Nature's Perfect Food

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GROCERY GURU

Beans have the highest antioxidant content, period. Plus they're delicious, low cal, and they fill you up fast

IF I COULD EAT only one food for the rest of my life, it would definitely be beans. I love the way they taste, but they also fill me up for hours. Plus, they make me feel like a health champion. That's because beans have such an amazing nutrition track record. Bean eaters are associated with smaller waist sizes and a 22% lower risk of obesity. They also take in less "bad" fat and one-third more fiber than those who avoid these nutritional gems.

One cup of beans provides a whopping 13 g of fiber--which is half of what we need daily--with no saturated fat. Beans are loaded with protein (about 15 g per cup) and dozens of key nutrients, including a few most women fall short on--calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Studies also tie beans to a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and breast and colon cancers. And surprisingly, red, pinto, and kidney beans are the highest antioxidant food, beating out both blueberries and cranberries.

We've all heard the funny songs, but nutritionally speaking, beans are no joke. The latest Dietary Guidelines advise eating 3 cups every week, and the canned varieties do count! Keep bloating (and embarrassing gas) to a minimum by popping a Beano supplement before you eat or sipping peppermint tea after. Here, my bean shopping tips:
Buy canned: They're just as healthy

You may have heard that bagged beans are best, but they need to be soaked and then boiled for hours before they're ready to eat. Who has the time or patience for that? Bagged beans are generally less expensive (about $1 per 16-ounce bag versus $1.50 for a 15-ounce can) and have no added ingredients, including salt. But canned varieties, which are ready to eat, can be just as nutritious.
Go for low sodium

Canned low-sodium beans are exactly the same price, with two-thirds less sodium. That's a decrease from about 720 mg per cup (a third of the daily max of 2,300 mg) to 220 mg. Rinsing beans in a colander under cold water for 1 minute will wash away about a quarter of the sodium.
Look for vegetarian versions

Baked and refried are two of my personal favorites because both are seasoned and versatile. I sometimes eat baked beans (beans baked or stewed in sauce) on whole grain toast for breakfast, and I love using refried pinto and black beans in dips, burritos, and even dinner salads. But both varieties are traditionally prepared with lard or bits of pork, which add calories, cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fat. Luckily, you can easily find vegetarian versions of each these days. Choosing vegetarian refried beans reduces the saturated fat content from 16% of the daily value to zero per cup and adds a bonus 2 g of protein--and they taste just as delicious.
Avoid dented or bulging cans

Small dents and dings are okay, but if you find a badly dented or swollen can in your cupboard, or if a can spurts liquid when opened, toss it out right away using disposable gloves. These are all possible signs of botulism, a potentially deadly form of food poisoning that generated canned-food recalls as recently as last summer. If you're ever unsure, think, When in doubt, throw it out. For more on food recalls, visit recalls.gov/food.html; for info on how to discard contaminated cans, check cdc.gov/botulism/botulism_faq.htm.

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By Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD

CYNTHIA SASS, MPH, RD is Prevention's nutrition director. As a registered dietitian, she's been helping real women healthfully navigate grocery aisles for more than a decade.

HEALTH BENEFITS Bean by Bean

The key nutrients in each bean vary by type. Give your body a broader range and reap the anti-aging and disease-fighting benefits by mixing it up.

BLACK Rich in anthocyanins, the same heart disease- and cancer-fighting antioxidants that are found in grapes and cranberries.

GARBANZO (CHICKPEAS) A recent study found that a chickpea-fortified diet slashed "bad" LDL cholesterol levels by almost 5%.

KIDNEY The thiamin (vitamin B1) in this bean protects memory and brain function; a deficiency has been linked to Alzheimer's disease.

NAVY Potassium regulates blood pressure and normal heart contractions.

PINTO Fiber helps stabilize blood sugar, lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.

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My Favorite Bean-Based POWER MEALS

Cup for cup, beans provide about twice as much fiber as most veggies, and you can count them as either a protein or vegetable in your meals. Here, three fast fixes that will fill you up for less than 500 calories:

TACO SALAD Top 2 cups of bagged baby greens with 1/2 cup of rinsed and drained canned black beans. Top with 1/4 cup of salsa, sprinkle with reduced-fat shredded Cheddar cheese, and garnish with 2 tablespoons of chopped avocado.

MEDITERRANEAN BEAN BOATS Spoon 2 tablespoons of rinsed and drained canned garbanzo beans into each of 4 large romaine lettuce leaves. Top each with a few strips of roasted red pepper and garnish with chopped onions and pine nuts.

RUSTIC BEAN SAUTÉ In a medium skillet, sauté 1/2 cup of rinsed and drained canned kidney beans with 1 cup of canned Italian-style tomatoes and 1 cup of frozen cut green beans. When heated through, transfer to a dish and dust with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

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