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food for thought

Question: I want to start eating more beans and lentils to cut back on the meat in my diet. Is one type of bean more nutritious than others?

Beans, lentils and split peas, known collectively as pulses, are staples in many diets around the world – think falafel, Greek fava and dahl. In North America, though, pulses are often overlooked.

Which is a shame. Pulses are one of the most nutrient-dense foods around.

Here’s why you should follow Health Canada’s advice to eat pulses more often – plus easy serving suggestions. (Pulses do not include fresh green beans and peas.)

What are the health benefits of beans?

Studies suggest that eating pulses on a regular basis can guard against type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and prostate cancer. Doing so has also been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure.

A diet rich in beans and lentils may also help weight-control efforts. Beans and lentils are excellent sources of plant protein, slow-burning carbohydrates and fibre, a combination that can help increase satiety and control appetite.

Pulses are also one of the best food sources of folate, a B vitamin that’s used to make DNA and other genetic material in cells. And they contain an exceptional amount of potassium and magnesium, minerals that help regulate blood pressure.

Magnesium also helps control blood sugar by influencing the release and activity of insulin. Beans and lentils are also decent sources of iron and zinc.

The following guide highlights notable nutrients found in different types of pulses, along with some the ways I add them to meals.

These are 6 of the most nutritious beans to add to your meals

1. Adzuki beans

This small red bean, grown throughout East Asia and the Himalayas, supplies 17 g each of protein and fibre per one cup cooked. Compared to other pulses, adzuki beans offer the most potassium, 1,220 mg per cup, an amount found in three medium bananas! (Adults need 4,700 mg per day.)

They also get top marks for their zinc content, providing 4 mg per cup; women and men need 8 and 11 mg each day, respectively. Add adzuki beans to bean bowls, soups, chili and homemade bean burgers.

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One cup of black beans packs 15 g of both protein and fibre along with 120 mg of magnesium. They also contain brain-friendly choline and vitamin E.Getty Images/iStockphoto

2. Black beans

One cup offers 15 g of both protein and fibre along with 120 mg of magnesium (women need 320 mg daily; men require 420). Black beans also contain brain-friendly choline and vitamin E.

Add black beans to frittatas, omelets and salsas. Replace one-half (or all) of the meat in tacos with black beans. They’re a staple ingredient in my chili recipes, along with other beans.

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Collection of grain products, lentils, peas, soybeans and red beans in storage jars over on kitchen rural table. Vegetarian products.iStockPhoto / Getty Images

3. Lentils

This nutrient-packed pulse delivers more protein, folate and iron than any other bean. One cup cooked, for instance, delivers 24 g of protein (the equivalent of four eggs) and 358 mcg of folate (adults need 400 mcg daily).

I use brown lentils to make mujaddara (Middle Eastern lentils and rice), dahl and vegetarian spaghetti sauce. Red lentil soup with lemon and cilantro is also a favourite.

4. Navy beans

These small white beans outrank others when it comes of fibre (19 g per one cup), calcium (126 mg) and choline (81 mg). Navy beans are great in hearty vegetable soups, bean stews and chili. And, of course, they’re the star ingredient in baked beans.

5. Pinto beans

They have a similar nutrient content as black beans, but one cup of cooked pinto beans also offers 20 per cent of a day’s worth of selenium, an antioxidant mineral that’s used to make thyroid hormones.

Mash cooked pinto beans and spread them on corn tortillas to make tostadas. Use them in burritos, tacos, chili and soups.

If you’re not a fan of the texture of beans, puree them and add to soups and marinara sauces.

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Chickpeas score high when it comes to manganese, a trace mineral that plays a role in bone and immune health and have lots of protein, fibre, iron, zinc and folate.Glenn Lowson

6. Chickpeas

Besides lots of protein, fibre, iron, zinc and folate, chickpeas score high when it comes to manganese, a trace mineral that plays a role in bone and immune health. (One cup supplies 95 per cent of a day’s worth for women; 75 per cent for men.)

I toss chickpeas into Greek salad, tabbouleh and whole-grain pilafs and salads. And I use them to make curries and a weekly batch of hummus.

Leslie Beck is is dietitian.

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