A Weight Loss Hero: The Humble Bean

When is 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 in my own weight control over the past number of years.

Once I started eating more beans, I realised that I loved the taste and that there was a huge variety to choose from. They are deliciously wholesome and fill me up, yet don’t leave me feeling 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

So what’s the evidence to show that someone on a weight loss plan – or someone just interested in being healthier – should include more beans? One study found that regular bean eaters have smaller waistlines and a 22 per cent lower risk of obesity. This could be because they are an excellent source of fibre.

One cup of black beans and lentils each pack an impressive 15 grams, which is 60 per cent 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 that there is good evidence to suggest beans can even help reduce blood sugar, improve cholesterol levels and even help maintain a healthy gut?

A brand new study published in Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that eating more beans (such as chickpeas and lentils) improves blood sugar control and slashes heart disease risk for patients with type 2 diabetes. In the study, adults who followed a low-glycemic index diet that included at least one cup of beans each day for a month exhibited better blood sugar and insulin regulation and a greater reduction in blood pressure than those whose diet was supplemented with whole-wheat products.

More Health Benefits of The Humble Bean

Beans and lentils also provide a decent amount of iron and zinc, which we know is important for helping maintain energy levels and a healthy immune system. Not only that, but eating more beans as a source of protein is also environmentally friendly, as opposed to always relying on animal foods, such as meat and chicken, for a protein source. Beans are packed full of fibre, which keep us full: in fact, many studies have found that an adequate intake of fibre has the impact of reducing overall calorie consumption over the course of the day.

If you don’t eat beans at all, you’re also missing on an important magnesium source, which we know is important for many processes in the body, including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

Despite all this good news about beans, research shows that only about 10 per cent of us regularly eat beans in Ireland at present. Interestingly, when we look back on our history, would you believe that the typical Irish diet did actually include lots of beans and lentils? That was before the potato crop became the mainstay in the 1600s (and we all know that our over-reliance on the spud unfortunately led to the famine, claiming over 1 million lives).

So perhaps it’s time to rewind the clock and go back to a diet that includes these wonderful pulses again?

So How Can I Include Them?

I find beans and pulses are an incredibly cheap and a wonderfully versatile way to bulk up dinners for my family. I add kidney beans to chillis, lentils and chickpeas to casseroles and we often have green lentils as a side dish with chicken or fish.

Of course, soups are a great way to introduce more beans and lentils too, and I love making vegetarian dishes, such as a chickpea curry or a lentil dahl. I buy bean stir-fry mixes from the supermarket, served with a small bit of brown rice, and we all love the delicious, salty edamame beans from our favourite take-away Camille, which has a good choice of healthy options (and I also order their asian greens to bulk up the meal, meaning we eat smaller portions of the meat).

So, if I haven’t convinced you by now that it’s time to eat more beans and pulses, I’m doing something wrong! I promise you’ll notice the difference in your waistline and you’ll rarely be hungry – so they really are worth a try. I don’t think I’m being too  dramatic by saying they may even change the way you eat forever! Welcome the humble bean back into your weekly shop.

Blog Post by Maebh Coyle