March 29, 2006
Dry beans are one of the few foods that fall under two categories of the new USDA Food Guide Pyramid: Vegetables, as well as Meat & Beans. That has marketing advantages, clearly, says Dr. Gerald Combs, director of the USDA-ARS Human Nutrition Research Center, Grand Forks, N.D.
Its also significant federal dietary guidelines revised about a year ago put an emphasis on soluble fiber. This is relevant to whole grains, but relevant to dry beans as well, which are also a good source of soluble fiber, says Combs, who discussed nutrition and dietary trends during the 2006 Bean Day.
These trends include a graying population, increasing scale of retail food marketing, vertical integration of food marketing channels, growth of convenience foods and prepared meals, a growing interest in locally and organically produced foods, and a growing interest in more functional foods that have specific health benefits.
Dry beans have a fit in all of these trends; a product that lends itself well to market promotion, since its nutrition sells. I see a food low in fat, low in calories, high in protein, a good source of soluble fiber, can be a source of iron, and potentially a source of folate, says Combs. Beans naturally lend themselves to a diet that would be useful in managing a healthy body weight, managing and preventing type 2 diabetes, promoting cardiac health, reducing colorectal cancer, and having a role in preventing anemia, which affects about 7 out of 10 women in the world today.
Both basic and applied research geared toward improving the health of the U.S. food supply is conducted at the Grand Forks Nutrition Research Center, one of six such nutrition centers in the country, and the only one located within an agricultural area, Combs points out. The health research conducted here is not only conducive to better human nutrition, but also for economic development and business opportunities for the foods being studies, including dry beans.
In an era when more consumers are concerned about colon health, Combs says dry beans have shown to be beneficial for hind gut health, or proper functionality of the lower digestive system. Further, preliminary research at the Grand Forks Center, from an eight-week study with human participants, indicates that regular consumption of a meal that includes beans per day, about a half cup, was sufficient to lower cholesterol levels.
This tells us, heres a food with a healthful profile, which probably has health effects bigger than we can impute from the basis of nutrient composition alone, says Combs.