Rice and Beans, Lightened Up

Did you know combining rice and beans creates a perfect protein? Problem is, many folks sabotage this healthy dish by adding too much fat. Done right, rice and beans can be a simple, spiced-up masterpiece that’s delicious and healthy.

Did you know combining rice and beans creates a perfect protein? Problem is, many folks sabotage this healthy dish by adding too much fat. Done right, rice and beans can be flavor-packed, quick-and-easy choice. Here is how we do it.

Traditional Rice and Beans

Rice and beans is a classic in Latin American and Caribbean cuisine. Some pep it up with their favorite spices and others add in pork or sausage for flavor -- it varies from family to family, region to region. A typical serving of rice and beans contains around 340 calories, 19 grams of fat and 6 grams of saturated fat (if not more). Neither rice nor beans contain a significant amount of fat — so where does all the fat come from? Read on.

Rice and Bean-Lovers Beware!

Many of my Dominican clients tell me they flavor their rice and beans with pork of some sort -- bacon and smoked sausage, both high in cholesterol and saturated fat, often take center stage.

Because there are so many versions of this dish, I vetted tons of recipes to find the most commonly added unhealthy ingredients. One recipe added loads of artery-clogging coconut milk (about a cup per serving), which is not unusual in Caribbean dishes. Others used canned pork-flavored beans or refried beans, which ups the fat immediately. Sometimes you’ll find too much cheese — a little bit is harmless and adds wonderful flavor but mind those portions.

The Rice

Use white or brown versions, whichever floats your boat. Of course, brown will boost the fiber but takes a bit longer to cook. For those brown rice virgins, start with a mix of brown and white rice. (I’ve done it a few times.) Cooking the rice in chicken stock also adds flavor without too many extra calories. Portions are especially important to keep calories in check — stick with about 1/2 cup of cooked rice per serving (about 100 calories).

The Beans

Beans are nutritional powerhouses -- half a cup of canned or home-cooked black beans have about 114 calories and 7.5 grams of protein. This is a reasonable serving. Use red, black or whatever bean suits your fancy (I usually go for the black). Because many flavored canned beans have high amounts of sodium and fat, opt for the unflavored ones, or soak your own. This way you control the ingredients.

Bring on the Flavor

Herbs and spices are integral to making your rice and beans stand out from the rest. Try cilantro, oregano, or cayenne (Dana likes to add a pinch of cumin). Add some spice with a jalapeno pepper or a dash of hot sauce (my favorite!). A splash of flavored vinegars such white wine or cider, or a squeeze of fresh lime juice also works wonders.

And, of course, don’t forget the veggies. Purist might only want straight beans and rice, but peppers, onions, tomatoes and garlic are a low-cal way to bring out more flavor -- and drop in some more nutrients. If you must add pork or sausage to your dish, go for turkey sausage or 1 to 2 slivers of bacon (just for taste).

    Recipes to try:
[Photo: Picholine / Recipezaar]
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