Nature’s Most Perfect Food

Beans, beans, the musical fruit,
The more you eat, the more you . . .
{ahem}

We’ve been eating a lot of musical fruit here in Bomberger-land lately. In fact, dried legumes have been on the menu for the last three nights — and are likely to be on the menu again in the very near future.

Pinto beans. Brown beans. Kidney beans. Garbanzo beans. Lentils. Split peas. Black eyed peas. Great northern beans. Navy beans. Fava beans. Lima beans. Black beans. Crowder peas. Sixteen bean soup.

The culinary possibilities are nearly endless, wouldn’t you say?

beans

Yummy yum yum.

 

It’s not that beans are my favorite food. They’re not. And believe it or not, the fact that they’re not my favorite food is actually the point of the exercise.

You’re curious.

Right. I’ll try to explain:

I recently finished listening to the audio book of David Kessler’s The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite(I completely forgot to mention audio books in my nightstand tower roundup, but yes, I do love to listen on my commute whenever I can get my hands on a good book.)

Just like many Americans, I’ve struggled with portion control and compulsive eating throughout most of my adult life. If I see good food, I eat good food. If I see more good food, I eat more good food. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that I happen to enjoy distance running and other forms of strenuous exercise, I would likely have had a serious weight problem long before now. Just like many Americans.

In his book, Kessler blames this pandemic problem on what he calls “hyper-palatable food”: food loaded down with brain-happy-fying sugar, fat, and salt — to the point of being nigh on irresistible — and then doled out in ginormous portions to emotionally vulnerable eaters. (Hint: that’s all of us.) He calls it the “cue-urge-reward-response” cycle.

Here’s how the cycle works: we see hyper-palatable food. It looks/smells/seems good. We eat it. We feel really good — for a moment (it is delicious, after all). This then sets us up to be even less able to resist hyper-palatable food the next time we encounter it.

Now, don’t for a minute think that I’ve been ignorant or completely undisciplined about nutrition up to this point. I’ve always liked lean meat and healthy veggies. I cook, serve, and eat them often. (My mama raised me well.) But I also take pride in being a good cook, which means (if all goes according to plan) when I’m done cooking my lean meat and healthy veggies, they usually end up tasting really very good. They taste so good, in fact, that it’s really very hard for me to stop myself going back for seconds, thirds, and even fourths (and then, of course, helping the children with their plates, because that’s the kind of caring mother I am).

This brings me back to the beans.

I don’t particularly mind beans, but I don’t particularly like them either. No matter how much sugar, fat, and salt you add to beans, they still pretty much taste like beans. (That is, like liquid gel caps somebody filled with mud.)

They’re palatable, but they’re not hyperpalatable.

They’re also — as my kids will tell you cheerfully if you ask them — “nature’s perfect food.” (Turns out it’s not bacon, after all. Who knew?)

Dry beans and peas are high in fiber (soluble and insoluble), iron, and protein. They contain several essential vitamins, are made up largely of complex carbohydrates, and are also — you guessed it — extremely low in sugar, fat, and salt.

They’re also cheap. Two dollars worth of beans can easily feed a family of six. How awesome is that?

When I first suggested to Ken and kids that we consider radically increasing our bean consumption, I expected major resistance. But I didn’t get it. Ken wanted to know, “When do we start?”

The kids have been great sports, too. They ate pinto beans the first night and sixteen-bean-soup the second night with few complaints and no gagging — fake or real. (It may have helped that I bought a loaf of lovely, crusty-on-the-outside, squishy-on-the-inside sourdough bakery bread to serve alongside and help us ease our way into an otherwise unpalatable diet, but whatever the reason, they’ve been troopers.)

Here’s how easy the cooking has been this week: in the evening, I put our beans of choice in cold water to soak over night. In the morning, I rinse the beans; add water, garlic, salt, and a little ham or other meat (not much); and pop them in the crock pot to simmer on low all day. When I get home from work, I pull out a few fresh fruits and veggies, slice into the bread, and ring the dinner bell.

(No, we don’t have an actual dinner bell. I’m speaking figuratively here. It’d be awesome if we did have a dinner bell, though . . . )

One of the children asked tonight if we wouldn’t get bored eating beans, bread, and veggies most evenings.

In response, Ken and I asked her, “What’d you have for lunch at school today?”

“A peanut butter sandwich, apple, granola bar, and juice box.”

“And yesterday?”

“A peanut butter sandwich, apple, granola bar, and juice box.”

“And last week?”

“A peanut butter sandwich, apple, granola bar, and juice box.”

“Aha,” we said. (We can be pretty clever when we work together.)

Maybe I’m being premature to write about such a major paradigm shift just three days into it. I’ve fallen off many dietary wagons before, and chances are at least fair to middling that I’ll fall off this one, too, sooner or later. Even so, I feel compelled to share this week’s adventure with you, knowing that the likelihood of my regression renders these modest jottings all the more urgent.

So here’s my report:

We ate beans this week. All of us ate beans — even the children. And while beans aren’t anybody’s favorite, we all enjoyed our meals together. Everyone but the baby finished their first helpings and no one went back for seconds. We all left the table feeling full but without having overeaten.

I felt healthier this week — dietarily speaking, at least — than I have in a long time.

The kids and I recently watched a BBC documentary on the eating habits of Henry VIII. It offered a fascinating look at what a person will consume if given free reign — literally, in the case of this reigning monarch — to eat as much as he wanted of the most palatable food the kingdom could offer. Meats. Sweets. Sweet meats. Sweets and meats . . .  baked into savory pies.

Henry VIII, as you may remember from history class, was, by the end of his life, morbidly obese. What’s more, by all accounts, his eating habits contributed heavily to both his chronic health problems and his earlier-than-strictly-need-be demise.

In fact, as the documentary concluded soberly, Henry VIII would likely have lived a longer, healthier life if he’d eaten the food doled out in the servants’ quarters: small amounts of meat, whole wheat bread, and pottage — a thick boiled stew made of whatever foodstuffs happened to be handy. Meat (if it could be gotten). Grains. Vegetables (including lettuce, apparently. Ew.). Oh, and also: peas and beans.

Lots of peas and beans.

I gave the kids a little break from the beans tonight and made them a box of Kraft macaroni to split between the four of them. (If you know your Kraft macaroni, you’ll know that one box split four ways means meager servings all around.)

The oldest polished off her fatty, salty, sugary noodles almost immediately and asked what else there was to eat.

“You’ll find beans on the stove,” I told her. “Help yourself.”

“I think I will,” she said, returning to the table with an appropriately modest portion.

“You know,” she said as she tucked in, “These aren’t too bad. I may be starting to like beans after all.”

She polished the bowl soon after — and did not go back for seconds. #Winning.

Beans, beans, they’re good for the heart.
The more you eat, the more you . . .
{Good night, everyone.}

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