I guess I could just say “legumes” instead of beans and lentils, because black-eyed peas fall into the superfood category, as well. However you refer to them, beans qualify as a superfood based on their high protein, high fiber, and easy fit in the family budget. Beans are probably best known for their fiber—and its side effects. Beans are loaded with insoluble fiber, which helps manage blood sugar and lower cholesterol, as well as soluble fiber, which fills you up and helps rid your body of waste. A serving of 100 grams, or just a smidge over a half cup, provides 9 grams of fiber, about a third of your daily requirement.
Black beans and kidney beans are among the most nutritious of beans because of their dark colors. Other varieties have a tad more or less fiber, iron, or other nutrients, but they are all within a close range. Beans have an enviable 9 grams of protein in that half-cup serving and they make an excellent substitute for meat. With physicians and dieticians increasingly warning us of the health risks of eating too much red meat, beans and lentils are ideal substitutes. When mixed with rice or other grains, beans form a complete protein with all the amino acids your body needs.
Beans have virtually no fat or cholesterol and they are a good source of iron, phosphorus, thiamine, and manganese, as well as an excellent source of folate, supplying a third or more of your daily needs. Lentils have those same benefits, plus even more folate, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and iron than black or kidney beans. Lentils also have the benefit of less cooking time than dried beans and they don’t require soaking.
If you haven’t tried lentils, you’re in for a treat. They are used extensively in Indian cooking and they soak up the flavors of exotic spices perfectly. My favorite way to serve them, however, is in lentil soup. Although you can flavor it with sausage, it’s delicious with the basic flavors of onion, carrot, celery, and spinach. Talk about a super-soup: this is it! Lentils have a place in salads, as well, and they add the precious protein often missing from green salads. Toss cooked lentils with extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, diced celery, and fresh or dried thyme and serve over your favorite salad greens.
Our favorite way to eat any kind of beans is in soups. Chili can handle any bean you want to add: kidney, pinto, red, black, or navy. One of our favorite Southwestern soups even has chickpeas, along with other varieties of beans. We have a yummy soup with Cannellini beans, another with split peas, and of course, classic navy beans. However you prefer your beans (don’t forget baked beans!), include them in your diet often to take advantage of this super and inexpensive source of protein.