Tag Archives: Diabetes

Giving Thanks for Beans with Constance Brown-Riggs

For this month’s Q&A, we talked with Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN, a certified diabetes educator and author of Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes, a guide that helps African-Americans with diabetes learn how to prepare and enjoy traditional ethnic fare from the American South and the Caribbean, and The African American Guide to Living Well with Diabetes, which takes a body/mind/spirit approach to daily self-care. A past spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Constance is also frequently quoted as a featured expert in national magazines such as Essence, Real Health, Diabetic Cooking, and in newspapers across the country.

 Bean Bulletin: Connie, you’ve focused much of your work on helping people with diabetes take pride in their food culture. How do beans fit into the food cultures of the Africa, the American South, the Caribbean and West Indies?

 CBR: Beans have been a staple of traditional diets of the African diaspora for thousands of years. In fact, traditional heritage diets were plant-based with very small amounts of meat used as flavoring.

 BB: There are so many nutrition and health benefits of beans. What do you tell your patients and readers with diabetes about the role of beans in the diet?

 CBR: Beans of all types are packed with protein and fiber, which can help stabilize blood sugar levels. Fiber-rich foods like beans slow the conversion of sugar or starch into glucose. The result is more stable blood sugar after meals.

 BB: We’re rather obsessed with the nutrition benefits of beans, including their potassium content and low glycemic index. And we know you’re concerned about rates of hypertension and Type 2 diabetes among African Americans living in the U.S. We also know many patients with diabetes think they need to avoid beans because “they’re too starchy.” What do you tell your patients and clients about the role of beans in healthful diets for people with diabetes?

 CBR: Research shows that a diet rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Beans are a good source of potassium and should be included in the diet. It’s so important that I clear up any confusion regarding beans starch content. I help my patients understand that starch is a type of carbohydrate. Ultimately it is the glycemic index of a food and total amount of carbohydrate in a meal or snack that matters. Foods like beans, that are high in fiber have a low glycemic index. If they balance starchy food and fiber in the meals for an ideal number of carbs, they can and should enjoy beans!

 BB: We’re approaching the New Year, a time when many of us think about weight loss. Do you have advice for our readers who counsel patients about the role of beans in weight loss diets?

 CBR: Absolutely! When it comes to weight loss, eating beans gives your patients more for less. Because beans are packed with fiber and protein they provide satiety—a greater sense of fullness after a meal. And beans are naturally low in fat providing fewer calories per serving compared to a serving of animal protein.

 BB: We know beans are a part of traditional diets in many parts of the world. We also know many people who move to the U.S. acclimate to our eating habits and lose touch with their food traditions that are often more healthful than the typical American diet. How can we as nutrition and health educators help our patients embrace their food cultures and traditional foods?

 CBR: Culture and heritage can be unique motivators for positive lifestyle change. It’s important for nutrition and health educators to increase their knowledge of their patients’ cultural foods and eating patterns, and then engage in conversations with patients regarding their family’s heritage and food traditions. Often the response is one of nostalgia as the patient recalls how their family used to eat…how the food was grown and prepared. Connecting that experience with the health benefits of the traditional way of eating is a strong motivator for them to reclaim their food traditions.

 BB: This issue of the Bean Bulletin is focused on gratitude and giving thanks. When you think about beans, what makes you thankful?

 CBR: I’m thankful that I have a high-quality source of plant-based protein that I can feel good about recommending to my patients. I’m thankful beans are affordable, versatile, and they taste good, too! I’m also thankful for the variety of beans throughout the regions of the African diaspora—from black beans in the Caribbean to pinto beans in Central and South America.

 BB: Finally, what are some of your favorite bean recipes? Do you have a favorite bean, or do you cook with and develop recipes for many types of beans?

 CBR: My husband who is from Louisiana—where red beans are very popular—is the cook in our home. Canned and dry red kidney beans are always in our pantry. Red kidney beans and rice, accompanied by a piece of warm corn bread, is one of my favorite meals. However, growing up, lima beans and black eyed peas where the staples in our diet.

 BB: Connie, thanks for sharing your insights and expertise with us. We are exceedingly grateful for your time and willingness to contribute to this issue!