Health Benefits of Dried Beans, Nuts, and Seeds

You need to consume a variety of plant foods to obtain all the amino acids necessary for your body to form complete proteins. In this article, we will discuss ways to maximize your intake of legumes (dried beans and peas) as part of a healthier lifestyle and to make your body stronger. Eating healthy can be part of an alternative treatment against illnesses.

Legumes are a staple food all over the world and are one of the best sources of soluble fiber. Plus, they're low in fat and high in good quality protein -- a great health-saving combination. Beans can be gassy, of course, but there are ways around that. So don't let their "explosive" nature scare you away from some of the best nutrition around.

The soluble fiber in beans helps lower levels of damaging LDL cholesterol in the blood, thus lowering heart-disease risk. And by slowing down carbohydrate absorption, soluble bean fiber fends off unwanted peaks and valleys in blood glucose levels -- especially valuable to people with diabetes.

Beans also provide substantial insoluble fiber, which can keep constipation and other digestive woes away.

Legumes are also rich in folic acid, copper, iron, and magnesium -- four nutrients many of us could use more of in our diets. In addition, dried beans and peas are generally good sources of iron, which is especially helpful for people who don't eat meat.

Selection and Storage

Dried beans are available year-round, are inexpensive, and can be found in any well-stocked grocery. You may need to visit a health-food store for more exotic varieties, such as Oriental azuki (or adzuki) beans, flageolets, cranberry beans, or yellow split peas.

If stored properly, dried beans and peas will last for a year or more. Keep them in their unopened bag. After opening, store the beans in a dry, tightly closed glass jar in a cool, dark spot.

Note, too, that many varieties of beans are available already cooked and canned.

Preparation and Storage Tips

When cooking with dried varieties of legumes, it's best to plan ahead. Before soaking or cooking, sort through the beans, discarding bad beans, pebbles, and debris. Then rinse the beans in cold water. It's best to soak your beans overnight, for six to eight hours; they'll cook faster and you'll get rid of gas-producing carbohydrates. But if you haven't planned far enough ahead, you can quick-soak for one hour. Quick-soak by putting the beans in water and boiling for one minute; then turn off the heat and let the beans stand in the same water for one hour. You may end up with a less-firm bean, however.

After soaking, discard any beans that float to the top, then throw out the soaking water and add fresh water to cook in. Add enough water to cover the beans plus two inches. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until tender -- about one to three hours, depending on the bean variety. They're done when you can easily stick them with a fork. Remember, cooked beans double or triple in volume.

Beans are notoriously bland-tasting, but that's what makes them versatile. They can take on the spices of any flavorful dish. Add them to soups, stews, salads, casseroles, and dips.

Nuts are also a good source of protein. In the next section we will review how to select the right nut for maximum nutrition and for the best disease-fighting potential.

Health Benefits of Nuts

The nuts category encompasses some foods that aren't true nuts but have been given honorary status due to their similar nutritional qualities. These include the peanut (really a legume), the Brazil nut, and the cashew (both technically seeds).

If you've relegated nuts to special occasions only, then it's time to reconsider. While they may be high in fat, nuts contain mostly mono- and polyunsaturated fats -- fats with a heart-friendly reputation. In one study, people who ate nuts -- almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, or peanuts -- five or more times a week were half as likely to have a heart attack or suffer from heart disease as people who rarely or never ate nuts.

This protective effect may be attributable to the healthy fat profile of nuts, or it may be the result of the vitamin E and fiber found in nuts, both of which can help stave off heart disease; perhaps it's these several attributes combined and even other as yet unidentified ones that played a role. Other studies have demonstrated that adults with a high blood cholesterol level can lower both their total and LDL cholesterol levels by substituting nuts for other snack foods.

Besides being rich in protein, nuts offer a host of other nutrients, such as folate, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, and selenium. Another bonus -- nuts are so dense with nutrients that they quell hunger pangs with fewer calories compared with other snack foods that often provide calories with minimal nutrition.

Selection and Storage

Most fresh nuts are available only in the fall and winter. Shelled nuts can be purchased anytime. Look for a freshness date on the package or container. If you can, check to be sure there aren't a lot of shriveled or discolored nuts. Be wary if you buy your nuts in bulk; they should smell fresh, not rancid.

A caution: Aflatoxin, a known carcinogen produced by a mold that grows naturally on peanuts, can be a problem. Discard peanuts that are discolored, shriveled, or moldy or that taste bad. And stick to commercial brands of peanut butter. A survey found that best-selling brands contained only trace amounts of aflatoxin, but supermarket brands had five times that much, and fresh-ground peanut butters -- like those sold in health-food stores -- averaged more than ten times as much as the best-selling brands.

Because of their high fat content, you must protect nuts from rancidity. Nuts in their shells can be kept for a few months in a cool, dry location. But once they've been shelled or their containers opened, the best way to preserve them is to refrigerate or freeze them.

Preparation and Serving Tips

To munch on as a snack, nuts are pretty much a self-serve affair. For nuts that are tough to crack, use a nutcracker or even pliers. A nutpick is useful for walnuts. Brazil nuts open easier if you chill them first. Almonds can be peeled by boiling them, then dunking them in cold water.

In cooking and baking, it's easy to get the nutritional benefits of nuts without overdosing on fat and calories, because a small amount of nuts adds a lot of flavor. Nuts sprinkled on your cereal can boost your morning fiber intake. Peanut butter makes a great snack on apple wedges or celery or simply spread on a piece of hearty whole-wheat toast. Walnuts go well tossed in Waldorf salad or with orange sections and spinach. Almonds dress up almost any vegetable when sprinkled on top.

Nuts give grains extra pizzazz and crunch. Pignoli, or pine nuts, add a dash of Mediterranean flavor when included in pasta dishes; they're the nuts you'll find in your pesto dishes. Nuts stirred into yogurt make it a more satisfying light meal. And spice-cake and quick-bread mixes as well as pancake batters produce extra-special results when nuts are added in.

It may come as a surprise, but seeds also have a high nutrient content and can give you some disease-fighting potential. We will review the benefits of seeds as part of a daily diet in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Health Benefits of Seeds

Seeds are the "eggs" that contain the nutrients needed to nourish the growth of a new plant. So their high nutrient content shouldn't come as a surprise. What's surprising is that we generally relegate these nutritional wonders to the occasional snack rather than making them staples of our diet.

With their gold mine of healthy minerals and their niacin and folic-acid contents, seeds are an excellent nutrition package. They are among the better plant sources of iron and zinc. In fact, one ounce of pumpkin seeds contains almost twice as much iron as three ounces of skinless chicken breast. And they provide more fiber per ounce than nuts. They are also good sources of protein.

Sesame seeds are a surprising source of the bone-building mineral calcium, great news for folks who have trouble tolerating dairy products. And seeds are a rich source of vitamin E. The only drawback: Some seeds are quite high in fat. Sunflower and sesame seeds provide about 80 percent of their calories as fat, although the fat is mostly of the heart-smart unsaturated variety.

Selection and Storage

Seeds are often sold in bulk, either with their hulls (shells) in place or with their kernels separated out. Make sure the seeds you buy are fresh. Because of their high fat content, seeds are vulnerable to rancidity. If they're exposed to heat, light, or humidity, they're likely to become rancid much faster. A quick sniff of the seed bin should tell you if the contents are fresh or not. Seeds that still have their hulls intact should keep for several months if you store them in a cool, dry location. Seed kernels (seeds that have had their shells removed) will keep for a slightly shorter period of time.

Pumpkin and squash seeds are similar in appearance -- both have a relatively thin hull that is white to yellowish in color. (Hulled pumpkin seeds are a popular ingredient in Mexican cooking.)

Pumpkin-seed kernels are medium-dark green in color. Sunflower seeds are easily recognized with their hard black-and-white-striped hull.

Preparation and Serving Tips

You can't go overboard with seeds because of their high fat content. But, in moderation, seeds can be mixed with cereals or trail mix or eaten by themselves. A sprinkling of seed kernels over fruits, vegetables, pastas, or salads adds a touch of crunchy texture and flavor. Sesame seeds are especially attractive as toppers for breads, rolls, salads, and stir-fries.

Dried beans, nuts, and seeds are good sources of protein and just as beneficial as meat and fish. With the right selection, dried beans, nuts, and seeds can be a staple of a healthy diet and make your body stronger against many illnesses.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.