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.
Beans are comparable to meat when it comes to calories. But they really shine in terms of fiber and water content, two ingredients that make you feel fuller, faster.

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, 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.

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: phytochemicals, compounds found only in plants. Beans are also high in antioxidants, a class of phytochemicals that incapacitate cell-damaging free radicals in the body. (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.

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