Border Studies at EPCC
NW Library and EPCC Links
Other Local Libraries
We do NOT have the resources to assist with genealogical research.
For GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH please contact:
*El Paso Genealogical Society
Nutricious, Delicious Beans
Article first published in Vol. 9, 1991.
By Boren Ulla
An enticing aroma wafts through the air. It draws you onward into the kitchen. On the stove is a clay pot with its contents simmering. Scents of herbs and garlic permeate the air. With exaggerated care you spoon out a bean to see if it is done.
Beans are a major part of the border diet. Pinto beans served either from the pot, de la olla, or refried, frijoles refritos, are found frequently in our meals, including breakfast. Beans are very affordable, a fact which makes them available to everyone, and beans accompanied by tortillas constitute nearly the entire diet of lower income groups.
Beans are an inexpensive and wholesome substitute for more expensive meats and vegetables. They come in a wide variety of colors; sizes, shapes and all have nearly the same mild flavor. The bean is also absorbent. This absorbency combined with the bland flavor of the bean itself is what makes beans so versatile. They absorb the flavor of foods they are cooked with, varying from fats, sugars and salt to the fragrant combinations of garlic, onions and herbs.
Although there are more than a thousand different kinds of beans, many of them can be interchanged in recipes. The cooking time needs only to be adjusted according to the bean's size and shape.
Besides their versatility, beans have many health benefits. Jane Brody, diet and fitness expert reminds us that legumes, which include all dried beans and peas, are the richest vegetable sources of protein. Soybeans, which are 40 percent protein, come very close to meats in protein content. Proteins are made up of amino acids, and since they cannot be manufactured or stored by our bodies, we need to get all eight essential amino acids from the foods we eat.
Though vegetable proteins lack one or more amino acids, they are still competitive with meat protein, which contain all eight amino acids. By combining beans with complementary sources such as nuts, grains and seeds, the body will receive all eight amino acids. Spanish rice with beans and bean burritos are examples of beans balanced by a complementary protein source. Consuming a small amount of animal protein with beans also provides all amino acids.
Beans have an advantage over meats as a source of lean protein. A cup of cooked beans provides one third of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein for adult males. Meats are normally high in fat, especially the saturated kind, a leading contributor to coronary disease.
Twenty percent of the calories in a T-bone steak come from protein and 80 percent from fat, whereas in a cup of kidney beans 25 percent of the calories come from protein, 70 percent from carbohydrates and only 5 percent from fat. Because this small amount of fat is polyunsaturated, beans are cholesterol free. They do not contribute to possible higher cholesterol levels in the human body, unlike meats and dairy products.
All beans have nearly the same amount of starch, a complex carbohydrate, and approximately 20 grams for a half cup of cooked beans. Starch is slowly digested into simple sugars in the digestive system and thus provides energy for the body. The current recommendation from dieticians is that 50 to 60 percent of total calorie intake be comprised of carbohydrates, making beans more and more desirable.
Legumes are a great source of the B-vitamins, thiamin and niacin, essential in metabolizing carbohydrates to release energy in the body. As much as 40 percent of the RDA for thiamin can be obtained from a single serving of cooked beans. Likewise, a half-cup of cooked lentils or white beans supplies nearly a third of the RDA of iron.
Because iron is difficult for the body to absorb, it is suggested that beans be served with foods rich in vitamin C, such as bell peppers, tomatoes, cabbage or any dark leafy vegetable. Vitamin C enhances the body's ability to assimilate iron.
Another nutritional benefit of beans is that they have a high fiber content. The dietary fiber in beans is called guar gum, which is known to bind with cholesterol and aid in controlling the absorption of cholesterol into the blood stream. Recent studies of guar gum have shown that it reduces serum cholesterol levels significantly.
Fiber is also nature's own laxative, and it is readily available in beans as well as in many other vegetables and whole grains. There is no need to pay for over-the-counter laxatives when enough of these foods are consumed. The inclusion of water soluble fiber in the diet can help prevent problems such as hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, colon cancer and appendicitis.
Diabetics and hypoglycemics also can profit from the inclusion of beans into their diet. Because the carbohydrates are slowly digested, the blood sugar level does not rise rapidly, and the consequent release of insulin slows down. In addition, a stable blood glucose level is desirable for those who do not suffer from diabetes, since the release of insulin promotes the storage of body fat.
For all these reasons, beans are a natural for dieters. Because beans absorb moisture and increase in bulk, the dieter feels satisfied faster than with other foods. The fiber content of the bean produces a larger volume per calorie then a majority of other foods. Eating less and feeling full sooner means eating fewer calories.
Finally, dry beans are free from all artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has classified the common bean as one of five least allergenic foods
However, the health benefits of beans can be negated if they are not prepared carefully. This naturally low fat, low-sodium food can be easily altered. The addition of fats and salts should be avoided if at all possible. Thirty-seven percent of the calories in traditionally prepared refried beans come from the lard. Recommended fat intake is only 30-35 percent of total intake. To reduce fat in refried beans, vegetable oil can be substituted for lard, thereby eliminated the saturated fat. Better yet, cooked beans can be mashed and reheated in the microwave without using lard or vegetable oil
To cut down the salt, other seasonings such as garlic, cumin, cilantro, onions, and chile may be added to beans. Mark Erickson, Director of Education at the Culinary Institute of America, suggests adding some surprising flavors to lentils by using caraway seed, lemon, and rosemary.
Salt or acidic ingredients like tomatoes should not be added to beans until they are tender, or the beans will not soften. Adding baking soda to the soaking or cooking water is also not recommended. The soda will destroy B-vitamins and alter the flavor of the beans.
A comprehensive discussion of the benefits of beans must invariably deal with the problem of gas or flatulence. The complex sugars in beans are digested slowly and with difficulty. In the large intestine, the symbiotic bacteria cause these sugars to ferment. Carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas is produced. Solutions for this problem are endless, but here are the more common ones. Longer cooking or the addition of garlic may help with the digestibility of the sugars. Since the sugars in the beans are water soluble, soaking the beans for several hours and discarding the water helps. Changing the water at least three times during the cooking also seems to reduce flatulence significantly, as does cooking the beans in the pressure cooker.
The value of beans goes beyond their nutritional worth. Border residents enjoy beans often, giving them little thought. However when people relocate to areas where beans are not part of the culture, they begin to miss them. During the Gulf War, two El Paso restaurant owners sent dried refried beans, a recent creation, to homesick troops in the Saudi Arabian desert. Hardy, nutritious and tasty -- beans are the border comfort food.