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Old Cookbooks Interesting, Not Always Accurate

As I sorted through my cookbook col lect ion recently, I came upon one I had purchased at a museum. An Army Wife’s Cookbookwas filled with recipes and home remedies. From the book, I learned how to take care of a gunpowder burn with linseed oil and lime. (I hope I never need to use that remedy.)

I read about a homemade cleaner and preservative for teeth, which included borax, myrrh and camphor. To cure headaches, the book recommended heating a bag of oats and using it as a pillow.

Equipped with instructions in the book, I could make my own soap from lye and grease. If a family member experienced hair loss, a potion consisting of “your best brandy” and black tea was recommended. You were to apply it to the scalp and not drink it.

As I looked through the old cookbook, I came upon something interesting about dry edible beans. According to the book, “Beans, while an excellent food for the robust and healthy and for persons leading an active life, are considered unsuitable for persons of sedentary habits and for the invalid and convalescent.”

As with home remedies, nutrition recommendations change regularly as scientific knowledge moves forward. Beans, in fact, still are noted for their health benefits, but they are OK for people of all ages. We need to drink plenty of liquids and get some physical activity to maintain digestive function and avoid constipation when adding fibrerich foods to our diet.

Beans are an economical source of protein with great versatility on the menu. They can count either as a protein or as a vegetable. Cooked dry edible beans are naturally low in fat and contain no saturated fats, trans fats or cholesterol. They also have an abundance of antioxidants and phytochemicals (natural plant chemicals), which have been shown to reduce the risk of some types of cancer.

Beans contain complex carbohydrates that the body digests slowly. This makes them a good choice for diabetics to help control their blood sugar levels.

For people trying to manage their weight, beans are low in fat and an excellent source of fibre and protein. Fibre and protein will help the body feel full faster and longer.

Beans are a good source of the B vitamin folate, the natural form of folic acid. Folic acid is used to build cells and is especially important for women of child-bearing age. Consuming adequate amounts of folic acid can reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube birth defects.

Beans are gluten free, so they provide a source of fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals for people who cannot consume wheat or other gluten-containing foods. They come in a variety of colours and forms and can be used as main dishes, side dishes, salads, pasta, dips and spreads and even in baked goods. Dry beans require a soaking process to soften them and, therefore, take some planning when they are to be used.

Canned beans, such as kidney or black beans, are convenient additions to recipes. However, canned beans are higher in sodium, so be sure to drain the liquid and rinse them with water to remove some of the sodium. Try using sodium-free spices, such as onion or garlic powder, to reduce the sodium content of your recipes.

So enjoy those old cookbooks. Just keep in mind that scientific knowledge changes over the years.

– Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L.R.D., is a North Dakota State

University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist

and associate professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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