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Beans - Beans are a nutritious, high-fiber weapon in the dieter's arsenal

Beans are a nutritious, high-fiber weapon in the dieter's arsenal

If you think beans are just the humdrum filler in a beefy chili or stew, you're ignoring a powerful diet ingredient in your cooking.

Beans can boost your weight loss efforts in several ways, according to Amy Barr, a registered dietitian.

"What's interesting about beans is that they're low in fat and cholesterol-free," says Barr, who is a principal at Marr Barr, a nutrition communications agency in the Denver area.

Beans may be one of the most misunderstood ingredients in a dieter's arsenal. The legume - actually a fruit - is starchy, which you may equate with fattening. But just the opposite is true.

Legumes contain higher amounts of resistant starch, a specific type of starch that isn't easily digested by the body. Since your body slowly digests resistant starch, you don't get the blood sugar spike that causes you to be hungry an hour or so after eating, Barr says.

(Resistant starches may have a potent cancer-fighting benefit as well as being a diet tool. When the starch finally settles in the colon, it's attacked by bacteria and as a result produces a short-chain fatty acid known for its cancer-preventive qualities, according to research from the University of Illinois.)

In addition, "beans are high in dietary fiber, which fills you up faster," says the dietitian.

Unlike other starchy foods, such as refined white flour, beans are also a good source of protein. When you add beans to a dish, you can reduce the amount of high-fat, higher-calorie beef in your recipe.

Black beans contain the highest levels of resistant starch and dietary fiber, according to research from the University of Illinois.

But that doesn't mean you should restrict yourself to one bean variety, says Barr.

Eating a variety of beans makes meals more interesting and assures that you'll get the mix of beneficial plant chemicals from different beans.

You also don't have to be scrupulous about how you include beans in your cooking. At one time, health experts thought it was necessary to combine plant proteins in one recipe - beans and rice - for example, to achieve the full protein benefits. That's no longer seen as essential. As long as you're getting protein from a variety of sources during the day, you'll be fine, says Barr.

In the new dietary guidelines issued by the government, beans are listed in two separate categories: as a meat equivalent or as a vegetable. If you're eating beans as a side dish, a half-cup serving is sufficient. If you're replacing meat with beans, a quarter-cup serving of cooked beans equals 1 ounce of meat in protein value.

Instead of a three-ounce hamburger made from lean ground beef, you can have three-quarters of a cup of kidney beans, for example. The burger has 228 calories and more than 15 grams of fat. The beans have 168 calories and less than one gram of fat.

But you don't have to trade beans for beef as part of your weight-loss regimen.

"If you're making any meat-based dish, cut the meat by half and substitute with beans. You'll get dietary fiber for satiety, less cholesterol and less fat," says Barr.

Here's a recipe for a wholesome and low-calorie black bean and beef chili:

BLACK BEAN CHIli

Serves 4

1 teaspoon canola oil
4 ounces ground sirloin
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced roasted tomatoes with chiles (see note)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 (16-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed dried oregano
1 dash cayenne pepper or to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat oil in nonstick Dutch oven. Add ground sirloin, onion and garlic. Saut over medium-high heat, stirring frequently for 5 minutes or until onion is tender and beef is browned. pour off excess fat. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, black beans and broth. Stir well. Stir in cumin, chili powder, oregano, cayenne, salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes to blend flavors.

NOTE: If diced roasted tomatoes with chiles aren't available use a can of diced tomatoes and add 1 small minced jalapeo chile with the onion and garlic.

Each serving has: 250 calories; 7.5 grams fat; 20 grams protein; 54 grams carbohydrates; 20 milligrams cholesterol; 1,240 milligrams sodium and 11 grams dietary protein.

Beans: Beans are a nutritious, high-fibre weapon in the dieter's arsenal

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