Beans & Sustainable Nutrition – 7 Healthy Habits to Build a Balanced Diet

Today’s food conversation goes far beyond nutrition and health issues. More and more people want to know how their food choices affect not only their personal health but also the health of the planet. As the link between healthful eating patterns and environmental sustainability continues to grow, consumers are increasingly hungry for simple strategies to make sustainable, healthy eating part of their routine.

It’s abundantly clear that what we put on our plate has a big impact, so here are 7 simple habits to build a sustainable, balanced diet.

#1: Eat Plant Forward

A plant-forward diet is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses (beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils), nuts, seeds and healthy oils. Make these foods the foundation of your diet, and enjoy more moderate amounts of meat, seafood, or dairy. It does not mean you have to become a vegetarian or vegan; it simply means making plant foods the star and bulk of your daily meal pattern, and using meat products in smaller quantities.

#2: Eat More Beans

You might already know that beans are a nutrition powerhouse, rich in protein, fiber and high in antioxidants. What you may not know is that they also have a very positive environmental story to tell. Bean plants promote soil health. The roots of bean plants contain rhizomes, or nodules that contain bacteria that convert nitrogen (a greenhouse gas) in the air into a form plants can use. Even after the beans are harvested, some of the nitrogen in the bean’s roots stays in the soil. This means the farmer may be able to use less fertilizer on that field the next year. For your personal health and the health of the planet, we should all eat more beans! For strategies to enjoy more beans and make them delicious check out our interview with Amy Myrdal Miller, a registered dietitian and culinary nutrition expert.

#3: Swap Meat for Plant-Based Proteins

Plant-based proteins are a unique group of foods that contain nutrients similar to vegetables but have enough protein per serving to make them comparable to animal-based foods.  Plant-based proteins include beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds. Consuming plant-based proteins is associated with a number of positive health outcomes including a reduced risk of certain chronic diseases. They also have a lower environmental impact than animal-based foods. Eating more plant-based proteins does not mean eliminating meat, but rather looking for opportunities to consume more plant-based proteins and make substitutions when appropriate. If you’re making hamburgers or taco meat, sub half the ground beef with mashed pinto beans. If you’re making chili, reduce the meat and up the beans. Enjoying a sandwich? Try hummus and use half the deli meat. There are countless ways to enjoy more plant-based proteins.

#4: Build Meals with Beans + Grains

Beans and whole grains are both plant-based sources of protein and key components of a healthy diet. Most plant-based proteins are not complete proteins (like animal-based foods) because they lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids the body cannot produce. However, beans and grains are complementary proteins, meaning that one provides the amino acid(s) the other is missing. Therefore, when you eat beans and grains together, it’s a complete protein. There are countless ways to enjoy grains. If you’re looking for a new recipe, try our Brown Rice and Kidney Bean Salad with Roasted Peppers, Apples and Sherry Vinaigrette or a Pinto Bean & Quinoa Burger with Sriracha Mayonnaise.

#5: Practice Meatless Mondays: Meatless Monday is a movement that encourages people to skip meat one day a week. This simple strategy is not only good for you and the world, but it’s also good for your wallet.  A ½ cup serving of pinto beans (cooked from dry form) costs about $0.07 per serving. A 3-ounce serving of ground beef (90% lean) is about $1.14. That means dry beans cost 15 times less! The Bean Institute has over 50 delicious vegetarian recipes – enough to try a unique recipe every Monday this year.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

#6: Look Local and Eat Seasonal: The flavors of seasonal fruits and vegetables are a joy to savor. Eating foods in the season they are harvested not only provides exceptional flavor, but also reduces the number of miles food travels and often makes them more affordable.  What’s great about beans is that they’re always in season. Beans are allowed to dry in their pods before being harvested, so they can safely be stored for years. When you’re shopping at the farmers market or enjoying foods from the garden, think about opportunities to enjoy these fresh, seasonal foods and pair them with always-in-season beans.

#7: Don’t Waste It: Nearly 40% of all food in the U.S. never gets eaten. That’s like buying five bags of groceries and immediately throwing two in the trash. When food ends up in a landfill, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon monoxide.  Every person has a responsibility to reduce food waste. Before you grocery shop, make sure you have a plan. If you’re eating out and have leftovers, bring them home and actually eat them. We all can do our part to reduce food waste.  Looking for more ideas? Check out our 10 Simple Ways to Enjoy More Taste with Less Waste.