Feb 282011

nutrition beansBeans are a humble vegetable, often considered a poor man’s meat or a vegetarian staple. For many of us, beans are only an occasional food – a side order of beans and rice, black beans scattered on a salad, or a bowl of split pea soup on a cold day. Many people are even surprised that beans are actually a vegetable because they seem to straddle more than one food group – vegetable, protein and carbohydrate.

That combination is exactly why beans qualify as a nutrition superstar. They are high in protein while being packed with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals like their veggie cousins. Add to that a rich complement of complex carbohydrates and fiber, while at the same time being low in fat and sodium. They help lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease, and help to control weight and blood sugar. Which beans are the best to eat?

There are over 16,000 bean varieties with more than 100 types grown around the world. Like vegetables, all beans are good for you, so eating a wide variety is the smartest thing to do. Beans belong to a family of plants called legumes. Oval or kidney shaped are called beans; round are peas; flat or disk-shaped are lentils. Though they may be different in shape, color, texture and flavor, they are remarkably similar in nutritional value.

Here is a list of some of the commonly available beans:

  • Red beans are also called Mexican beans. They have more antioxidants than blueberries and are the top source of iron.
  • Kidney beans can be large or small, dark red or pink. They rank at the top of the antioxidant list and are the best source of fiber.
  • Black-eyed peas, also called cowpeas or field peas, are an excellent source of folic acid with 1 cup providing 90% of your day’s supply.
  • Black beans are also called turtle beans. They are another antioxidant super star , an excellent source of minerals, and help to regulate blood sugar.
  • White beans are also called navy or great northern beans. They are an excellent source of minerals and fiber.
  • Lima beans can be baby or regular size and are also called butterbeans. They are the top source of potassium among beans, as well as being an excellent source of phytochemicals.
  • Pinto beans are also called calico beans. They are an excellent source of minerals and contain as much antioxidant power as blueberries.
  • Cranberry beans are also called roman beans. They provide almost a day’s supply of folic acid and close to 10% of your calcium in 1 cup.
  • Soybeans are the protein powerhouse providing 60% of your daily need in one cup.

Now that you are ready to start incorporating more beans into your diet, here are a few additional tips:

One cup of cooked beans contains approximately 12% of your daily calorie need while providing over 50% of your fiber need, (about 13 grams), 30% of protein, almost 70% of folic acid (a B vitamin), and over 25% of iron.

Canned beans are a great alternative to dry but they can be high in sodium. If you drain and rinse canned beans before you eat them, you can reduce the sodium content by at least 40%. If you add canned beans to a recipe, don’t add salt and again you will be reducing the overall sodium per serving. A 15-ounce can of beans equals 1.5 cups of cooked beans. One pound of dried beans, usually purchased in a bag, equals 2 cups of uncooked beans or 6 cups of cooked beans. Enjoy!!

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