Little Cannellinis Dish Out Big Benefits

CannellinisBeans are a big part of my weekly diet, for many reasons. But there was a time when I could barely imagine eating them, thanks to the canned, overly sweet baked beans that I choked down as a child. What really did me in was the fatty glob of pork, tucked amidst the gooey beans, that sometimes found its way onto my plate.

What brought me back to beans, however, was my daughter, who became a vegetarian at 12. Concerned about the nutritional needs of her growing body, I looked for alternative sources of protein, vitamins, iron, and more — sources the whole family could enjoy. All roads pointed to beans.

Though empty-nesters now, my husband and I continue to enjoy beans. In fact, we probably eat more beans than ever, now that we’ve cut back on meat and are keeping closer tabs on our hearts, weight and fiber intake. Nutrition reasons aside, we like beans because they’re economical, convenient and planet-friendly (1 pound of beans requires less than 500 gallons of water to produce; whereas 1 pound of meat requires over 1800 gallons).

Cannellini beans, sometimes called “white kidney beans,” are an all-time favorite, from their taste to their texture to how wonderfully they absorb flavors. Similar to many beans, a half cup of cannellini beans serves up 7 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, scant fat, and about 10 percent of our daily iron needs.

Although the protein in cannellini beans is incomplete — like most plant-based proteins — it simply needs to be combined with a complementary protein to reap the full benefits of this powerhouse nutrient. No worries, however, about pairing proteins at the same meal; just having another plant protein — such as nuts, grains, or pasta — at some point during the day will do the trick.

Cannellini beans are super good for hearts. One, they rock with cholesterol-lowering fiber; two, they’re chock full of folate, a B vitamin that effectively lowers levels of an amino acid in the bloodstream associated with greater risk of heart disease and stroke; three, they’re low in fat and calories (only 100 per half cup); and four, they’re loaded with heart-protecting antioxidants.

Another reason to chow down the cannellinis? They boast a remarkable amount of molybdenum, a trace mineral that helps to detoxify sulfites (preservatives found in prepared foods and wine), which can sometimes cause headaches. Some wine and cannellini pâté, anyone?

Cannellini Bean Chili with Turkey

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium poblano peppers, seeded and diced
1 jalapeno chile (ribs and seeds removed for less heat, if desired), minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes, more to taste
2 (15.5-ounce) cans cannellini beans, preferably low-sodium, drained and rinsed
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups cooked, shredded or diced turkey (optional)
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper, to taste
Garnishes, such as grated cheese, fresh cilantro, plain Greek yogurt

Heat the oil in large pot over moderate heat. Add the onion, poblano, and jalapeno; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about eight minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, oregano, and hot pepper flakes; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the cannellini beans, broth, and cooked turkey (if using). Bring to a boil, while mashing some of the beans against the side of the pan to release starch. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in lime juice and more broth, if needed.

Season with salt and pepper; garnish as desired.

Helpful Tips

Nutrition-wise, canned beans and dried beans are about equal.

But if you prefer the convenience of canned over dried beans, look for canned beans labeled “Low Salt” or “Low Sodium.” Before using in any recipe, drain and rinse the beans thoroughly to remove excess sodium.

Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at avpalumbo@aol.com.

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