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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010

Black beans pack powerful nutrient punch


By Charles Stuart Platkin

Black beans are a staple in many Latin American cultures, and when prepared in a healthy way (which they're typically not), they are very strong nutritionally. Just take a look at the protein and fiber content. Fifteen grams of fiber is more than half the recommended daily amount. And the taste simply amazing. Below are some of the health perks of black beans, as well as a healthy recipe.

Nutritional value: (1 cup) 227 calories; 0.9 g fat; 40.78 g carbs; 15 g fiber; 15.24 g protein.

Health perks: Beans are rich in protein, fiber, manganese, magnesium, thiamin, phosphorus, iron and phytochemicals. They have 10 percent or more of the daily values of magnesium, iron and potassium. Beans are also high in folate, which is important for brain development (essential for pregnant women), and red blood cell formation. In addition, there is a growing body of evidence that consuming beans reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease. A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition reports that eating just a half-cup of beans daily dropped total cholesterol and LDL by more than 8 percent. Think about this: A half-cup of oatmeal daily reduces cholesterol 2 percent to 3 percent. Researchers also found that bean consumers had higher intakes of dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron and copper, and that adults who consume beans have a "reduced systolic blood pressure, lower body weight and a smaller waist circumference."

Clifford W. Beninger and George L. Hosfield, reporting in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that black beans have more antioxidant action than any other bean and more than 10 times more than many popular fruits (e.g., oranges). Why? The researchers believe it might have to do with their color. Black beans are rich in the antioxidant anthocyanin (that's what gives them their color). Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which analyzes antioxidant levels in foods, ranked black beans among the top 20. And researchers from Michigan State University, reporting in the Journal of Nutrition and Cancer, found that rats that were fed black beans had a 75 percent reduction in colon cancer compared with the control group.

Last of all, beans are very low on the glycemic index and in glycemic load, meaning they do not produce strong spikes in blood sugar a good thing for those trying to manage blood sugar or their appetite.

Make sure the beans you eat are not prepared with lard (fat), as they often are in restaurants. Refried beans are typically used as a dip, accompanied by chips and guacamole. They are also often served with burritos and tacos. The term refried is actually misleading because the beans are fried only once, but with more than 240 to 280 calories per cup (for just the beans), they are not a good choice. Also, according to researchers reporting in the Journal of Food Science, beans that were steamed, soaked or boiled had less antioxidant activity than raw beans, but steaming retained more antioxidants than boiling.

Finally, have you ever heard the jingle "Beans, beans, the musical fruit. The more you eat ... ?" If so, you can take pleasure in knowing that, according to researchers writing in Nutrition Today, the same bean mechanism that causes gas is also responsible for health benefits. And also, as you begin to eat more beans your body will adapt and you will have less gas over time.

SMOKED TURKEY, BLACK BEAN, BELL PEPPER AND CORN SALAD

3 cups (about 1/2 pound) diced, cooked smoked turkey breast

1 (15.5-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 1/4 cups fresh corn kernels

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup diced bell peppers (any color)

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

3 cups arugula

Dressing

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (plus leaves for garnish)

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1/4 cup tomato juice

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon sherry (or balsamic) vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine turkey, beans, corn, tomatoes, bell peppers and onion in a bowl. Whisk all dressing ingredients in another bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add dressing to turkey mixture and toss to combine. Divide arugula among 4 plates and top with turkey salad. Garnish with the mint leaves.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 282 calories, 5.9 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 37.2 g carbs, 8.7 g fiber, 24.3 g protein

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public-health advocate and founder of www.DietDetective.com.