In case you haven’t heard the news, the United Nations has officially declared 2016 the year of the bean. In 2013, the elected food was quinoa, which clearly enjoyed its time in the sun; so if the U.N.’s endorsement is any indication, we are all going to be eating a whole heap of beans in the near future.
The bean, or rather the “pulse” (the more inclusive term used by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization) includes all dried beans, legumes such as dried peas and lentils, chickpeas, and all seeds that are grown in a pod.
What is so noble about these foods? They provide more protein than any other plant. They also deliver calcium for bones, magnesium for the heart, potassium for muscle health, and more iron than meat, helping with healthy blood and energy. What’s more, beans are extremely filling and favorable for digestion because of all the fiber.
I’m not above jumping on a hot trend if it helps my family eat more healthfully.
Luckily, beans take on the flavor of whichever spices or ingredients they are paired with, so they are incredibly versatile. They work in an Italian pasta dish, an Indian stew, a Moroccan tagine or a Mexican feast.
Unfortunately, the image of a bean seldom drums up enthusiasm — especially among kids. So here are some ideas for making beans and legumes appealing to the little ones:
Dried beans are simple to prepare in a slow cooker, in a pressure cooker or over the stove. Canned or boxed beans work well, too; just be sure to choose low-sodium and BPA-free containers.
For those of you who feel bloated when you eat too many beans, soaking them first with a pinch of baking soda, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar can help, as will cooking them with a piece of kombu. Chewing thoroughly is essential, as you are more likely to have digestive problems if you allow solid pieces of beans to travel into your digestive tract. Lastly, begin by eating small servings to allow your body to adjust to the amount of fiber and the specific carbohydrates in beans that contribute to the bloating.
So buy and eat more beans this year, first because they are good for your health and waistline and second because the United Nations believes your purchase will ultimately support the grander goal of international food security and sustainable nutrition. The bean suddenly doesn’t sound so boring anymore.
For charts explaining how to soak beans, cooking times for each variety of bean, recipes, storage advice and family-friendly tips, check out the Bean Card in the Super Food Card set.
First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, February 4 2016.