Beans, the Best Nutritional Bang for Your Buck

A nearly perfect food to add to your daily diet is beans, also known as legumes.  Besides being very budget-friendly, they are highly nutritious and offer all the following:

Antioxidants

Beans are one of the best sources of antioxidants, which destroy the free radicals produced in your body that lead to chronic illness like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.  The color of the bean is an indicator of the amount of antioxidant, with black beans having the highest level, followed by red, brown, yellow and white beans.  The most active antioxidants in beans are anthocyanins, which also happen to be responsible for their color.  Anthocyanins help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease; they are anticancer and reduce the spread of cancer cells while also helping to prevent the formation of tumors; they improve memory and help prevent cognitive decline.

Fiber

Beans are also one of the best sources of dietary fiber, with one cup of beans providing 13  – 15 grams, which is over half of the recommended daily requirement of 25 g.  Fiber is important for gut and digestive health; beans are a low-glycemic food because the fiber is digested more slowly and keeps your blood sugar levels from spiking, also helping to prevent diabetes; this also keeps you feeling fuller longer and helps you control your weight.

Protein

If you’re trying to make your meals more plant-based, beans are one of your best sources of protein as a substitute for meat.  A cup of beans provides 15 g of protein, no cholesterol, and 1 g polyunsaturated fat.  A 5 oz steak will have 44 g of protein, 120 mg of cholesterol and 12 g of mostly saturated fat.  The beans will also give you 26 g of complex carbohydrates and 15 g of fiber while the steak has no carbohydrates and no fiber.  While the beans alone are not a complete protein, add some brown rice or other whole grain or seed, either at the same meal or some time throughout the day to make a complete protein.  The budget bonus is that while a serving of beef will cost you upwards of $1.00, a serving of cooked dry beans comes in at about 7 cents.

Vitamins and Minerals

The nutrient value of beans includes folate, calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium.

Make a habit of adding beans to your diet daily or as often as you can.  There are many varieties to choose from, including black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), soybeans, white beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans, and peanuts which are also part of the legume family.

If you’re starting with dry beans, soak them overnight for faster cooking and to reduce the gas-producing compounds.  Cook them in enough water to keep them covered while they simmer until tender.  Don’t be afraid to add flavor from onions, garlic, and herbs like oregano and thyme.  Don’t add salt until the end to keep the beans from getting tough.  If you’re using canned beans, rinse them before adding them to your recipe.

Beans can be the main dish or a side.  Use them in chilis, enchiladas, burritos, tacos, salads, soups, dips, veggie bowls, pastas, casseroles, on top of baked potatoes, in curries, or even in desserts like brownies.  Use any of these options to make beans an integral part of your mindful eating habits.

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