The more you eat….the better for your heart! As one who began to embrace a completely plant-based, whole foods diet two years ago (after being a vegetarian for 20+ years), I had been finding it challenging to keep my meals low in fat, yet still satisfying, filling, and delicious. I found I was relying heavily on nuts and seeds in my salads, pilafs, and as snacks throughout the day when the hunger pangs would strike between meals. Then I saw the movie “Forks Over Knives,” ( in which Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, retired heart surgeon and author of the book “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” ( extolled the virtues of eating a plant-based, whole food diet and eliminating processed foods, including all types of oil, as well as minimizing consumption of saturated fats (even those in the plant kingdom, like coconuts, nuts, seeds, and avocados), to maintain optimal heart health. I had been struggling with a few extra pounds accumulated over the last year, and whereas I was always able to modify my activity or diet slightly and drop the weight rather easily; this time, the scale just wouldn’t budge and my clothes continued to feel a bit snug. When I attended the Vegetarian Summerfest at Johnstown PA ( at the beginning of the month, I had the honor of hearing Dr. Esselstyn and his wife Ann speak about their “Plant Perfect Diet.” They advocate eating lots of dark leafy greens and other veggies, whole grains, preferably unprocessed, and beans and legumes.

During our meals at this 5-day conference, I noticed that a lot of the dishes, though entirely vegan, contained oil (ingredients listings were posted for every dish). To avoid this, I found myself frequenting the salad bar twice daily and piling up my plate with lots of greens, other vegetables, and beans, along with whatever whole grain was available. I ate until I was completely full and satisfied at each of those meals. And lo and behold, I left Summerfest feeling lighter, my clothes were more comfortable….and it dawned on me….eating the beans had kept me from craving nuts and seeds during that week. I came home and continued to include a different variety of beans during every afternoon and/or evening meal. And I haven’t felt the slightest bit deprived, unsatisfied, or in need of an almond fix. Almonds had been my favorite. I would soak them overnight, dry them in my dehydrator, and practically devour the entire batch before I could put them away. I believe now that my body had been crying out for more protein, and by trying to fulfill that need with nuts, I was eating more calories and fat than I needed and subsequently, feeling bloated and carrying more weight than was comfortable for me.

Beans are very nutrient dense foods that are high in complex carbohydrates and protein and low in sugar and fat. They contain between 21 to 25% protein by weight, which is much higher than most other vegetables. They’re packed with vitamins and minerals, along with several types of phytochemicals. They are rich in lignans, which may play a role in preventing osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain cancers. In addition, there are flavonoids in beans that are believed to help reduce heart disease and cancer risk. Additionally, beans may help to reduce blood cholesterol levels due to their plant stanol esters, or phytosterols. (

The digestive issues that are often associated with consuming beans are a result of the complex sugars of the raffinose family. These sugars must be broken down by enzymes that are not available in the human digestive system, so they are left available for microbial action in the colon. This results in the gas production and flatulence commonly associated with eating beans. To remove these sugars and make the beans easier to digest, beans can be soaked overnight, then rinsed before cooking.

Canned beans are a convenient way to throw together a delicious, satisfying meal in no time. I recommend looking for beans without added salt, and the best brand available that uses cans with no BPA in the lining is Eden Organic We stock multiple varieties in the pantry at all times, and they come in very handy for those crazy, hectic nights, when I can throw together a meal quickly by creating a bean dip, pilaf, or tortilla that is delicious and packed with nutrition. When time permits, I really do love the taste of freshly cooked beans, so I soak beans overnight, then rinse and cook them in my pressure cooker the next day. The pressure cooker reduces cooking times significantly; most beans after soaking can be cooked to perfection in the pressure cooker in less than 20 minutes.

Here are some of our favorite bean-based meals, all quick and easy to prepare, and big hits with my kids as well:

Hummus/Bean Dip (made with garbanzo, cannellini, or black beans): Use 2 cans of Eden Organic beans, one drained and one undrained, or 2 cups freshly cooked beans + about ¼ cup water or bean cooking liquid. Add 1-2 cloves garlic, juice from one lemon, 1 tsp cumin, and process in the VitaMix ( or food processer until smooth. I also like to add 2-3 tsp curry powder for an Indian flavored bean dip, or a few sun dried tomatoes and some basil for a more Italian version. I serve this in a whole grain tortilla with some fresh raw kale or spinach for the kids, and I personally love it over salads and diluted with a little balsamic vinegar. It’s also great for dipping with carrot and celery sticks and cucumber chips, as well as brown rice crackers.

For a great filling for tortillas and another salad topping, I like to mix a can of drained, rinsed black beans or pinto beans, a jar of salsa, and an avocado, along with a little garlic and cilantro; blend in the VitaMix or food processer until smooth or a little chunky, if you prefer more texture. I will often sneak a handful of leafy greens, like spinach or kale in as well, although it’s not as pretty….but it tastes great and adds a boost of nutrition.

Another quick favorite is a pilaf, made with brown or black rice, or quinoa. I make the grain as directed, generally the night before, then steam or sauté some veggies (whatever I have in the fridge) with basil, ginger, and/or cilantro, and add them to the grain. Throw in a can of drained, rinsed beans of your choice (I love Adzuki beans for this), some raisins, and mix well. The kids love this topped with chopped almonds, and I like to add a little balsamic vinegar to mine instead of the nuts. The possibilities are endless, so try new varieties of beans, grains, and veggies and come up with your own favorite nutritious, low-fat, and delicious recipes. I’d love to hear about your creations! To share, please post here or on my Facebook page: Eat-Well Stay-Well