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]
TELL US: What's a must-have for making your rice and beans the most flavorful?

Next Up

Rice Pudding, Lightened Up

I was never a rice pudding fan until a few years ago when my middle daughter starting requesting it daily. Since then I’ve been experimenting with a few variations of this classic to help lighten up the creamy calories while still maintaining its delicious flavor.

Baked Beans, Lightened Up

Always represented at picnics and barbecues, canned baked beans can be a deceivingly high-calorie side dish. Try making your own more flavorful (and lightened up) version.

Green Bean Casserole, Lightened Up

With the fried onion topping and heavy cream and cheese mixed in, a typical green bean casserole loads serves up 550 calories in just one side dish. You can still enjoy the classic flavor while slimming down some of the fatty ingredients. Here’s how.

Dips, Lightened Up

Blue cheese, artichoke and other cheesy dips can sabotage your waistline before the main course begins. Lighten up these dips with a few tricks; they’ll still taste fantastic.

Tiramisu, Lightened Up

In honor of Italian week, we’re lightening up this all-time favorite dessert. Find out how you can enjoy this delectable classic without all the guilt.

Tacos, Lightened Up

Fried shells, fatty meats and piles of high-cal toppings can make tacos a belly buster. But they don't have to be; use our tips to give a make healthier tacos.

Brownies, Lightened Up

I’m a brownie kind of girl—my friends and family can vouch for me. There are in fact ways to lighten up this delectable dessert. What’s the secret? Read on to find out.

Lasagna, Lightened Up

With meat, cheese and oodles of pasta, it’s no wonder this bad boy carries a hefty total of 1,000-plus calories per serving. But you can create a lasagna masterpiece that is leaner -- and here’s how.

Quiche, Lightened Up

What would a brunch spread be without quiche? While most consider quiche a "light" choice, you might be surprised at the calorie count. But never fear, brunch lovers -- there are many ways to reduce the calories and fat in this Mother's Day staple.

Steak, Lightened Up

Cook up the perfect steak for Dad this Father’s Day. With a few small tweaks and ingredient swaps, Dad can enjoy his juicy steak while the rest of family can breathe easy that Dad won’t have a coronary.