Winter Super Foods: Dried Beans: Varieties

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From the royal tombs of ancient Egypt to the Old Testament cultivation, preparation, and consumption of beans are recognized. In some Eastern cultures, legumes were a basic dietary staple that can be traced back more than 20,000 years. The lima and pinto bean were cultivated for the first time in the very earliest Mexican and Peruvian civilizations more than 5,000 years ago, being popular in both the Aztec and Inca cultures.

The United States is by far the world leader in dry bean production. Each year, U.S. farmers plant from 1.5 to 1.7 million acres of edible dry beans. And while Americans are the chief consumers of these beans, 40 percent are shipped to international markets in more than 100 different countries around the globe.

Dried beans or legumes are an inexpensive and healthy way to include into your 5 A Day diet. A serving (1/3 cup of cooked beans) contains around 80 calories, no cholesterol, lots of complex carbohydrates, and little fat. In addition, beans are a good source of B vitamins, potassium, and fiber, which promotes digestive health and relieves constipation. Eating beans may help prevent colon cancer, and reduce blood cholesterol (a leading cause of heart disease).

How do beans fit into your 5 A Day? Beans are often thought of as a side dish; however, they make excellent meat free entrees. You don't have to be vegetarian to reap the benefits of legumes -- start slowly, eating beans instead of meat twice a week.

Before eating legumes, there are few things to know: