Eating more beans
it matters what you eat more of, not less of
We're conditioned to think about what we should be eating less of to be healthy. And in some ways that's certainly true - but a deprivation mindset can set you up for failure.
Fortunately, there's another way to look at it. The science also tells us to eat more of certain things. It's all in how you look at it. Think about it - instead of saying "I need to eat less sugar/calories/fat", start saying "I need to eat more fruit/vegetables/whole foods".
Most of the time, the message is all about restriction. What should I stop eating? When shouldn't I eat? How many calories a day should I cut myself down to? The headlines read "These five foods will derail your weight loss" or "Five things you should stop eating now".
Calorie restriction, restricting certain foods, and restricting when you eat during the day - these messages often doom us to fail.
Not to mention the fact that people will throw down if you tell them that something they're eating is unhealthy. Or even when you share your own personal food choices - I've been told "That's depressing" and "That's a terrible idea" in response to sharing my choice to eat vegan.
To be fair, there's plenty of conflicting information out there - some sites will swear that eating meat is good for you, while others swear that it's unhealthy. We can find sites that say that gluten is terrible, and sites that say that it's not THAT that's terrible, it's the dairy. The list goes on and on and people get pretty passionate in their opinions about what's good or not good and what you should STOP doing.
I think that's the opposite of the narrative we should have around eating healthier. Here's the thing the research is totally clear on, and no one will argue with - eating MORE fruits and vegetables is good for you. Eating MORE beans and MORE whole grains is good for you.
Let's take beans for example. If you want to be healthier and lose weight, you should eat more of them. In fact, the American Institute for Cancer Research did a huge study and the one of the recommendations wasn't that you should eat beans every DAY - it was that you should eat beans with every MEAL.
Beans, beans, they're good for your heart.....
Why the focus on beans instead of fruits, or vegetables, or grains? While all of these are good for you and you'll find all of these things present as part of the recipes here, beans don't get as much play.
And given the many benefits of eating beans - health and otherwise - they should be the star of the healthy foods party.
Beans lessen the risk of chronic illnesses like cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research had independent research teams comb through hundreds of thousands of studies, and published a report reviewed by 21 of the top cancer researchers in the world. (This is legit research, people!) One of their recommendations was to eat whole grains and/or beans with EVERY MEAL. Not just every day - with every meal.
Eating more beans could help you live longer. And not just longer, but with a higher quality of life. The Blue Zones are five regions in the world where researchers found the highest life expectancy. A team of medial researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists studied these places to find evidence-based common denominators.
While it won't shock anyone to learn that the diet is more plant-based than the standard American diet, one of their primary findings was that beans specifically are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. In the Blue Zones areas, the longest-lived people eat a full cup of beans a day. The author of the book has actually put a number on it, saying that eating a cup of beans daily can add four extra years to your life.
Beans are crazy affordable. They're the most inexpensive protein source around. There's a reason people joke about going on a rice and beans diet when the budget needs to get slashed. Beans will cost you pennies as a protein source vs. buying meat.
At 1.99/lb for chicken breast vs. .99 for a lb. of dried beans, this is a serious savings per meal. Let's take a Caesar salad for example (made yourself, of course). A chicken Caesar would be roughly $3, while simply swapping the chicken for chickpeas would change that salad cost to roughly $1.16.
Don't have tons of time to cook? Canned beans have the fastest preparation time around.
Want to lose weight? Beans are nutrient dense and filling while also light on calories. They're full of fiber, which is proven to accelerate weight loss.
And beans are just straight up good for you. They have loads of phytonutrients, fiber, protein, folates.... they provide energy, reduce glycemic load, help control blood sugar levels, and pretty much any nutritionist will recommend you eat more of them. (Maybe unless they're getting their information from McDonald's).
Easy to cook, incredibly versatile, and tasty. Why not eat more?
As I'm setting out to prove, there are so many things you can do with beans. And it's not just the obvious quick meat to bean swaps like lentil tacos or bean salads. Beans make other really cool food products like tofu, miso soup, and aquafaba. You can make interesting dishes like black bean brownies or lentil meatloaf. You can do way more with beans than any other food, which makes it relatively easy to chow down that recommended cup of beans a day.
The shelf life on dried beans is basically forever (and the canned shelf life is nothing to sneeze at, either). No throwing these away if you don't get to them within a few days after buying.
There are tons of varieties, and you can use them in anything - soups, salads, sandwiches, main dishes, even desserts!
And if all that isn't enough, you can also help the environment by eating more beans. Here's a fascinating thought for you: if everyone ate beans instead of beef, the US could almost meet greenhouse-gas emission goals. Think about that for a moment.
What if you did it for a year? Six months? ONE month? It would make a big difference. You, yes you, can make a difference in the environment with a simple food choice.
Oh, and it's not just the impacts of factory farming - just growing beans revitalizes the soil without the need for external fertilizers and means that intensive tillage isn't needed.
There you have it - lots of reasons to eat more beans. So up your bean intake to at least a cup a day or take the recommendation to eat them for every meal - you can't lose.
About the Queen
Home cook and obnoxious vegan, extrordinare
So, how did I become Ms. Preachy Healthy Pants, telling everyone to eat more beans and force-feeding my husband healthy food? (Just kidding, he likes my cooking. Or at least says he does, 'cause he's smart.)
It wasn't always this way - gather round children, and I'll tell you the tale of Past Me, who used to eat and drink whatever she felt like, smoked a pack a day, and didn't exercise. I guess because YAY 20's METABOLISM AND NO FRONTAL LOBE.
Eventually though, I started to realize that I'm actually mortal and I'm going to get old one day. Seeing the different qualities of life of the people around me who are aging helped me understand that that's actually going to be me one day, and was the motivation I needed to make some changes.
First, I quit smoking. I never really thought beyond that - the story I told myself that helped me quit was really just that I wanted to live, and that was enough.
But like any big change typically does, it set me on a journey. Once I quit smoking, all these possibilities opened up before me. I realized that working out would make me even healthier and reduce my (high) risk of getting sick even more. I could go for a hike without wheezing to death. Changing my diet would reduce my (high) chances of contracting some horrible lifestyle disease later in life even more.
I started to cook my meals at home (the only way to really eat healthy regularly), and found to my surprise that I really enjoy cooking.
As I dug in and did research like any self-respecting borderline millennial, I realized something.
I want to be that 70 year old person I saw at Yellowstone climbing a mountain. (True story - that's how we got shamed into climbing Mt. Washburn, which we weren't going to do). Or that 77 year old weight lifting.
Or frankly, just be able to take care of myself without needing hospice care. With health care the way it is now it's not just about my quality of life, it's also in my financial best interest to be self - sufficient right up until I kick the proverbial bucket. (Also, I'm terrified of what health insurance and care costs will be as I age, like much of the rest of the country).
I'm not just doing this for me now - I'm doing this for future me. And that remains a sufficient motivator. Plus I feel pretty great on a daily basis which doesn't hurt. While I'm no Barefoot Contessa, I'm much more confident in the kitchen.
Cooking at home can seem really intimidating if you aren't used to it. Mark Bittman has said that cooking is essentially just the act of applying heat to food, which is really all you need to begin with. (I remind myself of this all the time).
I like relatively simple recipes with easy to obtain ingredients. I might get fancy once in a while, but for the most part you'll find recipes here that don't call for anything too unobtainable. I'm of the Alice Waters philosophy - it's all about the best ingredients that you can afford/ get your hands on.
Whole Food, Plant Based
Did i mention you should eat more plants?
As you've probably gathered by now, I believe more plants and whole foods = a healthier diet. Which means that the recipes you'll find on the blog follow that format (because, you know, I actually have to eat everything I cook).
In addition to hopefully helping me have a better quality of life for longer, eating more plants helps the environment and is less cruel to living creatures.
Here's some good stuff if you'd like to learn or like to add to your reportoire:
Whatever your eating style - if you're not ready to eat less meat or pancakes or brownies - if you change only one thing, let it be that you pay homage to the humble bean and eat MORE of this wondrous food. I sincerly hope The Bean Queen helps you do that!