A hero to lose weight: the humble bean
When was the last time you ate beans? Often overlooked, baked beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, black beans, lentils or kidney beans have been a fantastic help with my own weight management over the past few years.
When I started eating more beans I found that I loved the taste and that there was a wide variety of choices. They are deliciously healthy and fill me up, but they don't make me sluggish, which is especially important in winter. Now I try to include them in my diet at least three times a week.
Improved blood sugar and weight control
What's the evidence that someone who has a weight loss plan – or is just interested in being healthier – should include more beans? One study found that regular bean eaters had a smaller waistline and a 22 percent lower risk of obesity. This could be because they are an excellent source of fiber.
One cup of black beans and lentils each contains an impressive 15 grams, which is 60 percent of the recommended daily minimum. Research has shown that for every gram of fiber we eat, we eliminate about seven calories.
And I bet you didn't know there is good evidence that beans can even help lower blood sugar, improve cholesterol, and even maintain a healthy bowel?
A brand new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that consuming more beans (like chickpeas and lentils) improved blood sugar control and reduced the risk of heart disease in people with type 2 diabetes. In the study, adults who followed a low glycemic index diet that included at least one cup of beans a day for a month showed better blood sugar and insulin regulation and greater blood pressure lowering than those who were dieted with whole wheat products.
Other health benefits of the humble bean
Beans and lentils also provide a decent amount of iron and zinc, which we know are important in maintaining energy levels and a healthy immune system. Not only that, but eating more beans for a source of protein is environmentally friendly instead of always relying on animal-based foods like meat and chicken as a source of protein. Beans are full of fiber that keeps us full: In fact, many studies have found that getting enough fiber lowers overall calorie consumption throughout the day.
If you don't eat beans at all, you are also missing an important source of magnesium that we know is important for many processes in the body, including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure.
Despite all of this good bean news, research shows that only about 10 percent of us in Ireland currently eat beans regularly. Interestingly, if you look back on our history, would you believe that the typical Irish diet was actually high in beans and lentils? That was before the potato harvest became the mainstay in the 17th century (and we all know that our over-reliance on the spud unfortunately led to famine and over 1 million lives).
Perhaps it's time to rewind the clock and get back to a diet that reintroduces those wonderful impulses?
How can I lock them in?
I find beans and legumes an incredibly cheap and wonderfully versatile way to make dinner for my family. I add chillies, lentils, and chickpea kidney beans to casseroles and we often have green lentils as a side dish with chicken or fish.
Of course, soups are also a great way to introduce more beans and lentils, and I love making vegetarian dishes like chickpea curry or lentil dahl. I buy bean pan mixes from the grocery store served with a small piece of brown rice, and we all love the delicious, salty edamame beans from our favorite camille take away, which has a good variety of healthy options (and I order them too their Asian greens to fill the meal, which means we eat smaller portions of the meat.
If by now I haven't convinced you it is time to eat more beans and legumes, I'm doing something wrong! I promise you will notice the difference in your waistline and rarely go hungry – so they are really worth trying. I don't think I'm being overly dramatic when I say they could change the way you eat forever! Welcome the humble bean back to your weekly business.