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It's good to be a bean counter – when you're counting extra servings that add up to better health! The most recent USDA Dietary Guidelines recommended that Americans triple their bean consumption – from the current average of one cup weekly to three. When you look at the load of research backing up beans health benefits, its no wonder we ought to be eating more.

While beans are a well known source of heart-healthy fiber and high-quality protein, theyre less famous for their off-the-charts antioxidant capacity. Most varieties also provide half the folate you need, are an excellent source of phosphorus, a good source of potassium, plus a decent dose of iron and zinc. The "B" in beans also stands for B vitamins: Thiamin (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), B5 and B6 which together help promote healthy skin, hair, muscles and brain function.

Below are listed the nutrient highlights of some of the more commonly consumed bean varieties.

Red: Top antioxidant bean – packing an even bigger antioxidant punch than blueberries when compared gram-per-gram. Reds are also the top bean source of iron (providing nearly 30% of womens daily needs and 65% of mens). Iron supports the formation of hemoglobin, a blood protein that transports oxygen.

Kidney: Second ranking antioxidant bean on the USDA’s list and nearly ties Navy beans as top fiber source. If youre among the 50% of Americans who fail to get enough fiber then keep a few cans of kidney beans in the cupboard.

Black-eyed: In addition to providing the inspiration for one of the coolest hip-hop bands, these black-eyed beauties are the top bean for your bones! They have the most calcium of any bean, plus folate (which may help reduce the risk of fractures) and magnesium (adequate levels of which may lower the risk of osteoporosis).

Black: In addition to also ranking among the antioxidant bean superstars, black beans are the top bean source of magnesium - a mighty mineral lacking in the diets of 64% of men and 67% of women. Magnesium has been shown to help with several conditions including the risk of colon cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and even PMS.

White (Navy, Great Northern): The Navy variety of the white bean is the top bean source of fiber. Just one cup provides half your fiber needs for the day. Also, the Great Northern variety is the top bean source of phosphorus, a mineral needed for healthy bones and teeth. Thats especially important for young women (ages 9-18), 40% of whom do not get adequate phosphorus.

Lima: Hypertension a concern? Then load up on limas, the top bean source of potassium, a mineral needed for blood pressure regulation. Given that 90% of men and nearly 100% of women dont get enough potassium, limas should be on your list! Lima beans also contain the phytochemicals coumestrol and saponin, compounds that may impart anti-cancer benefits.

Pinto: Top bean source of selenium - a trace mineral linked to lower prostate cancer risk. Pintos are also ranked higher than the blueberry in antioxidant power.

While the legumes listed above are "best for you" among better known varieties, some more obscure beans deserve a place on your plate. One – called the cranberry or Roman bean – provides a third of your daily protein needs and nearly all your folate needs, helping to lower the risk of birth defects as well as promote heart health.


The piping-hot news on the phytochemical research front may have nothing to do with the price of beans -- but it sure has a lot to do with their nutritional value! Black beans have an antioxidant value equal to or higher than equivalent servings of other well-known superfoods, such as grapes or cranberries, a recent study found. In fact, a 3.5 ounce serving of black beans contains ten times the antioxidants of an equivalent amount of oranges. Reap the health benefits of these black beauties by checking out this issues featured recipe: Caribbean Black Bean and Fruit Salad.

Whats more, two to four cups a week of cooked beans of any variety can cut your cardiovascular disease and cancer risk, according to a study at Michigan State University in East Lansing. Beans also provide protein and dietary fiber with no saturated fat, no cholesterol, and are good sources of calcium, iron and folate. The fiber helps you feel full longer, promotes regularity, lowers blood cholesterol levels and stabilizes blood sugar levels.

A 1/2 cup portion of cooked beans (approximately 60-90g) contains about 20-135 calories, depending on the variety: 114 calories for black beans, 105 for lima beans, 112 for kidney beans, 134 for garbanzo beans and 22 for green (snap) beans. Beans are naturally low in fat and 1/2 cup of beans provides 2-5 grams of dietary fiber and 2-11 grams of protein. Studies show that high dietary folate reduces risk of vascular disease and all beans supply differing amounts of folate. Healthful diets with adequate folate may reduce a woman's risk of having a child with a brain or spinal cord defect. What's more, two to four cups a week of cooked beans of any variety can cut your cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer risk, according to a study at Michigan State University in East Lansing. With so many varieties to choose from - pinto, black, garbanzo, navy, kidney, white - beans should be a regular part of a healthy diet.

A Little History and More Bean Info

Beans are intricately woven into the fabric of human history. The first 'permanent cultures' evolved when hunter-gatherers and nomadic people began tilling the earth and developing systems of agriculture, and beans were among the first cultivated crops. This progression served as a gateway from what could be considered a 'primitive' existence into a more stabilized one, which allowed for long term living situations to be established. With the knowledge of agriculture came the domestication of animals and the art of creating tools and implements. These three things combined, altered the course of human history in an unparalleled way, and beans played an integral part.

There is evidence of peas that has been carbon dated back to 9750 BC, found by archaeologists Thailand. Evidence also exists that suggests, that native people of Mexico and Peru were cultivating bean crops as far back as 7000 BC.

The use of lentils has been traced back as far as 6750 BC in parts of the present day Middle East. Chickpeas, lentils and Fava Beans have been found in Egyptian tombs that date back at least 4000 years. About the same time, (around 1500 BC) parts of present day Asia were growing and using soybeans.

In a completely different part of the world, Native Americans and Mexicans were working with the haricot bean, a diverse category that includes runner beans, kidney beans and lima beans, and it's adaptability helped it to become a stable crop. It is apparent that beans were an integral part of the development of many cultures throughout the world.

The early farmers who were growing beans also grew grains. (wheat, barley, millet, rice and corn) Beans and grains have a symbiotic relationship in which the amino acids of each complement one another in such way as to form a complete protein, which is the foundation for the growth and development of many life forms, including humans. Regional and cultural combinations such as lentils and rice, Lima beans and corn, and chickpeas (garbonzo beans) and couscous are a reflection of this correlation. The Native Americans exemplified this with their mixed cultivation of beans, corn and squash. (also known as the 'three sisters') With the onset of the age of European exploration came an increased exchange of beans and grains, as well as other potential crops, and as a result, the range of possibilities was expanded.

Beans are still an important part of world agriculture and are an essential part of a balanced diet in many countries.

Beans have been used throughout the world for thousands of years. They come in hundreds of shapes sizes and colors, are versatile and amazingly convenient because they can be dried and stored for years. Soaking beans for a couple of hours brings them back to life, activating enzymes, proteins. minerals and vitamins.

Beans can be eaten raw, sprouted or cooked, ground into flour, curdled into tofu, fermented into soya sauce, tempi and miso. They are excellent in chilis, soups and salads.

Content provided by the Dole Nutrition Institute,

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