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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:
Dried Beans are not complete proteins
Beans alone are not complete proteins, but combined with a grain are as complete as a meal. So it is important to eat beans with grain products like these dishes that already contain these combinations. For example beans and rice, a bean burrito, split pea soup and corn bread, and a peanut butter sandwich.
Legumes may cause intestinal discomfort
You can minimize this effect by changing the soaking water several times when you prepare dried beans, or switching to canned beans. When canned, some of the gas-producing substances are eliminated. Be sure to rinse the beans well to wash off excess salt. Another option is BeanoTM, which contains an enzyme that breaks down gas-producing substances in the beans.
Eating legumes means, drinking more fluids
As you include more beans into your meals, it's important to drink adequate fluids and exercise regularly so that your gastrointestinal system can handle the increased dietary fiber.
So, which bean to choose from? There are hundreds of varieties of beans. Try one of these:
|Adzuki Beans are small, with a vivid red color, solid flavor and texture. Originally from Asia, its name means "little bean" in Japanese. Its red coloring -- red being the most important color in Eastern celebrations -- means that it is greatly used in festive or special meals.|
|Large Lima Beans are large and flat with a greenish-white color. It has a buttery flavor and creamy texture. This bean is named after Lima, Peru, and is extremely popular in the Americas, both in its natural state and dried.|
|Pink Beans have beautiful pink color and is very popular in the countries of the Caribbean. Pink beans are of medium size (similar to the Great Northern and the Pinto) and have a refined texture and delicate flavor.|
|Green Baby Lima Beans come from Peru and are very popular in the Americas. The baby variety is much loved in Japan for making desserts from bean paste known as "an." These are medium-sized flat beans with a greenish white color, buttery flavor, and creamy texture.|
|Small Red Beans are particularly popular in the Caribbean region, where they are normally eaten with rice. Dark red in color, small red beans are also smoother in taste and texture than the dark red kidney bean.|
|Dark Red Kidney Beans are large and kidney-shaped with a deep glossy red color. They have a solid flavor and texture. These beans are produced mainly in the northern U.S.A. and owes its popularity in America and Europe to its large size, bright color and solid texture.|
|Black Beans are sweet tasting with an almost mushroom-like flavor and soft floury texture. These beans are medium sized, oval, with a matt black color. They are the most popular beans in the Costa Rica and Cuba.|
|Light Red Kidney Beans have a solid texture and flavor. They are characterized by their large, kidney-shape with a pink color. This bean is popular in the Caribbean region as well as in Portugal and Spain for its similarity to the canela bean.|
|Navy Beans are small, white and oval with a refined texture and delicate flavor. These are the beans used for the famous Boston and English baked beans. Because their skin and fine texture do not break up on cooking. These beans were named for their part of the U.S. Navy diet during the second half of the 19th Century.|
|Cranberry Beans are known for their creamy texture with a flavor similar to chestnuts. Cranberry beans are rounded with red specks, which disappear on cooking. These beans are a favorite in northern Italy and Spain. You can find them fresh in their pods in Autumn. They also freeze well.|
|Black-eyed Beans have a scented aroma, creamy texture and distinctive flavor. These beans are characterized by their kidney shaped, white skin with a small black eye and very fine wrinkles. Originally from Africa, it is one of the most widely dispersed beans in the world. Black-eyed peas are really a type of pea, which gives it its distinctive flavor and rapid cooking potential, with no pre-soaking needed.|
|Pinto Beans are the most widely produced bean in the United States and is one of the most popular in the Americas. It also contains the most fiber of all beans. Characteristically known by their medium size oval shape, with speckled reddish brown over a pale pink base and solid texture and flavor.|
|Great Northern Beans are a North American bean, which is popular in France for making cassoulet (a white bean casserole) and in the whole Mediterranean where many beans of a similar appearance are cultivated. These beans have a delicate flavor, thin skin, and are flat, kidney shaped, medium-sized white beans.|
|Garbanzo Beans or chickpeas are the most widely consumed legume in the world. Originating in the Middle East, they have a firm texture with a flavor somewhere between chestnuts and walnuts. Garbanzo beans are usually pale yellow in color. In India there are red, black, and brown chickpeas.|
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Updated 2005
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