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Beans: Nature’s hidden and versatile treasure

We’ve all heard the funny songs, but beans are no laughing matter.

Beans provide protection against and reduce the risks of many diseases. The Dietary Guidelines recommend eating three cups every week; this may reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity.

What makes beans so nutritionally powerful?

One cup of beans provides 13g of fiber and 15g of protein, along with other nutrients such as calcium, potassium and magnesium, all together making this a powerhouse vegetable too commonly overlooked.

Focusing on fiber

Beans are an excellent source of soluble dietary fiber. Soluble fiber prolongs the stomach’s emptying time so that sugar will be released and absorbed more slowly. This helps in regulating blood sugar, being very beneficial to those with diabetes.

Soluble fiber also tends to act like a sponge, absorbing cholesterol and carrying it out of the body, helping to reduce risk of heart disease. In fact, recent research shows that eating a half cup of pinto beans daily can reduce serum cholesterol by eight percent.

Shopping Tips

•Buy canned: Canned beans are just as healthy as dried beans and can be more convenient.

Drain, then rinse canned beans for one minute under cold water, washing away 40 percent of the sodium. Then drain once more.

•Look for low-sodium or No-Added-Salt: Low-sodium labels identify a product having less than 140 mg sodium per serving. When the daily recommended goal is less than 2000 mg of sodium, buying low sodium or no-added-salt can significantly reduce your intake.

•Try vegetarian: When choosing refried beans, look for a vegetarian option. This type will not have the added bacon or animal lard which adds extra calories, cholesterol and saturated fat.

•Check out a supplement: Skip the bloating and embarrassing gas by eating an anti-gas supplement before consuming beans.

•Storage: You can store dried beans for up to one year and canned beans for up to two years.

Simple to Use

1. Top off your salad. From lettuce to taco; beans taste great with them all.

2. Puree them for dips and burrito fillings.

3. Toss them into your favorite casserole, soup, wrap or pasta dish.

4. Many cultures grind beans into flour for savory breads, substantial noodles and baked goods.

Bean flour can be sprinkled into soups for a creamy base or added to cookie or cake mixes. Bean flour is also a good wheat flour substitute for people with celiac disease.

5. Try them in a brownie recipe in place of the fat, water and egg. Don’t drain the beans.

 Black Bean soup

Serves 4 (1 1/4 cups each)

Active time: 15 minutes | Total: 25 minutes

 All you need

•1 tablespoon Hy-Vee canola oil

•1 small onion, chopped

•1 tablespoon Hy-Vee chili powder

•1 teaspoon Hy-Vee ground cumin

•2 (15 ounce each) cans Hy-Vee black beans, rinsed

•3 cups water

•1/2 cup Hy-Vee salsa

•1/4 teaspoon salt

•1 tablespoon lime juice

•4 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream, optional

•2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, optional

 All you do

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add chili powder and cumin and cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Add beans, water, salsa and salt. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in lime juice.

2. Transfer half the soup to a blender and puree (use caution when pureeing hot liquids). Stir the puree back into the saucepan. Serve garnished with sour cream and cilantro, if desired.

Source: adapted from Eating Well, Inc.

Nutrition facts per serving: 207 calories; 4g fat (0g sat, 2g mono); 0mg cholesterol; 34g carbohydrate; 0g added sugars; 10g protein; 10g fiber; 437mg sodium; 588mg potassium.

Nutrition bonus: Folate (24% daily value), Iron (18% dv), Potassium (17% dv), Vitamin C (15% dv).