FIT TIP: Give it the Beans!

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- If you've ever spent time in Great Britain, you would have heard the term "give it the beans" used by motorists and aviation enthusiasts, rather like our term "give it the gas."

But for this edition of the CFT, I'd like to break from our routine a bit and look at a nutrition topic, more specifically, make the case that it's time to get some beans into your diet.

Because we like to sound sophisticated, we can say that beans are "legumes," which are supposed to be something different from a stalk, a tuber, root or a bulb. What makes legumes really different is that they are nature's best nitrogen catchers, pulling "N2" from the air, reducing the need for fertilizers and making them easy and inexpensive to grow in all kinds of soil.

What they do pull from the sun and the soil ends up stored in nice, convenient packages. But what's interesting for weight loss is how they offer a great source of plant based protein, along with some carbs, all this in a low fat, high fiber package.

I'm not talking "green beans," but rather red kidney beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, and the ever popular great northern beans.

So what's the rub? Why aren't beans a staple in our diets? Hopefully, when you learn all the goodness packed into these little gems, you'll add them to all kinds of meals.

First and foremost, beans are CHEAP!! Dried beans are under a dollar a pound, and even canned beans are just a little more, often on the shelf for a dollar for a 15-ounce can.

They are really "dense" from a calorie perspective too, making them one of the least expensive ways to get lots of energy for your shopping dollar. Just one cup provides over 600 calories.

Prep is a piece of cake. For dried beans, it's just a matter of soaking them overnight, and for the canned beans, just wash and eat. For all this "trouble" you get a host of benefits.

Remember our look into "glycemic index?" Unless you are about to start a race, you'll do well to stick to foods with a lower glycemic index, and beans fit right in, thanks mainly to their protein and fiber content.

You can expect one third of the calories to come from protein, and two thirds from carbs. No need to worry about a "sugar crash" with these little bundles of joy.

Most varieties boast high levels of really sophisticated-sounding phytochemicals and phytoestrogens, bioactive compounds like isoflavones and other hard to pronounce nutrients known to reduce cancer risks.

On the more conventional side, you'll find vitamin A, iron, calcium, and loads of fiber. In fact, one cup is nearly twice the amount of fiber you need for the whole day.

I suspect that wolfing down a whole cup at lunchtime might not make you the most popular attendee of the afternoon staff meeting, so there are some better options. If you like to munch on a crispy salad for lunch, sprinkle on a half cup of red kidney beans and you'll add over 20 grams of protein, and all those greens will buffer the fiber so you won't be asked to leave before the third slide on the agenda.

Plus you'll get more of a "full feeling," so if you often feel hungry in the early afternoon, the beans will help keep the cravings under control.

For overall health and nutrition, beans need to be on your shopping list. If you are trying to lose weight, these are "no brainers." So forget all those bad memories of mushy French cut green beans drowned in cream of chicken soup, and put some beans on the table. You just can't go wrong with nature's "batteries."