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What's tasty, healthy, traditional, cheap and a real gas? Pinto beans!
November 23, 2005

Brothers and sisters, we are gathered here this morning to sing the praises of one of the world's greatest foods, a Southern tradition, and a staple in the diet of working families in this southern region for generations.

I speak, of course, lovingly, affectionately, and hungrily, of the pinto bean.

My own love affair with the pinto bean dates back almost as long as I do.  My daddy was a man of simple culinary tastes. And one of his favorite tastes was for pinto beans. I do believe that had my mama been willing to cook them so often, he would have enjoyed them seven days a week.

My daddy passed along to his youngest son his fanatical love for baseball, his equally fanatical disdain for right-wing politicians, and his fanatical quest for the perfect pot of pinto beans.

My mama achieved that perfection many times. At some meals, pinto beans were the centerpiece, surrounded perhaps by chopped onions, boiled potatoes and cornbread. At other suppers, they provided the perfect complement to country ham or fried livermush.

Like so many of those who came of age during the Great Depression years, both of my parents could stretch a dollar from payday to payday better than anyone of my generation could ever think of doing.  And nothing stretches a tight food budget further than a sack of dried pinto beans. Even in today's inflationary time, a bag of dried pintos can be had for little more than pocket change.

Even more important than cost, however, are the health benefits which the regular consumption of pinto beans can provide.

Since my diagnosis as a Type II diabetic back in July, my wife has been extremely supportive, seeking out no-sugar, no-fat recipes, and making some of the most delicious desserts I have ever eaten.

My daughters have been wonderful, forgoing ice cream and candy bars in my presence and assuring me that I am the healthiest dad they know. Friends and co-workers have offered nothing but comfort and encouragement.

My most stalwart ally, however, in my efforts to control my blood sugar and to lower my cholesterol has been the pinto bean.

As noted on a web site called World's Healthiest Foods (, the high fiber in pintos prevents blood sugar from rising too rapidly after a meal, making them a near-perfect choice both for diabetics and those who suffer from hypoglycemia.

Indeed, pinto beans are among the most fiber-rich foods available. A single cup of cooked pinto beans provides nearly 60% of the recommended intake for fiber - fiber which can help ferry cholesterol out of the body.

Fiber is just the beginning of the pinto bean's nutritional value. Beans are also an excellent and cheap source of energy and the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin and niacin, which are necessary for growth and tissue building.  Pinto beans are also high in iron, calcium, phosphorous and potassium - all essential minerals for good health.

The one knock on pinto beans - other than the gas which they produce in some stomachs, including mine - is that they are too high in sodium. This is true for most canned pintos, but it should be remembered that beans cooked at home will have only the salt the cook adds.

The beloved pinto bean is, by the way, a truly "Southern" food, as in South American. The bean is believed to have originated in Peru and then been carried by migrating Indians throughout South and Central America.

Spanish explorers never found as much gold as they wanted, but they did find the even more valuable pinto bean and carried it back to
Europe. It then came from Europe to what is now the eastern United States and also spread from Mexico into the Southwest.

Today, the Midwest is the bean basket for America, providing more than 70% of the nation's dried beans, including the pinto and its cousins, the white bean, the navy bean and the great northern bean.

It is also estimated that since mid-July, the Poteat household in Valdese has been consuming roughly 10% of the nation's pinto bean crop, perhaps even more if refried beans are figured into the mix.

And oh, about that gas. Don't think of it as disgusting or irritating. Think of it instead as the sweet smell of healthy living.

Bill Poteat, Valdese, N.C., is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer.  As a bean enthusiast, he's thrilled to have his column on beans appear in the Northarvest Bean Grower magazine.  We're equally thrilled to have him as such a fan. Keep cookin' up those pintos, Bill - here's to your health.



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