With their coats of many colors, dry beans are more than pretty packages. The skins -- in tints of sienna, earthly black, and red -- may deliver a potent nutritional boost. That means the lowly bean has joined the list of foods under the microscope. Researches have identified some surprisingly powerful substances tucked away in their skins. It turns out that beans contain eight flavonoids, plant substances that act as nature's dyes and give many fruits and vegetables their colors. Scientists say those plant chemicals act as antioxidants to give you some protection against certain cancers and heart disease. More research may lead to beans with more flavonoids, and a more powerful antioxidant effect. Meanwhile, some doctors suggest that the cooking liquid from beans be reused in soups. When you soak or cook beans, flavonoids leach into the liquids but aren't destroyed.
- Add a handful of intensely flavored ingredients, such as Parmesan cheese, bacon, or prosciutto, to perk up a humble bean dish.
- Use a canned variety of beans to cut cooking time to minutes. Rinse beans first to trim sodium levels. Rinsing also freshens the taste of canned beans.
- Combine tomatoes, which are high in vitamin C, with plant sources of iron, such as beans. Your body will absorb more of the iron.
- Iron. Beans supply anywhere from 1 to 4 milligrams of iron in every half-cup serving. That's an amount similar to what you'd get in a serving of beef. Your body does a better job of taking in iron from animal sources, but you can compensate by mixing a little meat in with the beans.
- Folate. You probably know that women of childbearing age should eat foods rich in folate to help prevent neural-tube defects in their babies. You also need folate as you age to reduce your blood levels of homocysteine, a substance that puts you at greater risk for heart disease.
- Zinc. Some people have trouble getting enough zinc, which is essential for your body's growth, insulin function, and immune system. Beans are an excellent source of zinc.
- Calcium. Don't trade in your glass of milk or calcium-fortified orange juice or beans. However, every bit helps, and a half-cup serving of beans supplies 4 to 8 percent of the calcium you should have every day.
White Beans and Spinach Ragout This savory blend of bacon, cannellini beans and spinach is drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette, for this perfect low-cal side dish.