It's hard to imagine a more perfect food than beans or legumes.
One cooked cupful can provide as much as 17 g. of protein, which is more than half the 24 g. recommended daily for women.
They may even help you lose weight because all that fiber creates a feeling of fullness that keeps you satisfied longer.
They're a smarter option than the leanest beef or chicken.
The latest USDA study places legumes at the top of the list of flavonoid-rich vegetables.
Their health credentials stack up high as well.
According to a comprehensive Michigan State University review, eating legumes can reduce the risk and severity of life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and several types of cancer.
To reap all these benefits, you need to be, well, a bean counter:
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines call for us to consume at least 3 c. a week, three times the measly 1 c. we usually manage.
Eating more legumes shouldn't be a challenge; after all, the first step in preparing them is often cranking open a can.
Once you realize the variety of colors, textures, and flavors they bring to the table, you'll see why legumes have played such a central role in many of the world's cuisines and why they should become a staple in your diet.
All types belong to the legume family.
In general, there are two main types: shell, grown for their protein-rich seeds, which are eaten both fresh and dried; and snap, cultivated mainly for their pods.
The two groups are further divided according to growth habit.
Bush types are generally self-supporting.
Pole beans have twining vines that require support from stakes, strings, wires, or trellises.
Runners are similar to the pole genre, although runners need cooler growing conditions.
Half-runners, popular in the South, fall somewhere in between pole and bush beans.
Adzuki, which come from Japan, are extra rich in protein.
The small plants produce long, thin pods that are eaten like snap beans.
When mature at 90 days, they contain 7 to 10 small, nutty-tasting, maroon-colored legumes that are tasty fresh or dried.
Black beans, also called black turtle, have jet-black seeds and need approximately 3 months of warm, frost-free days to mature.
Dried they're popular for soups and stews.
Most are sprawling, half-runner-type plants, but some cultivars, like 'Midnight Black Turtle', have more upright growth habits.
Black-eyed peas, also called cow-peas or southern peas, are cultivated similarly.
They need long summers with temperatures averaging between 60° and 70°F.
Fava's, also known as broad, horse, or cattle, are one of the world's oldest cultivated foods.
They're second only to soybeans as a source of vegetable protein, but they're much more common as a garden crop in Europe than in the North America.
Unlike other types, the fava's thrive in cold, damp weather and take about 75 days to mature.
Fava's need to be cooked and shucked from their shells and the individual seed skins peeled off before eating.
Chickpeas, which are also called Garbanzo, produce bushy plants that need 65 to 100 warm days.
When dried, these nutty-tasting legumes are good baked, cooked or chilled for use in salads.
Great Northern whites are most popular dried and eaten in baked dishes.
In short-season areas, you can harvest and eat them as fresh shell legumes in only 8-9 weeks.
Bush-type Great Northern's are extremely productive.
Horticultural are also known as shell, wren's egg, bird's egg, speckled cranberry, or October.
Both pole and bush types produce a big harvest in a small space and mature in 9-10 weeks.
Use the very young, colorful, mottled pods like the snap variety, or dry the mature, nutty, red-speckled seeds.
Kidney legumes require 100 days to mature but are very easy to grow.
Use these red, hearty-tasting dried seeds in chili, soups, stews, and salads.
Limas , including types called butter or butter peas, are highly sensitive to cool weather; plant them well after the first frost.
The bush varieties take 60 to 75 days to mature.
Pole types require 90 to 130 days, but the vines grow quickly and up to 12 feet long.
Lima's are usually green, but there are also some speckled varieties.
Pintos require 90 to 100 days to mature.
These large, hearty plants take up a lot of space if not trained on poles or trellises.
Use fresh like a snap, or dry the seeds.
Scarlet runners produce beautiful climbing vines with scarlet flowers.
These legumes mature in about 70 days.
Cook the green, rough-looking pods when they're very young, using the black-and red-speckled seeds fresh or dried.
Green beans are also known as snap.
While many growers still refer to the snap as string, a string-less cultivar was developed in the 1890s, and few today have to be stripped of their strings before you eat them.
Most cultivars mature in 45 to 60 days.
This group also includes the flavorful haricots verts, also called filet, and the mild wax or yellow type.
For something unusual, try the yard-long asparagus variety.
Its rampant vines can produce 3-foot-long pods, though they taste best when 12 to 15 inches long.
Once the pods have passed their tender stage, you can shell them as well.
Soldiers, whose vine-like plants need plenty of room to sprawl, are best suited to cool, dry climates.
The white, oval-shaped legume matures in around 85 days.
Try the dried seeds in some of your baked dishes.
For all our Spanish speaking readers, you can find a very tasty bean burger recipe at Dietas Ejercios, a family oriented, diet and exercise site.Tweet
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