Why do we need beans in our diet?

Beans, a common substitute for meat, or a necessity in our diet?

While vegetarians have rejoiced in the protein properties that beans over meat can provide, there are other dietary profits that come from these high-fiber and anti-oxidant rich little friends. Experts agree that beans have the potential of warding off cancer, diabetes and heart disease, according to an article on the WebMD website.  By increasing our bean intake, our waistlines become smaller, preventing the types of diseases that come along with being overweight. Also according to WebMD, the water and fiber content of beans make you feel full longer, and the phytochemicals makes beans high in antioxidants, debilitating free-radicals in your body.

Note if you are vegetarian or vegan: Your body gets iron in two different ways. Heme iron is iron that your body absorbs well and comes from meat, fish and poultry. Non-heme iron found in beans and fortified cereal and grain products are not absorbed well by the body. In order to get the right amounts of iron in your body, make sure you are eating foods with enough iron. Also eating foods with Vitamin C will boost the absorption of iron, so for example eating broccoli with your tofu will satisfy your body’s need. Calcium and coffee and teas decrease iron absorption in your body, so make sure you give your body time to transition to digest these before eating your iron. Source: Hallberg L. Bioavailability of dietary iron in man. Ann Rev Nutr 1981;1:123-147.

More Beans Please

Low in fat and containing no cholesterol, beans are a great source of fiber to add to your diet. If you are looking for a quick meal, try using frozen beans or canned beans.

  • Frozen beans: Frozen foods, including beans, are frozen at the peak of their ripeness, so you can be assured that you are getting the full nutritional benefits. Frozen beans such as garbanzo, navy and black-eyed beans can be added to casseroles and soups or reheated by way of steaming or microwave.
  • Canned beans: Canned beans are also convenient but may be packaged with high amounts of sodium. To lower the quantity of sodium, drain and rinse your canned beans. Chili, soups and dips can benefit from canned beans.
  • Dried beans: Dried beans are cheap, however you will have to invest time soaking them. Overnight soak is the easiest- rinsing them before cooking them for an hour or so. Look at the package, some beans you are able to ‘quick soak,’ saving you time and giving you the freshest approach.

Have your cake and eat it too Tip

Beans over meat will offer the same amount of protein with the added benefit of no cholesterol. Substitute beans for meats in tacos, lasagna, stews and chili. Feel full longer by increasing your beans to 3 cups a day. The beans that have the highest feel-full longer affect is the kidney bean.


by Amanda Holst


Hidden Vitamin Deficiencies: Not just a concern for vegetarians

You would be surprised to know that most of us do not get enough of the simplest vitamins that our body needs.  Vitamin deficiencies are most often seen in those with overly restrictive diets, like vegetarians, for example. If you are vegetarian or are thinking about becoming vegetarian there are 5 vitamins you should be concerned about not getting enough of: Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Zinc. Not sure which type of vegetarian you are?

Here are the types:

Pescetarian: you eat no red meat or poultry but you do eat fish

Lacto-Ovo vegetarian: you eat no red meat, poultry, or fish, but you do consume dairy products and eggs

Vegan:  you eat plant foods only

Depending on which restrictive diet you have, you will need to educate yourself on which foods to eat to ensure that you are getting the proper nutrients.  B12 is necessary for proper functioning of your nervous system and without it you can develop anemia or bouts of irritability.  Here’s the kicker for vegetarians, B12 is the only nutrient that is NOT found in plants…kinda goes against everything you believe in if you don’t eat meat, right?   So if you do not eat meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products, make sure you are getting B12 through fortification in soy milk, vegetable stock, veggieburger mixes and breakfast cereals.  Lacto-ovo vegetarians get B12 from dairy and eggs so they are not at risk for deficiency.

Vitamin D and Calcium are an EVERYBODY issue and not just reserved for vegetarians.  As you know Vitamin D regulates calcium absorption and calcium is the main function of your skeleton and it also regulates your blood pressure.  Without enough of vitamin D you fall apart literally as your bones get spongy and soft.  Vitamin D deficiency can also be linked to higher rates of diabetes and cancer as well.  With a deficiency of calcium your body will sacrifice calcium from other parts of your body, causing brittle bones and leading to osteoporosis.  WebMD says that over 10 million Americans over the age of 50 have been diagnosed with osteoporosis.  Did you know that soda, salt, and meat, which more of us consume more today then let’s say 30 years ago, actually all pull calcium from your body?   As women hit their 30’s, calcium will be ultra important to avoid getting osteoporosis later in life as calcium starts to deplete.  When was the last time you remember having 2 or 3 servings of anything containing calcium or Vitamin D in a single day?  My point exactly.

Now that you are completely horrified  let’s talk about what you can eat to load up on these important two vitamins.

Vitamin D is found only in a handful of animal products, like cod, salmon, and tuna.  If you don’t eat fish, Vitamin D is found a little bit in eggs, margarine, and cheese.  If you are Vegan, fortified vitamin D can be found in soy milk and cereals. Another source of vitamin D is sun exposure.  Our body actually synthesizes a non-active vitamin D that can be activated by being exposed to the sun.  A higher number of Hispanic and African Americans are deficient in vitamin D because their skin is darker and they aren’t getting enough sun exposure to activate vitamin D in their bodies.  5-15 minutes in the sun for 4-6 times a week should do your body good.

Calcium is well- known in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt.  Obviously, if you have dietary restrictions you can try alternative such as calcium-fortified soy or rice milk or even OJ.  Other sources of calcium include the dark green vegetables that we all hated as kids and hopefully are willing to try and enjoy as adults like collard greens and brussel sprouts.  Other more reasonable sources can be broccoli, green beans, oranges, and tofu.

Iron deficiency poses more a concern for women and if you’re pregnant, that makes it a double whammy.  Iron carries oxygen through-out our red blood cells and helps regulate temperature.  The main deficiency of iron is anemia but this doesn’t happen until you’re extremely deficient.  There is no higher incidence of anemia in vegetarians, however they tend to have lower iron stores causing them to be higher in moderate deficiency.  Infants and teenagers need a lot more iron than adults.  As infants are coming off their iron-fortified cereals and formula and teenage boys become picky eaters when they hit puberty, iron deficiency can pose a problem.  Vegetarians have a hard time absorbing iron because they mainly eat non-heme iron, found in plant protein, that is less easily absorbed than the iron found in meats.  Whole grains, fortified cereal, raisins, beans, potatoes with skin, and enriched pastas can all be enjoyed by the vegetarian.  Meat lovers can get their sources of iron from beef, shrimp, turkey, oysters, and mussels.  Just a note with iron, if you drink coffee, tea, or red wine (like I do) then this can decrease your iron absorption.  Whole grains, soy products, and vegetables containing calcium such as spinach and sweet potatoes all take away iron from your body too.  However, vitamin C enhances iron absorption so try combining broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, oranges, cantaloupes, strawberries, or grapefruit with any iron-rich food to maximize absorption.

Do you get sick easily or does it take a while for a cut to heal?  If this is the case, you may be low on zinc.   Plants have zinc but it’s harder for the body to absorb it, so if you eat little or no meat than you may not be getting enough of this vitamin.  Meat, dairy, legumes, whole grains, cereals, nuts, and seeds all contain zinc.  Citric acid in fruits and lactic acid in dairy enhance zinc absorption so load up on these when you eat your iron dish.

Hidden vitamin deficiencies is not just a concern for vegetarians.  Anyone can be at risk for not getting enough of the vitamins are body needs to keep healthy.  The keys to success in making sure you are getting all your vitamins is to make sure you are eating enough and plenty of variety.

Roach Coach: An Insight to Saturated, Unsaturated and Trans Fat

I remember the anticipation I would feel waiting for the roach coach to drive up to our busy office in the mornings at work.  The mere words of  breakfast burrito ringing in my ears shot a dose of salivation in my taste buds and my mouth watered as the “La Cocorocha” sounded at 8:30 every morning.  I certainly didn’t put two and two together at the time about the amount of grease and fat that were used in the preparation of my breakfast nor probably cared as quick and yummy were my only two requirements when it came to breakfast.  But as I am getting older I see my plumbing start to work differently and now that I am learning more about nutrition, I know better when it comes to the fats I put in my body.

You hear fat all over the news, taking Americans by storm as the leading cause of heart disease and clogged arteries, but come on, is all fat bad?  No!  Fat is necessary to absorb vitamins and distribute them throughout our body.  But like the witches in Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz there is ‘Glenda’ good fat and ‘Wicked Witch of the West’ bad fat.

The good fats that our bodies need are called unsaturated fats and come in the form of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.  These include fish, like salmon, nuts, like walnuts, and vegetable oils like corn, canola, and olive oils.  These fats can help you to lower bad cholesterol levels and your chances of getting heart disease.

Saturated fats are the bad fats and not even needed in our diets to sustain ourselves.  These are the fats that raise bad LDL cholesterol levels and that can lead to build-up in the arteries leading to heart disease and strokes.  These are the fats that become hard at room temperature and come from animal fats such as beef, lamb, pork and dairy such as butter.

So how much fat should we have in our daily diets?  The American Heart Association (AMA) recommends that we have 25-35% of fats coming from our total amount of calories.  Saturated fat should be only 7% of those calories.  Trans fat, the Wickedist Wicked fat there is- found in french fries, doughnuts, cookies, crackers, things like that should only be 1% of your calories.

So, lets pull out our calculators and put in some real-life perspective:  If you eat 2000 calories a day, 50-70 grams of fat should be coming from your total fats,  16 grams of fat should be coming from saturated fat and only 2 grams come from trans fat.  You can get the number of grams of each type of fat listed on the food labels from the food you eat.  Obviously it is harder to get the fat numbers from places you go out to eat because you don’t know what they are using to cook your food in like the grease from the roach coach, but some of these numbers can be Googled and a lot of restaurants now are being forced to have nutritional lists available.

Tips for those looking to change their fat-eating ways:  Switching to low-fat and fat-free versions of everything is a start: There are low-fat and fat-free versions of cheese, milk, yogurt, and creamer you have with your coffee in the mornings.  Fat-free also can be seen in salad dressings, mayo, and sweets such as cookies and cakes.  I’ve done the switch myself  and my taste buds are accustomed to the changes and honestly keeps me from having to working out harder on the treadmill.  Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and high fiber are the obvious things you can add to your diet to reduce cholesterol-raising fats.  Sneak in fruits for snacks and with meals; add vegetables and beans as toppings, and switch to breads that don’t have white, bleached, or flour listed as their first ingredient.  Replace crackers with nuts and seeds and if you do eat processed foods like boxed rice, look for the ones that use unhydrogenated oil, not the ones with partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils, as these are code for trans fats.  Tub butters are better than stick butters because they have less saturated and trans fat;  I use Smart Balance because there is added Omega 3’s that help lower blood pressure and improves joint health.

Now the hard truth: fried food, fast foods, and too much sweets are bad for you, but you already knew that- so keep it to a once-in-a-while thing. Also try to limit red meat once a week, switch to the lean meat versions and cut any fat off before cooking.

I cannot stress enough to read your labels!!  Pick foods that have 0 g of trans fats if you can and pick  brands that have the lowest amount of total and saturated fats before you put them in your basket. Remember the labels mean per serving size so if you have double what the serving size is listed on the package then that means ‘dos’ the amount of calories and grams of fat too!

I’m not sure if my fat and grease issues superceed my sanitation issues of eating from my beloved roach now looking back but I know one thing is for sure: Change is hard to do- so take realistic baby steps to kicking your Roach Coach addiction!