Beans: Protein-Rich Superfoods
High in fiber and antioxidants, beans aren't just good for the waistline, they may aid in disease prevention, too.
More than just a meat substitute, beans are so nutritious that the latest
dietary guidelines recommend we triple our current intake from 1 to 3 cups per
week. What makes beans so good for us? Here's what the experts have to say:
Chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease all have
something in common. Being overweight increases your chances of developing them
and makes your prognosis worse if you do, says Mark Brick, PhD -- which means
that trimming your waistline does more for you than make your pants look
better. Brick, a professor in the department of soil and crop sciences at
Colorado State University, is investigating the ability of different bean
varieties to prevent cancer and diabetes.
Beans are comparable to meat when it comes to calories, says Dawn Jackson
Blatner, RD, a registered dietitian at Northwestern Memorial Hospital's
Wellness Institute in Chicago and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic
Association. But they really shine in terms of fiber and water content, two
ingredients that make you feel fuller, faster. Adding beans to your diet helps
cut calories without feeling deprived.
Our diets tend to be seriously skimpy when it comes to fiber (the average
American consumes just 15 grams daily), to the detriment of both our hearts and
our waistlines. One cup of cooked beans (or two-thirds of a can) provides about
12 grams of fiber -- nearly half the recommended daily dose of 21 to 25 grams
per day for adult women (30 to 38 grams for adult men). Meat, on the other
hand, contains no fiber at all.
This difference in fiber content means that meat is digested fairly quickly,
Brick says, whereas beans are digested slowly, keeping you satisfied longer.
Plus, beans are low in sugar, which prevents insulin in the bloodstream from
spiking and causing hunger. When you substitute beans for meat in your diet,
you get the added bonus of a decrease in saturated fat, says Blatner.
Still not convinced? In a recent study, bean eaters weighed, on average, 7
pounds less and had slimmer waists than their bean-avoiding counterparts -- yet
they consumed 199 calories more per day if they were adults and an incredible
335 calories more if they were teenagers.
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
The bottom line? Beans are pretty much the perfect food, Brick says.