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Fall Food Series: Beans, The Plant-Based Protein Powerhouse

Protein consumption has changed very little in the last 100 years. Ask any all-American guy what he wants for dinner, and the answer will likely be a big juicy steak or burger, whether it’s 1920 or 2020.

It’s true that meat is a great source of iron and protein, but beans are too! If we look past the cultural stereotype of meat being the more desired source of protein, beans could easily rise to the top, because after all, they are the plant-based protein powerhouse.

Beans originated in Mesoamerica. The oldest known domesticated bean was found in a cave in Peru dating back as far as 7000 B.C. It quickly became a food staple for many cultures around the world for they were easy to grow in abundance.

Currently, India is the world’s leading producer of beans, growing 6.3 million tons annually. The Unites States is fourth on the list with 1.6 million tons and the midwestern states of North Dakota, Michigan and Nebraska being the largest producers. Strangely enough, even though the top bean producing countries are nowhere near central Africa, Rwanda consumes the most beans per capita at 35 kg.

With more than 40,000 types of beans, the garbanzo bean (chickpea) is ranked highest because it is the most widely available. Some other categories of beans include Vicia (broad/fava), Phaseolus (tepary, runner, lima, pinto, kidney, black), Vigna (moth, urad, rice, mung), Pisum (pea), and Lathyrus (Indian, tuberous).

Nutritionally, beans are a complex carbohydrate, meaning they contain complex sugars that are important for gut health and balanced bacterial growth. They are also famous for being rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber, which assist in controlling LDL cholesterol and keeping a regular stool. Beans are very effective in combating constipation, colon cancer and other digestive health conditions. Beans are also abundant in many vitamins and minerals, including thiamin, folic acid, riboflavin, vitamin B6, potassium, copper, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium.

Now for protein – do beans contain enough to justify consuming less meat? The short answer is yes. According to the Cleveland Clinic, ½ cup of cooked beans has the same amount of protein (7 grams) as 1 ounce of meat. To put it in perspective, 3-4 ounces of meat is the ideal portion size during a meal and consuming 1.5-2 cups of beans equates to the same amount of protein. If you’re still leaning towards eating that steak, just know that it also comes with unwanted cholesterol and saturated fat that are known to cause many undesirable health concerns.

To those all-American guys who love meat, don’t worry, having a burger or steak once or twice a week is harmless, but just think of it as a side dish. Utilizing beans as the main source of protein during a meal is a great way to reduce the excess cholesterol and unhealthy fat content of meat. In fact, below are some amazing, mouth-watering recipes containing beans…

· Simple Ribollita

· White Bean and Chorizo Chili

· Mixed Bean Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette

· Cannellini Beans with Spinach

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