The Bean Fitness Plan
January 17, 2006
Americans should eat up to three cups of beans a week.
Thats according to the 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends that adults triple the amount of beans they now consume. And a new FDA-approved dietary guidance message says that diets including beans may reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Bean growers hope to make the most of this good news about one of natures healthiest foods. It provides a unique opportunity to really get the message out about dry beans, says Tim Courneya, executive director of Northarvest Bean Growers Association, which represents 3,000 farmers in Minnesota and North Dakota. Nutrition speaks nationwide.
Northarvest is leading a national effort to craft a marketing campaign that promotes the health benefits of eating beans. We want a unified message that will allow the entire bean industry to speak with one voice, Courneya says.
Beans for better health
Navy, kidney, pinto, black and other dry beans are high in protein, contain no saturated fat or cholesterol, and pack more fiber than many whole grain foods, according to the American Dry Bean Board. They also provide important nutrients, such as calcium, iron, potassium, selenium, magnesium and folic acid. In many parts of the world, beans are an important dietary staple, says Stacey Zawel, executive director of the Beans for Health Alliance, which promotes beans worldwide, but Americans are not eating enough.
More beans on the table
By spreading the word about beans contribution to good health, growers aim to lift consumption, Courneya says. After peaking in the 1940s at 11 pounds per person, annual U.S. bean use fell steadily until the mid-1970s, bottoming out at about four pounds per person. In the late 1970s, consumption began to rise, but has now plateaued at just under eight pounds per person.
American farmers grow nearly a dozen types of dry beans. About 80 percent of the crop is sold for domestic use. Minnesota, one of the top five dry bean states, produces about 115 million pounds of dry beans a year, worth more than $40 million in farm cash receipts.
Virtually the entire bean crop is processed into food products, such as canned and dry-packaged beans and soups, chili, baked beans and Mexican dishes.
AURIs food scientist, Charan Wadhawan, has helped many Minnesota entrepreneurs develop and test new bean products, such as bean dips, burritos, chili, tamales and specialty bean flours.
Exploring new uses
Taking a cue from the corn and soybean industries, growers are looking for nonfood bean uses, as well. The corn and soybean people have really paved the way, Courneya says, by creating a model of what can be done as far as industrial uses for crops.
In January 2005, Northarvest Bean Growers commissioned North Dakota State University to review scientific literature on the composition and alternative uses of dry beans. Growers expect this review to spark research on industrial applications for dry bean extracts at the USDA National Center for Agriculture Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill. Potential new-use opportunities could include:
" Insect and fungi control
" Black plastic
" Starch-digestion inhibitors
" Oxidation inhibitors
AURI is also working on nonfood uses, including burning damaged beans for energy. Dry beans are a small agricultural sector, accounting for just 1.5 million acres nationally, compared to more than 73 million acres each for corn and soybeans. That makes it hard for dry bean growers to compete for value-added research money, Courneya says. Still, he adds, Weve started the search. And we may find a component in beans that could be used in a new way.