Beans are a healthy choice for anyone—they're low in fat, and offer protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals. But they may have extra benefits for people with diabetes because they're high in soluble fiber.
Soluble fiber binds to carbohydrates and slows their digestion and absorption all the way from belly to bloodstream, says Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, a nutrition adviser to the American Institute for Cancer Research, in Washington, DC. This slow rise helps prevent wide swings in blood glucose levels. Soluble fiber also helps lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which are risk factors for heart disease—a concern for folks with diabetes, who are at increased risk.
Keep in mind that beans are still carbohydrates, so you'll need to factor them into your daily meal planning and carb counting, advises Ann Albright, PhD, RD, president-elect of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. And when using canned beans, rinse and drain them to remove some of the sodium.
The MyPyramid Food Guidance System (www.mypyramid.gov) includes eating five 1/2-cup servings a week for sedentary adults and up to six servings a week for more active adults. But if you're not used to eating that many beans, you may want a little inspiration in the kitchen. Browse the cookbook section of your local library or favorite bookstore. Focus on Italian, Greek, Indian, Caribbean, Mexican, and Middle Eastern cuisines, which tend to feature beans, says Collins. And check out these quick and easy ways to get a bean boost.
- Slip into a salad. Toss some garbanzo, Great Northern, or kidney beans, or any favorite cooked legumes into a green leafy salad.
- Capture the flavors of summer. Serve up some summer succotash with fresh baby lima beans and corn shaved straight off the cob.
- Perk up pasta. Marinate some mixed beans overnight in Italian salad dressing with pasta, tomatoes, red bell peppers, cucumbers, and other fresh veggies. Serve cold.
- Take a dip. Treat carrots, broccoli, green bell peppers, cucumbers, and whole wheat pita bread to hummus, which is made from pureed garbanzo beans.
- Go tropical. Make a fruity salad with black beans, chunks of pineapple or mango, red bell peppers, olive oil, and a squeeze of lime juice.
- Create a classic. Spice up beans and rice with chili powder, and top with a dollop of low-fat plain yogurt.
- Make a perfect puree. Use bean puree to thicken soups or as a base for dips and spreads.
- Keep it simple. Set out a bowl of fresh edamame soybeans still in the pods and let your family have a go at this nutty-tasting treat. The edible portion is inside. Just squeeze out the bean using your thumb and forefinger. Pods should be completely green, so avoid those that are starting to yellow.