat or cholesterol. Depending on the type of bean consumed, they can be a great source of protein — a very healthful alternative to meat.

Beans have more fiber than many whole-grain foods. Consuming beans may help reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers. In many parts of the world, legumes are considered extremely valuable dietary additions because they are inexpensive sources of nutrition. Legumes are a staple food in many countries such as India and in the Middle East.

In addition to health claims regarding the prevention of heart disease, studies also have suggested that eating beans as part of a healthful diet may help to manage diabetes and help cut the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. The 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that Americans eat three cups of beans per week.

Not only are legumes very nutritious, but also they can be adapted to many dishes, combining well with vegetables, spices and grains. They have a buttery texture and subtly nutty flavor. Recipes for chili, soups and casseroles are enhanced with the addition of beans.

It is best to add legumes gradually if they are new to your diet. With regular intake your body will adapt to them and allow you to digest them better, reducing their gassy effects. You can increase your intake over time to levels that are comfortable for you.

So whether it is kidney, black, pinto, navy or some other choice — add some beans to your diet today. Here is a quick, easy and nutritious recipe to get you started.

Quick Bean Burritos

Makes 4 servings

1 can low-fat refried beans

4 whole-wheat tortillas

2 green onions, chopped

1 cup shredded lettuce

1 garlic clove, chopped

½ cup salsa

½ cup guacamole

Mix the chopped garlic in with the beans. Heat the beans in a pan or in the microwave until warm. In a large skillet heat a tortilla until it is warm. Spread ½ cup of the beans down the center of the tortilla. Top with ¼ cup lettuce, 1 tablespoon green onions, 2 tablespoons salsa and 2 tablespoons guacamole. Fold the bottom ends toward the center, then roll the tortilla around the filling. Add other vegetables as desired.

Nutritional information per burrito: 208 calories, 3.1g fat, 10.1g protein, 37.9g carbohydrates, 9.8g fiber.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian who lives in Athens, Maine. She writes a regular column on diet and nutrition and welcomes questions and comments from readers. Read more of her columns and post questions online at www.bangordailynews.com or e-mail her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.

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