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- Harvard School of Public Health: What Should You Eat?
- MayoClinic.com; Beans and Other Legumes: Types and Cooking Tips; June 2011
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Replacing one or more meals per week with vegetarian options such as beans and lentils can improve your health. Beans and lentils offer protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber with no added fat or cholesterol. Beans and lentils also count toward your daily vegetable servings to support good health.
Vitamins and Minerals
Beans and lentils offer naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, which are better absorbed than nutritional supplements. Beans and lentils offer folate, a B vitamin important to red blood cell functioning and the prevention of specific neural tube birth defects. Beans are also a source of the minerals potassium, iron and magnesium 3. Potassium helps regulate muscle function, including your heart, by keeping your body’s fluid and mineral levels in balance. Iron is essential to energy as it assists your red blood cells transport oxygen throughout your body. Magnesium supports bone health, organ function and energy production.
Beans are a nutritious, natural source of fiber. One cup of cooked beans or lentils provides between 17 and 18 g of fiber. Fiber assists the transport of food through your digestive tract, supporting colon health and preventing constipation. Fiber also plays a role in healthy cholesterol levels. The Institute of Medicine recommends women consume a minimum of 25 g of fiber daily and men, 38 g daily.
Beans and lentils are a vegetarian source of protein. While many animal-based proteins contain saturated fat and cholesterol, which contribute to heart disease, beans and lentils are virtually fat-free. Black beans, for example, contain 14 g of protein per cup while lentils offer 18 g per cup. Protein is a component of every cell in your body and helps support muscle retention and growth.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 cup of whole or mashed beans or lentils counts as a serving of vegetables. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables promote good health and reduced risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
The fiber and protein in beans can help you feel satisfied, so you eat fewer calories overall. The lack of saturated fat in beans also makes them friendly to your waistline. One cup of beans or lentils contains between 200 and 230 calories.
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