Nutrient-packed beans a hearty addition to diet

chow_030416-164065142We’re thinking of incorporating more beans in our meals, primarily to reduce the amount of meat we’re eating (and buying), but also because they’re supposed to be very good for you. But my husband, who has type 2 diabetes, is worried about adding more carbohydrates. Is this a bad idea?

Actually, beans are a great option for everyone, perhaps especially for people with diabetes.

A 2012 study in Nutrition Journal tested the effect that pinto beans, black beans and dark red kidney beans have on blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes when eaten with white rice, which is known to cause blood sugar spikes. The researchers tested participants’ blood sugar every 30 minutes for three hours after the participants ate either white rice alone or rice with one type of the beans. Even though the meals with beans contained more total carbohydrates, the participants’ blood sugar was highest at each interval after they ate the rice alone than when the rice was paired with beans.

If your husband is concerned, though, encourage him to keep a close eye on his blood sugar levels after eating a bean-based meal. If he notices significant differences and is on insulin, he should discuss any changes in dosage with a health professional.

That said, beans are a healthful option that deserve a place at the table for just about everyone. In the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, beans are considered a unique food: They can be considered as either a meat substitute or a vegetable. They are high in both plant protein and fiber, as well as B vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc.

The fiber in beans can be significant. Adults should eat anywhere between 22 grams to 34 grams of fiber a day, depending on their caloric intake — most Americans don’t get nearly that amount. Neither do Americans consume enough beans and other legumes, eating only about half the recommended amounts of 1.5-3 cups a week for men and 1-2 cups for women. Adding a bean-based meal or two to your weekly menu could go a long way to helping you meet those recommendations.

If you use canned beans, consider buying those that are lower in sodium. Or, rinse the beans before using them — that alone will reduce the sodium quite a bit.

If you start with dry beans — an economical option — first rinse them in cold water, picking out any pebbles or stems. Cover the beans with three times their amount of water and either soak for six hours, or bring to a boil and soak for at least two hours. Soaking overnight or after boiling makes them less likely to give you gas. Then, drain the beans and cook them in fresh water according to package directions.

If you currently don’t eat a lot of beans, you may want to add them gradually to your diet. This will allow your body to get used to them and reduce the chance of gas and other gastrointestinal distress.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, Ohio State University Extension specialist in Community Nutrition Education.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Green beans aren’t quite beans

481658393This year we have an overabundance of green beans from our garden. If we eat them with rice, will they make a complete protein like other beans do?

Green beans aren’t really “beans,” at least according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. They’re great vegetables, though.

The primary difference is in protein content. A cup of green beans contains just 2 grams of protein, whereas a cup of, say, black beans contains 15 grams of protein. Green beans are actually harvested before the bean in the pod has fully matured — that’s why they don’t have as much protein as black beans, kidney beans or other types of dry beans.

Dry beans are a unique food in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They can be counted as vegetables or as proteins, and, paired with grains such as rice, provide all of the necessary amino acids for a complete protein. Green beans aren’t in the same category, but still are a perfectly fine food to include in the diet.

A cup of green beans has just 35 calories, and is a very good source of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, iron and manganese.

An easy way to preserve your bounty is to freeze green beans. Ohio State University Extension recently developed a five-minute video showing how to properly prepare fresh green beans for freezing. It’s online

One step not to skip is blanching. Although blanching causes some nutrient loss, especially of vitamin C, it prevents loss of other nutrients such as carotenoids.

After washing and trimming green beans, blanching the beans in boiling water for 3 minutes or steaming them for 5 minutes will not only eliminate any surface microorganisms, but will retard enzymes that otherwise would allow the vegetables to continue ripening, thus losing flavor, texture, color or nutrients. After blanching, cool the green beans rapidly in cold water or ice water to immediately stop the cooking process for the highest quality frozen green beans. For more information on freezing green beans and other vegetables, see the OSU Extension fact sheet Freezing Vegetables, at

For information on green bean nutrition and some healthy recipes, OSU Extension offers two additional resources:

• Maximize Your Nutrients from Green Beans and Pea Pods, online at Extension’s Farm to Health Series website at

• Garden to Plate: Green Beans, a 2.5-minute video, online at

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.