Q. Beans, beans, the magical fruit… Are they really as good for me as people say?

A. Beans are not only easy on the wallet and waistline, beans are brimming with culinary potential. Beans have almost as many varieties as they do uses in the kitchen. All varieties of beans are rich sources of protein, fiber and the essential amino acid, lysine. Lysine is needed to make collagen, a protein that affects wound repair, and is the building block of skin and connective tissue. Beans contain folic acid and many minerals, such as iron, zinc and magnesium. Beans also contain disease-fighting antioxidants.

Beans are one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. As a result of their high fiber content, beans help protect against diabetes, cardiovascular disease and maybe even some cancers. The soluble fiber in beans can help lower the harmful LDL-cholesterol and help regulate blood sugar levels. It can also help us feel satisfied after we eat, and therefore help with weight control. The protein in beans helps improve the dietary quality of a meal and can take the place of meat.

Here are four reasons to incorporate beans into your diet:

Economical: Beans are a low-cost alternative to animal protein sources such as beef, chicken and pork. Canned beans are great, but if you want the best price per pound, look for dried beans and cook them yourself.

Nutritious: Beans are an excellent source of plant protein and provide nutrients such as iron and zinc. They’re naturally free of fat and cholesterol; dry beans are sodium-free as well.

Filling: Due to their fiber content, beans provide the body with energy slowly, so blood sugar levels don’t spike and drop sharply, causing lethargy and hunger.

Versatile: Versatility is a hallmark of beans. Use them to make hummus or vegetarian burgers, to “beef up” a salad or as the star in your next pot of soup or chili!

Beans come in a variety of options, benefits and uses.

BLACK BEANS — With smooth texture and mild flavor, black beans are easy to incorporate into a variety of dishes.

Benefits: Black beans are high in potassium, which may aid in blood pressure control.

Best uses: Mexican, Caribbean and South American recipes including quesadillas and tacos; also vegetarian burgers, salsa and wraps.

PINTO BEANS — Pinto means “painted” in Spanish, owing to the rust-color specks on the skin. They have an earthy flavor.

Benefits: Pinto beans are packed with fiber and protein.

Best uses: Their tenderness is well-suited to Tex-Mex dishes such as refried beans, dips, nachos or frijoles charros (cowboy beans).

CANNELLINI BEANS — Also called white kidney beans, they have a slightly thicker skin and hold their shape well.

Benefits: A ¼ cup supplies 43 percent of daily fiber and 20 percent of daily potassium needs.

Best uses: Minestrone or kale soup, pasta fazool, tuna salad, bean salads and brownies.

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