Welcome to our blog food series “Harvest of the Month.” Every month, we share a seasonal fruit or vegetable, discuss its health properties, and provide a recipe to get you cooking!

180912693April’s “Harvest of the Month” is beans – a versatile and inexpensive starchy vegetable that packs a nutritious punch!

Beans are part of a family of vegetables called legumes, which also includes peanuts, lentils, peas and soybeans. They are a unique food because they are considered both a vegetable and also a protein source by the USDA due to the variety of micro- and macronutrients they provide. They have nutrients that are often found in meat, including protein, zinc ,and iron. This makes beans a great meat alternative or vegetarian protein source. At the same time, beans are excellent sources of fiber, folate, and potassium – nutrients that are more often associated with vegetables.

For all of these reasons, beans are a great food to include in your diet. But, there’s much more packed into such a small package! Beans contain multiple compounds that could potentially reduce the risk of multiple types of cancer and studies have shown that intake of legumes can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and glucose intolerance. It is likely that substituting beans and other legumes for meats high in saturated fat could help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

There are multiple characteristics of beans that make them a health-promoting food.

  • The soluble fiber in beans could lead to reduced cholesterol levels and folate can help reduce homocysteine levels.
  • The minerals magnesium and potassium in beans can aid in lowering blood pressure.
  • Beans are less likely to raise blood sugar and insulin levels than other starchy foods because they are a complex carbohydrate with a low glycemic index. Blood pressure, elevated blood sugar and insulin, cholesterol and homocysteine levels are all associated with cardiovascular disease risk.

There may be many health reasons to include beans in your diet, but some of the reasons why they are so prevalent in cuisines all over the world are because they taste great and are extremely versatile. They really are a blank canvas that can be spiced up and flavored in so many distinct ways. This month’s recipe for pinto beans with garlic is an easy side dish seasoned with fresh garlic, herbs and celery seed that works with many main dishes or even as a vegetarian filling in tacos or enchiladas. Beans are also a great addition to salads or soups, adding texture along with some protein and fiber. When lightly mashed, they can be used in homemade bean burgers or to replace some of the higher fat and calorie meat in meatloaf or casseroles. Mashed black beans are even used in some lower-fat brownie recipes! Puree beans until smooth to make homemade bean dips or hummus, a Middle Eastern spread traditionally made with garbanzo beans.

No matter how you use them, beans are a nutritious and cost-effective way to add variety to your diet. For more information and ideas for using beans in your cooking, check on the Vermont Harvest of the Month’s website.

Pinto Beans With Garlic

  • 1lbdried pinto beans
  • 1 1/2cupschopped onion
  • 1green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1carrot, shredded
  • 1rib celery, chopped
  • 1/2tspdried basil
  • 4cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4tspdried thyme
  • 1/2tspcelery seed
  • 3/4cuptomato paste
  • dash of pepper
  1. Wash beans well, pick over, and drain. Place in large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and set aside for 1 hour. Drain the water and add fresh water to cover the beans.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients to the beans. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the beans are tender. Taste and add pinch or two of salt if necessary.
  3. How to Cook Dried Beans You need: beans, water, and a pot. SOAK: Check the beans for bits of rock or dirt, give them a quick rinse to remove any dust, and then place in pot or bowl and cover with water to at least two inches above the top of the beans. Put a cover on the container and place in fridge to soak 6-8 hours. COOK: Rinse the beans again, place in pot, add water to at least two inches above the top of the beans again, cover, and bring to boil. Reduce heat and let beans simmer until tender, usually from 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending on the type of bean. Check occasionally to see if you need to add more water. You can freeze the beans once cooked if you don’t plan on using them until later. CALCULATE: One cup of dried beans makes about three cups of cooked beans. Dry beans are often sold in 1-pound bags. Each 1-pound bag holds about two cups of dry beans, which will make six cups of cooked beans. If you want to use canned beans, a 15-oz can usually holds about one and a half cups of cooked beans.
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Bridget Shea, RD, is a clinical dietician at The University of Vermont Medical Center. 

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