There are good reasons that beans occupy two places on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid: the first is with high-protein foods such as meat, eggs, poultry and fish, and the second is with vitamin-rich vegetables. The beneficial phytochemicals found in beans offer other preventive health attributes not reflected in the USDA's Pyramid. The multi-faceted nutrition and prevention powers of beans—a category that encompasses common beans (e.g., kidney, black, navy, pinto), chickpeas (garbanzo beans), soybeans, dried peas and lentils—make them an anti-aging dietary necessity.
Beans are low in fat (except for soybeans), calories and sodium but high in complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber, and they offer modest amounts of essential fatty acids—mostly omega-6s (only soybeans have significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids). They are also an excellent source of protein, needing only to be combined with grains such as barley or oats to provide all the amino acids necessary to make a complete protein for vegetarians who do not have other sources of protein for their meals.
Beans are extremely beneficial in an anti-diabetes diet because they rank low on the glycemic scale, which means that they do not cause the inflammatory, hunger-inducing spike in blood sugar levels associated with refined grains and baked goods. Beans offer ample fiber (one cup of cooked beans can provide as much as 15 grams of dietary fiber, more than half the recommended "daily value" of 25 grams and are released into the bloodstream slowly, providing energy and satiation for a sustained period. However, I recommend no more than 1/4 to 1/2 cup cooked beans per meal.
Dried beans and lentils are a staple of many cuisines worldwide. For thousands of years, beans and lentils have been and continue to be one of the most nutritious foods available. In addition, beans and lentils are extremely versatile. They can be combined with fragrant herbs and vegetables and made into delicious soups. They can be used in salads or puréed and served as a dip or spread. Chickpeas and lentils can also be ground into a high-protein, low-glycemic flour.
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