Packed with fiber, protein and iron, beans deserve a prominent place in your healthy eating plan. They're also inexpensive and readily available in supermarkets and health food stores. Beans are sold in three major forms, and each has its pros and cons, but no matter what type you choose, these tiny foods are a nutritious addition to your diet.
Many types of beans, such as black, navy and Anasazi, are sold dried. They're the least expensive per serving of any kind of bean, and are simple to prepare and include in a variety of recipes. Dried beans, particularly their outer skins, supply a variety of phenolic compounds, which are powerful antioxidants that help protect you from cellular damage that can turn into heart disease or cancer. In fact, cultures that rely on dried beans as a major food source have lower incidences of serious health problems compared to cultures that don't eat as many serving of dried beans, according to the Michigan Dry Beans website.
Canned beans, such as pinto, kidney and fava, are another inexpensive option, but they aren't always as nutritious as dried beans because of the processing involved. Many manufacturers add a large dose of sodium to the beans during the canning process. The salt helps preserve the beans and also enhances their flavor, but this also makes them not as healthy as beans packaged in a different way. However, canned beans are convenient to use because it's easier to open a can rather than soak and cook dried beans.
Certain types of beans, such as green and Lima, are often frozen at their peak of freshness, making them a highly nutritious addition to your diet. They cost a bit more than canned beans, but they take just minutes to heat up, which means you can put a healthy side dish on the table quite quickly. Most frozen beans are made without the addition of sodium and this can make them a healthier option compared to canned beans.
Though the most time-consuming to prepare, dried beans are your cheapest option. Soak 1 pound of dried beans with 10 cups of water in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours, or soak the pound of beans with 10 cups of water in a crock pot for 2 to 3 hours. Add the cooked dried beans to soup, stew or casseroles, or flavor them with fresh herbs and spices and enjoy them as a tasty side dish. If you opt for canned beans, look for reduced-sodium or no-salt-added versions. These healthier versions retain all of their nutrients but don't include a huge dose of added salt. The same goes for frozen vegetables. Choose versions that don't have added salt or sauces because they are not as healthful. Add canned and frozen beans to vegetable soup, pasta salad or chili.
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