Earlier today, we included beans on our top 10 list of cancer-fighting foods. After all, they have one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants, which, as we know, fight cell-damaging free radicals that contribute to cancer development. But there’s a lot more than just antioxidant power behind these superfood legumes. Read on to find out what the humble bean can do for your health.

Perfect Nutrition

Beans are an excellent source of dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins, and are naturally low in fat, calories, and sodium. On top of all that, they’re a great way to increase your protein intake. Beans can easily be combined in recipes with other protein sources, vegetables, and starches like corn, whole wheat, or brown rice to create ‘complete proteins’ containing all the necessary amino acids our bodies require to function well. They offer sustained nutrition and energy due to the fact they have a low glycemic index, meaning they provide energy to the body over a long period of time.

Health Benefits

Beans have numerous healthy qualities that make them excellent additions to any diet. Because of their protein content, they’re a perfect choice as a meat substitute. By reducing high-fat protein sources like red meats in your diet, and substituting low fat beans as your source of protein, you are fighting high cholesterol, high blood pressure, as well as a host of other ailments that can occur from a diet high in fat. Although the benefits vary between different types of beans, all beans help regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, and improve digestion.

The humble little kidney bean contains a healthy dose of thiamin, which regulates memory and brain function. Many beans also contain isoflavones, which can ease menopause symptoms and improve bone and prostate health, just to name a few benefits. Choose any bean and you’ve chosen a super food well worth the title.

Unlimited Possibilities

There is virtually an endless variety of beans and legumes to choose from, as well as a mountain of recipes to try when adding beans to your healthy diet. A short list includes navy beans, black beans, lentils, soybeans, great northern beans, mung beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, black eyed peas, and kidney beans. They can be cooked in everything from chili and soup to salads and casseroles. Don’t limit yourself to just the classic rice and beans. Choose a new salad or a tasty dip for chips. Hot, cold, mashed, or whole, the bean will constantly surprise you with its versatility.

Dried beans are the cheapest way to have this super food on hand. To cook them, simply rinse the beans, cover in water and soak overnight. Then, set them in a big pot, cover them with fresh water, bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour or so until they are soft. If you don’t want to wait overnight, just increase the cooking time to about two hours. You will also find many recipes for cooking dried beans in a crockpot or pressure cooker. Do a bit of research or follow the directions on the package for best results.

No matter how you choose to eat this super food, your body will thank you. You can eat enough beans to satisfy even the heartiest appetite without worrying about fat or calories. Beans are economical, a great source of dietary fiber, and are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Besides all that good news, a bag of beans in your pantry means you’ve always got protein in your house, too. As far as super foods go, beans easily make it to the top of the list.

Feature image: kugel via photopin cc

Originally published on Healthy Way to Cook in June 2011 by Colleen Valentine; updated May 2013.

Healthy Way to Cook provides convenient, simple ways to live better by eating better. We promote fresh, organic ingredients for a healthy body & healthy planet.