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Antioxidant Superstars: Vegetables and Beans

Beans and a host of vegetables top the list of antioxidant-rich foods

The Antioxidant Winner: Beans continued...

One-third cup of cooked beans has 80 calories, no cholesterol, lots of complex carbohydrates, and little fat. In addition, beans are full of B vitamins, potassium, and fiber, which promote digestive health and relieve constipation. Eating beans may help prevent colon cancer and reduce blood cholesterol, a leading cause of heart disease, researchers say.

Beans are also a great protein source, says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director of nutrition therapy at The Cleveland Clinic, and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "We used to say that you needed to eat grains with beans to make it a complete protein, but we no longer think that's true," she tells WebMD. "If you get some grains sometime during the day, you'll get the benefit of complete protein."

If beans bother your digestive system, try canned beans, she adds. Also, there's Beano, an enzyme supplement that breaks down gas-producing substances in the beans. Drinking more fluids also helps, as does regular exercise. Both help your intestinal system handle the increased dietary fiber.

"To sneak beans into your diet, one really easy thing is to put them in vegetable salads," Moore says. "If you're into convenience, mix some canned beans with canned soup or with a frozen entrée. You don't have to use all the beans in the can. Just scoop out what you want, rinse them, and keep the rest in the canned juice." Frozen beans work well, too.

Among the other non-bean antioxidant stars Prior's research uncovered include:

  • Steamed artichoke hearts (7,904)
  • Baked russet potatoes (4,649)
  • Raw spinach (1,056)
  • Baked sweet potatoes (1,199)
  • Eggplant (1,039)

For a sample of what happens during cooking, note how the antioxidant levels change for some foods:

  • Raw asparagus (2,021), steamed asparagus (1,480)
  • Raw red cabbage (788), cooked red cabbage (2,350),
  • Raw yellow onions (823), cooked yellow onions (1,281)
  • Raw broccoli (700), cooked broccoli (982)
  • Raw tomatoes (552), cooked tomatoes (415)

Artichoke hearts are available in cans and jars, and are great in salads. "Some of the tastiest ones are loaded with oil, which means you get lots of fat and calories," Moore points out. "So just use a little. You don't have to have the entire jar. Think small, maybe one or two artichoke hearts, since they're so packed with antioxidants." Using canned artichokes in water or frozen, precooked artichoke hearts will help you rein in the extra calories, she adds.

To get more spinach in your diet, add chopped fresh spinach or frozen spinach to soups. Use fresh spinach in sandwiches instead of lettuce. Or make a pesto from spinach and walnuts, Moore suggests.

But don't stop with these star veggies, Moore advises. "Don't overlook all the others, with all their own special benefits. Each has its own unique nutritional footprint. Some have more fiber or different arrays of vitamins and minerals. By mixing them up, you're going to enhance what you're getting nutritionally."

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Reviewed on September 11, 2008

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