My World Famous Bean Salad
I read a great deal about nutrition, heart health, diabetes, mental fitness, cancer prevention, and other health-related topics. A lot of nights, I’ll look back over the things I learned that day and feel somewhat like a college student… right down to the coffee breath.
After years of this healthy research, I still marvel at the simplicity of the common thread: Food. For better or worse, we actually are (to a very large degree) what we eat. The food we put into our mouths today will show up on, and in, tomorrow’s scale, blood work, scans, x-rays, and lab work.
Some people say it’s expensive to eat healthy, but it can actually be a little bit cheaper – IF you know what to cut out and what to substitute with. The same people who say it’s too expensive to eat a healthy diet will do so with a cart loaded down with ground beef, hot dogs, potatoes, and chips. A quick trip to the produce aisle, bean aisle (does a cheaper food exist than bags of beans?!), and/or frozen food aisle could easily replace each of these unhealthy choices with healthier choices. But why? Why should you eat less meat and more healthier foods such as beans, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains?
Health Benefits of Eating Less Meat
- Heart Health. Even the most aggressive and ambitious meat eater would have to agree that eating less meat reduces your risk of heart disease. He or she may do it begrudgingly, but if they’re remotely reasonable and remotely well-read, they’ll have to admit it. Fatty red meats and processed meats are high in saturated fat, which raises LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases risk of coronary heart disease. Plus, this is kind of off the official health news grid… but, seriously, do we even KNOW everything that’s in all of the processed meats on the market?
- Prevent Cancer. I’ve read, for years, about the meat and heart disease connection. We all have. But I’m also reading more and more (as in almost daily) about the link between cancer and meat. Cancer is one of the scariest health concerns of this or any time. It’s like a monster under the bed – a huge, scary monster that no one really likes to talk about or even think about. And yet, there are many proactive things we can do to keep the monster from ever moving in! Wouldn’t we be dimwits NOT to take advantage of the information we have? The British Journal of Cancer published a ground-breaking study involving 35,000 women. The women who ate the most red and processed meat were found to have the highest risk of breast cancer. What’s more, research has linked meat consumption to colon, prostate, pancreatic, and gastric cancers in addition to breast cancer. The Cancer Project, a non-profit group, explains it this way: Foods with high levels of fat artificially boost the hormones that promote cancer.
- Weight Control. When we replace meat with vegetables and fruit, we take in fewer calories (assuming, of course, our vegetable of choice isn’t mashed potatoes loaded with so much cheese you attract the attention of mice from 8 counties). Even when we think we’re making healthy meat choices, we shoot ourselves in the foot by having the meat fried. No one can look at a pan filled with melted shortening and think that’s healthy. When we control our weight, we slash our risk of a whole plethora of diseases from diabetes to hypertension.
- Brain Health. What’s good for the heart is good for the brain. So a heart-healthy diet is your first weapon against Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, and memory loss. Your brain loves the healthy nutrients that are found in fruits and vegetables, while (like your heart) it is bruised by processed meat, fried foods, and fatty red meat. Brain health is something everyone should think about as much as heart health.
It has never been easier to eat more meatless meals than it is today. Boca Burgers, Morningstar Farms, and a host of other meat substitutes are actually downright delicious. Be sure to not go overboard, though, you’ll want to keep an eye on the sodium. Throw Boca Crumbles into spaghetti sauces, chili, homemade soup, sloppy joes, Manwiches, etc. No one will ever know… trust me. I use these meat substitutes regularly. They’re delicious! I’m especially wild about Morningstar Farms’ Black Bean Burgers. Heat them in a little olive oil and eat them on a wheat bun with picante sauce – absolutely out of this world.
One of the biggest health benefits (or opportunities) of eating less meat may be the fact that it’ll cause you to eat more of the foods that are beneficial to your health. If you aren’t filling up on fatty red meat or processed meats, you’ll eat more green vegetables, beans, whole grains, and fruits.
Something I’ve started doing is ridiculously simple: Before eating a particular food, I ask myself, “How will this benefit my health?” If a great answer doesn’t present itself, I skip it and find an option that does come with a great answer. For example, a few days ago I was out around lunchtime (shopping for one of my daughter’s birthday!). It was almost time to return home when I approached a favorite fast food restaurant. As if they weren’t tempting enough, the sign out front reminded me that one of their juiciest sandwiches was on sale right now. In the time it took me to drive past it, I realized the sandwich provided ZERO nutritional value to off set its calories. ZERO.
Some people visualize red meat or fried foods clogging their arteries. I’d have to admit that’d be pretty effective too!
I drove by the fast food restaurant and came home. I made myself a bowl of tomato soup (thank you Campbell’s) and a spinach, carrot, and red onion salad. I got JUST as full as I would have gotten with the big greasy sandwich but I didn’t have the “side” that comes with it. Not fries…… I’m talking about the distasteful side of guilt. The one that eats at you all day. As it was, after my heart healthy soup and salad, I FELT lighter and healthier.
It’s an absolutely addictive feeling.
My Bean Salad (pictured at the top): When I make bean salad, which is often because my husband loves it, I sneak in extra vegetables like celery, onion, artichoke hearts, carrots, and sometimes even chopped spinach. Heart healthy Olive Oil is also used in the salad, which only adds to its nutritional value. There’s something incredibly filling and satisfying about beans. When you’re trying to eat less meat, you’ll sometimes have that unmistakable craving where your brain says, “Buddy, give me some meat!” Beans will satisfy this craving. Without the unhealthy side side of guilt.