Purple Carrot Nutrition
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Recipe: Black Bean Brownies

by Janelle Zakour RD

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This recipe has been a best-seller since I've opened my private practice. It's super quick and super easy. Plus there are a host of benefits in the ingredients that hardly make this brownie just a dessert.

But because they are 'black bean brownies', let's discuss black beans.

Just because.

We Caribbean people largely associate black beans or almost any bean for that matter with rice. Rice and peas, rice and beans. You mayyyy even find it in soup sometimes. But who on earth puts beans in dessert?? Many people are actually quite hesitant to try it because of that cultural association with savoury food.

But this itty bitty little black bean has so many unusual benefits that you may very well want to start putting it in everything!

Let's discuss.

1) They are a good source of resistant starch
Legumes are typically made up of carbohydrates, protein and fibre. While 70% of the calories in black beans come from carbs (and most of these carbs are starch), black beans are unusual because the majority of their starch comes in the form of "resistant starch."
This term is pretty self-explanatory. This starch 'resists' digestion. Most of the starch passes through the upper digestive tract without being broken down. Since this breakdown does not happen, the starch is not converted into simple sugars and our blood sugar level can avoid a spike. This helps to avoid any rise in insulin levels to counteract the sugar spike.

For those who are familiar with the glycemic index (GI), these processes give black beans a low GI rating. And low GI foods, such as black beans, keep blood sugar levels stable (great for managing diabetes) and can help prevent heart disease. Win-win!

Resistant starch is also a 'prebiotic' as it 'feeds' the good bacteria that is already in our body. How do you ask? The good bacteria in our lower digestive tract breaks down the resistant starch and provides fuel for the cells in our large intestine in the form of short chain fatty acids (SCFA). So by the time the SCFA get to the large intestine, there's lots of food available for the cells there.

Pretty cool eh? Resistant starch is probably one of my favourite topics of discussion.

2) They are high in antioxidants
Black beans are on par with fruits and veggies in terms of their phytonutrient benefits too. It is rich in a water-soluble phytonutrient called anthocyanin which give many foods deep shades of red and purple. These anthocyanins are largely responsible for the rich black colour that we associate with black beans. Recent studies have looked closely at the composition of the 'skin' of the bean, and have shown it to be rich in three particular anthocyanins: delphinidin, petunidin, and malvidin. In other words, they are a super rich source of antioxidants that have the potential to be extremely valuable for cancer fighting.

Just a note about the cancer fighting bit. Black beans are an uncommon source of selenium which prevents inflammation and decreases tumor growth rates. They are also high in folate, which plays a role in DNA synthesis and repair, thus preventing the formation of cancer cells from mutations in the DNA. Then there is the presence of a type of plant glycoside called saponins which prevent cancer cells from multiplying and spreading throughout the body.

3) They are naturally low in sodium
Maintaining a low sodium intake is essential for keeping blood pressure at a normal level. Black beans are naturally low in sodium and contain potassium, calcium, and magnesium, all of which have been found to decrease blood pressure naturally. Aim to purchase dried black beans as canned black beans have been processed with sodium (you can remove a good bit of the sodium though).

4) They are high in zinc
Black beans can even be considered as a potentially important source of dietary zinc. While most beans are notorious for their phytate content,** research suggests that the phytates in black beans after cooking do not directly lower the bioavailability of zinc. This pretty much means that our bodies are able to directly absorb and utilize this mineral. Zinc acts an an antioxidant to boost our immune systems and helps to keep us resistant to infections.

5) They are great for bone building
In addition to zinc, black beans also contain iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, manganese and copper and these contribute to building and maintaining bone structure and strength.

6) Beans, beans, they're good for your heart
The black bean's fibre, potassium, folate, vitamin B6, and phytonutrient content (those anthocyanins we talked about), coupled with its lack of cholesterol, all support heart health.

7) The more you eat, the more you...
Hahah I'm not finishing off that local rhyme. Black beans are great for digestion and maintaining a healthy digestive tract thanks to it's high soluble and insoluble fibre content. Dietary fibre acts as a 'bulking agent' in the digestive system and helps to prevent constipation.

High fibre foods increase satiety and reduce appetite, making an individual feel fuller for longer, thereby lowering overall calorie intake. This is commonly recognized as an important factor in weight loss and weight management. 

Which brings me to the last point... something that I know most readers will appreciate.

6) They can help with weight loss
Did you know that you can also improve your fat metabolism when you eat black beans? The phytonutrients that it contains appear to block expression of genes that would result in the production of enzymes designed to increase our blood fat levels. Secondly, these phytonutrients contribute to "reverse cholesterol transport" ( which simply means that the phytonutrients help deliver cholesterol back to our liver from other locations in the body, therefore lowering blood cholesterol levels.) The fibre in black beans also helps to lower the total amount of cholesterol in the blood and decrease the risk of heart disease.

While we do not yet have large-scale human studies (most of them were done on rats) to document these specific health benefits in humans, we do have large-scale human studies showing a general tendency toward better overall fat metabolism and reduction in metabolic syndrome risk when legumes are included as part of a routine meal plan.

And a great way of including them into a meal plan, is making them into delicious brownies!!

Check out the recipe below :)

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Black Bean Brownies

Yields 9 brownies

Adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups black beans, drained and rinsed well
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup quick oats (rolled oats pulsed in a food processor works well too)
1/4 tsp pink Himalayan salt
1 cup pure honey (maple syrup if you're doing vegan)
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
1/4 cup virgin coconut oil
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Combine all ingredients except chips in a food processor and blend until completely smooth.
3. Stir in 3/4 cup of the chocolate chips, then pour into a greased 13 x 9 pan (or line it with parchment paper for easy clean up).
4. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of chocolate chips over the top. For a smooth and uniform look, stick the pointy end of the chip directly into the batter.
5. Bake for about 20 minutes, then let cool at least 10 minutes before trying to cut. It helps to chill them overnight before cutting.

Enjoy!

So just to reiterate...

Black beans can help us to keep our blood pressure and blood glucose levels stable, they're immune boosting, they fight cancer, prevent heart disease and diabetes, they decrease the risk of obesity, keep us from becoming constipated, feed the healthy bacteria in our gut, reduce overall mortality AND they help us to lose weight??

BONUS FACT!!
Plant foods such as black beans are considered incomplete proteins because they are low or lacking in one or more of the amino acids we need to build cells. Incomplete proteins found in plant foods can be mixed together to make a complete protein. Pairing legumes with a food from the staple group gives us a complete protein.

Black beans + oats = PROTEIN BROWNIES

Think it's best that we keep a stash of these brownies around at all times...

See? Black beans are so much more than just a savoury side dish with rice. They're magical little legumes that pack quite the nutritional punch!

**(phytates are antioxidant compounds found in whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and have the ability to bind to certain dietary minerals such as iron, zinc, manganese and calcium and slow their absorption.)