I bet you have heard that fiber is good for you. But do you know why? Plant foods, whole grains, fruits and vegetables contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. That’s the part of the foods that our body cannot digest or absorb. Animal products do not contain fiber.
To be healthy we need a mixture of soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber, found in whole-wheat products, wheat bran, nuts and vegetables, is roughage (that word just looks awesome, doesn’t it?). The stuff that is not digested by our body that absorbs water and pushes through our intestinal tract, and helps us from becoming constipated. Soluble fiber, found in oats, peas, beans, apples, carrots and citrus fruits, changes its form into a gel-like substance as it moves through the digestive tract binding with fatty acids and working to slow down how quickly we feel hungry again by reducing the rate of speed our food passes through our digestive system.
That’s why eating foods filled with fiber, like a bowl of oatmeal in the morning with some blueberries, a tablespoon of flaxseed, and a couple of walnuts, helps control our body weight. It leads to a feeling of fullness, which helps reduce the amount of calories consumed, which helps to reduce our weight. And that rates a high five in my opinion, every time!
Soluble fiber has also shown positive effects with controlling blood sugar because it slows down how quickly our body absorbs sugar. By eating high fiber foods we don’t have sugar highs and crashes like we can have with processed and less fibrous foods. This will lower the chances of contracting type 2 diabetes. Eating high fiber foods can also protect us against cancer, including stomach, mouth and colon/rectum cancer.
Unfortunately, the typical American, does not include very good sources of fiber in their diet. Remember, fiber is found in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits; but most meals focus around fiber-less animal foods, processed carbs and extracted oils. The USDA Center for Nutrition notes that a typical person consumes only 15 g of fiber daily while the ideal amount is 38 g for men and 25 g for women per day. So, eating foods that are rich in fiber such as fruits and vegetables is very beneficial for us. However, about half of all vegetables consumed in America are potatoes. Now mind you, potatoes are not bad; sweet potatoes are even better. But, unfortunately, one-half of those potatoes consumed in the U.S. are potatoes in the form of fries or chips. Not so good.
Along with whole grains and colorful fruits and veggies, beans and legumes are another source of excellent fiber. I love my beans! And did you know that beans are a near perfect food? They are easy to store. They are chock-full of vitamins (especially B vitamins) and minerals like calcium and iron. Some varieties contain more calcium and iron per serving than some dairy products. They are low in fat and cholesterol and high in phosphorus and folic acid. They’re also delicious and an extremely economical source of protein. Beans are a superior food that fights against cancer and heart disease, and you will benefit from including a variety of them in your diet. On average, I eat nearly a cup of beans every day. I sprinkle them on my salad, toss a half a cup into my soup, and I love, love, love hummus which I use as a spread on my pizzas, on my sandwiches or scoop out into a bowl as a dip for fresh veggies. There are a lot of great brands on the market, but I have found hummus to be very easy to make with my little food processor right in my own kitchen!
Across the world, beans are enjoyed as wholesome, delicious foods that are a major part of everyday diets: In Mexico – beans are used in chili, burritos and tacos; In India – dahl is a delicious red lentil soup; In the Mediterranean – garbanzo or chick peas are a mainstay in recipes for hummus and falafels. In Greece – brown lentil soups are traditional. In China, Japan, and other Asian countries tofu and tempeh are a mainstay in many recipes.
So, let’s talk more about beans. Many people avoid them because 1) they are hard to cook, 2) they don’t know how to prepare them properly and make them taste good, or 3) for some of us, although they are “good for our heart” they make some of us ….. “___.” Well, you know how that rhyme ends! So, what are some tricks or tips that can help counter the dilemmas beans often present.
Well, for problem number 1, luckily there are many low-sodium canned varieties on the market, including several organic choices. For problem number 2, there are a lot of great recipes out there to try, and I will be posting some more in my recipe sections. Just pick one and try it. What do you have to lose? For those who want to limit even more sodium from their diet, save money by buying bulk, and help with problem number 3, the digestive dilemma, here are 5 tricks you can try. You can adopt a few or all of the following suggestions:
- Throw away the soaking water after you soak your beans (with few exceptions, like lentils, beans need to be soaked overnight in room temperature water on the kitchen counter 8 to 12 hours). (I like to water my plants/garden with the water I toss out.) When you discard the water, you lose “some” nutrition, in the form of minerals; but you are getting rid of 80% of the oligosaccharides that cause flatulence. Then rinse your beans several more times in some more fresh water – swish them around in the fresh water. Discard this water too.
- Cook your beans thoroughly in a large pot so that the beans are covered by a good 1” or so of water. When the beans are boiling, a white foam or froth will generally form on top. Scoop this off and discard it. This is part of what contributes to gas. Continue to add extra water as the beans cook so they are still at least 1” under water. You should be able to easily mash the cooked beans with a fork or mash a bean with your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Thoroughly cooking beans softens the starch and fibers, making digestion more efficient. Cooking times vary from 1 to 1½ hours.
- Cook beans with 1 teaspoon cumin or 1 teaspoon ground fennel or 1 teaspoon savory. This improves their digestibility. Or try adding a bay leaf during cooking.
- Try a digestive enzyme product on the market. These enzymes help break down the oligosaccharides. They are sprinkled on the cooked beans or taken in tablet form with the first bite. There are also products to take after food consumption to assist with any minor discomfort.
- Have some raw vegetables first or eat your salad first in your meal before eating the bean chili, to aid in their digestion.
When you add more fiber to your diet, you will notice a difference. Give your body time to adjust. When adding beans to your diet, do the same – give your body time to adjust. The more often you eat beans, the quicker your body will adapt to digesting the complex sugars found in beans. To start with, the easiest to digest beans are lentils, adzuki beans, pinto beans and garbanzo or chick peas. So try these first.
So, until next time, if you any tips for handling the digestive dilemma of our friend the bean or any suggestions on easy ways you found to increase your fiber intake, please share! It will help us all to be more healthy.