Just one day a week of replacing meat with other protein sources is all it takes for you to start enjoying some of the health benefits -- like lower cholesterol and blood pressure -- of plant-based eating.
Beans can be part of that plan.
A good source of B vitamins, magnesium and potassium, a ½ cup serving of cooked beans also contains 108 to 114 calories, 7 to 8 grams protein, 19 to 24 grams carbohydrates, .5 to 2 grams fat and 5 to 10 grams fiber. Some of that fiber is the soluble variety and research shows consuming foods high in soluble fiber can lower your cholesterol.
Most Americans don't consume enough fiber. By some estimates we only hit half of our recommended intake each day. Based on total calorie requirements, women need about 25 grams a day and men 38 grams. But that benchmark changes as we age. Women 51 and older should consume 21 grams of fiber a day; men in that demographic should get 30 grams.
For heart health benefits and blood glucose control, studies recommend roughly 10 to 25 grams of that daily fiber intake be of the soluble variety. If you realize you're on the low end of the fiber scale, don't boost your intake overnight. Increase the amount gradually and make sure to drink enough fluids to help avoid problems with gas build up.
From a cook's standpoint, the wide variety of beans from black beans to kidney beans to chickpeas offers a plethora of possibilities for adding beans to meals with little fuss. Beans can be used in salads, soups, chili, stew and even pasta sauce (purée white beans for a creamy sauce). Dried beans also are inexpensive and available year-round.
Cooking dried beans does take time, but it is not time-consuming. In fact, it is a perfect "multitasking" food to cook. You can soak your beans overnight or let them sit in water all day while you're at work or running errands. The US Dry Bean Council recommends rinsing dry beans and then soaking them using one of two methods:
Quick hot soak: Cover 1 pound dry beans with water and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat; cover pot; soak for 1-4 hours. Discard soaking water; cover beans with fresh water and 2 tablespoons of oil (oil reduces foaming during the cooking process) and cook to a simmer over low heat, partially covered, for 1-3 hours. Beans are done when they are tender.
Overnight Cold Soak: Cover 1 pound of dry beans with 6 cups of room-temperature water and allow to soak overnight (12 hours or more). Discard soaking water; cover beans with fresh water and 2 tablespoons of oil before cooking and cook to a simmer over low heat, partially covered with lid, for 1-3 hours. Beans are done when they are tender.
Try this recipe: Beans share the spotlight with winter squash and sweet potatoes in this hearty, full-flavored autumn soup.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.