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Toss these ingredients into your recipes for an instant nutrient blast.

What if I told you there was a simple way to crank up your nutritional intake without really changing what you eat?

The secret lies in nutrition-boosting "add-in" ingredients, like beans, nuts, flaxseed, and fruits and veggies. All you have to do is toss them into the recipes you're already using, or prepared foods you'd be eating anyway.

The only trick is actually remembering to add them. So try keeping these awesome add-ins out on your kitchen counter, or make them the first thing you see when you open up your refrigerator.

Here is my list of four health-boosting extra ingredients, along with information on their health benefits, and tips on how to use them.

1. Beans

I call beans "protein pellets" because they're big on plant protein (1/2 cup gives you around 9 grams of protein, 15% of the recommended daily intake for a woman). They also come with a healthy supply of carbohydrates (27 grams per 1/2 cup) and fiber (11 grams per 1/2 cup). Some beans, like soybeans, red kidney beans, and pintos, even add some heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Legumes (beans and peas) have been recommended for better blood glucose control in people with diabetes. Some research has shown that when plant protein replaces animal protein -- as beans do in vegetarian dishes -- it may reduce the risk of developing kidney disease in people with type 2 diabetes. Further, beans are named specifically in the American Institute for Cancer Research advice for lowering cancer risk.

Soybeans are unique to the bean family in that they have high plant estrogen content. Over the past few years, research has tried to answer the question of whether eating more soy during menopause can help keep hot flashes away. One recent Italian study suggested that perhaps soy isoflavones work by improving mood -- so you simply care less about your hot flashes!

Further, eating soy (under certain conditions) may actually make radiation more effective during prostate cancer treatment by making the cancer cells more susceptible to radiation, according to research by Gilda Hillman, PhD, with the Karmanos Cancer Institute.

The best way to get soy, and its full arsenal of benefits, is probably as a whole food -- in other words, as close as possible to whole soybeans. You can try tofu and soy milk as well as edamame, canned soybeans, and dried "soy nuts."

Try adding beans of all kinds to:

  • Rice and pasta salads
  • Green salads
  • Soups and stews
  • Casseroles
  • Tomato salsa
  • Mexican dishes such as quesadillas, enchiladas, and burritos

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