Beans have something else that meat lacks, Blatner says: phytochemicals, compounds found only in plants (phyto is Greek for "plant"). Beans are high in antioxidants, a class of phytochemicals that incapacitate cell-damaging free radicals in the body, says Brick. (Free radicals have been implicated in everything from cancer and aging to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.)
In a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, researchers measured the antioxidant capacities of more than 100 common foods. Three types of beans made the top four: small red beans, red kidney beans, and pinto beans. And three others -- black beans, navy beans, and black-eyed peas -- achieved top-40 status.
The bottom line? Beans are pretty much the perfect food, Brick says.
A Flavor-Packed Bean Recipe
Tuscan Vegetable Soup
Makes 12 small bowls of soup (or 6 large bowls)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (about 1 large)
1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
3 teaspoons minced garlic
4 cups coarsely chopped green cabbage
14.5-ounce can Italian-style stewed tomatoes
2 cups sliced celery
2 cups diced (1/2-inch pieces) carrots or baby carrots
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth (vegetable broth can be substituted)
3 cups diced (1/2-inch pieces) potato
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
3 cups zucchini, sliced into half-moons (cut zucchini in half, then cut into slices)
15-ounce can red kidney beans (white kidney beans can be substituted), rinsed and drained
Garnish: Shredded Parmesan cheese (about a tablespoon per serving)
1. Heat olive oil in large, nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, thyme, and garlic and sautÃ© about 3-5 minutes.
2. Stir in the cabbage, the canned, stewed tomatoes (including liquid), celery, and carrots, and sautÃ© 8-10 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, potatoes, fresh basil, zucchini, and kidney beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover saucepan, and let simmer about an hour.
3. Spoon into soup bowls and top each serving with a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.
Per serving without Parmesan cheese (if 12 per recipe): 138 calories, 7 g protein, 24 g carbohydrate, 3 g fat (0.9 g saturated fat), 3 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 113 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 17%.
Per serving with Parmesan cheese (if 12 per recipe): 168 calories, 10 g protein, 24 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat (2.4 g saturated fat), 11 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 241 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%.