Are Rice and Beans just “Fillers”?

Are rice and beans just fillers? When traditionally prepared these whole foods are quite nutritious. Inexpensive, healthy, and versatile-they should be in everyone's diet.

A sweetheart friend of mine got me thinking about this topic. You see, she’s taken several trips to Haiti, loving on orphans, pouring into their lives, and sharing the Good News of Jesus with them (she’s amazing!).

In a country struggling to keep its citizens alive, you can imagine that they don’t get to enjoy the plethora of gourmet food products that we do. Children often go hungry for lack of money and resources, so when they can get their hands on some food, they’ll take whatever they can get.

One day I was discussing the perils of modern technology on our food system, many of them disagreeing with my view on simple food (I love having respectful conversations about our differences though). One of the gals started talking about the whole foods she tries to get a lot of because of the low cost, you know, rice, beans, and believe it or not grass fed, local beef for less than $4 a pound (jealous!). The Haiti friend commented that because of the low cost they use rice and beans at the orphanage as “fillers”.

I know what she meant because I do the same in my house. A meal can be stretched into two or three by adding a few cups of inexpensive beans or rice. A few tasty bits of meat, loads of broth, and a few veggies are a whole lot more filling with rice or beans mixed in!

But after that conversation, which ended with the 5 of us enjoying a delicious meal together (there were beans!) I got to thinking about our perspective of rice and beans as “fillers”. These two things are whole, real foods and while you can get more processed versions (canned beans and instant rice) surely they’ve got more merit than just being “fillers”.

We have beans and rice a lot in our house, sometimes to stretch a meal and sometimes as a dish all their own like these Crock Pot Baked Beans! First, let’s talk about some of the controversy that surrounds these two foods so you can get the healthiest version at the lowest price.

The Controversies

You may remember a few years ago that studies showed high levels of arsenic in rice. Some people said to only eat organic rice, others told us that brown rice was higher in arsenic than white, and still others told us to stop eating rice altogether. Why all the contradictory information?

For the longest time, I always got the brown rice at Chipotle. I’ll admit it right now, that when the person behind me got white rice, I would look at them to see who was ordering the “unhealthy” rice. Then, I stopped getting any rice as I learned more about the harm that grains can have on our health.

Now, I get white rice. Didn’t see that coming huh? I don’t necessarily think one rice is superior to another, but I do believe that unless properly prepared whole grains are more difficult for us to digest. Now, brown rice does have more nutrients than white, but if our body is unable to absorb those nutrients, then what’s the point? Since the nutrients in brown rice will not be totally absorbed if not prepared properly so I opt for white rice when I’m out.

Canned beans are so convenient, too convenient for their own good! Unfortunately, most of these cans contain bisphenol A. BPA made the news several years ago as the chemical in plastics that may be linked to behavioral disorders. And while many companies have either taken BPA out of their products or now offer alternatives without it, a lot of canned goods still contain BPA. Dry beans are better not only because they don’t contain BPA, but they’re also cheaper!

The last controversy is one that certainly will not be welcomed by many, it’s the recommendation of giving rice to babies under one. Food companies, the media, and health professionals alike recommend rice as one of the first foods to give babies. If this is the first time you’ve heard that rice may not be the best for your baby, I highly recommend you do your own research, but I’ll leave you with the basics of the controversy. Grains and rice are only properly digested by the enzyme amylase and studies show that amylase in the pancreas (needed for digestion) may not be present until as late as two years old, others say one year. Unable to digest these foods, we see more allergies (and not necessarily just to food), behavioral issues, and more in children later one. Again, I highly encourage you to ask questions and do your own research on this topic.

Real Food Crock Pot Baked Beans: a sure hit for your next cookout.

The Versatility

Both rice and beans are extremely versatile. They can be enjoyed many ways just on their own with a few seasonings and herbs and both are great when added to casseroles and soups. Want a fun way to change up your real food breakfast? Create a Mexican bowl with scrambled eggs, rice and/or beans, salsa and cheese! When prepared properly, these two foods aren’t just fillers. They add flavor and nutrients to so many dishes. I also highly recommend cooking both in a rich, homemade broth for added nutrients and flavor. My No-Effort, Crock Pot Bone Broth is great for this.

Long-Term Storage

These dried goods can both be stored long-term. If using in the next few weeks, store in airtight containers in the pantry (love my Mason jars!). Brown rice stores best in the freezer because the oils of the grain can oxidize over time leaving it rancid. Storage outside of the freezer is fine for up to 6 months. White rice can be stored for several months, even years, in a food grade bucket sealed tight.

Similarly, beans can be stored in food grade buckets in a dry, cool place for a couple years. Grocery stores and bakeries often toss their food-grade buckets after they’re done with them, so ask around to get your hands on some free buckets!

Traditional Preparations

The Nutrition

Rice contains no gluten, the hard to digest protein found in most grains. It also contains only small amounts of phytic acid, the antinutrient found in grains, legumes, and seeds that prevents our body from absorbing all the vitamins and minerals found in those foods. Brown rice particularly is high in B vitamins and contains iron, vitamin E, and protein.

Dry beans are low in fat and packed with protein, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. The starches found in beans break down into two complex sugars, farrinose and stachyose, neither of which can easily be broken down by our bodies. Traditional preparation breaks down some of these starches for us.

Rice and beans are inexpensive, whole foods full of nutrition. They should be in everyone’s diet, and not necessarily as fillers. But if we look at how each were prepared traditionally, we have something to learn.

You see, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds contain phytates and enzyme inhibitors that not only inhibit how our bodies digest the foods and assimilate the nutrients, but these same inhibitors can also rob our bodies of certain nutrients. So, if you treat your diet like your medicine then you’ll want to know how our ancestors prepared these foods.

Get the Most Nutrition from Rice/Beans

Traditional preparation of both rice and beans included soaking, sprouting or fermenting/souring. Soaking is probably the easiest method and you’ll need four things: Time, Acidity, Liquid, Warmth.

Soaking traditionally happened for at least 12-24 hours and included an acidic medium. Add a tablespoon of kefir, yogurt or buttermilk to the water. From the first batch save half a cup of the soaking liquid, using it for the next. I keep mine in a Mason jar labeled “soaking liquid” in the refrigerator.

To begin simply rinse rice/beans (this removes impurities and surface starches) and cover with water and tablespoon of acidic medium. Allow to soak in a warm place for 12-24 hours. I usually soak mine in the oven with the light on. Save at least half a cup of the liquid for next time. Cook accordingly.

Soaking is really that easy and the payoff is huge. Phytates and enzyme inhibitors are decreased or even eliminated, allowing our bodies to fully benefit from the range of nutrients in these whole foods.

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