Food Group Superfoods (Part 2)

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Last week (in "Food Group Superfoods [Part 1]"), I highlighted two "superfood" grains: oats and quinoa. Oats are nothing new, but I suspect that many of you have never tried quinoa. (In fact, according to last week’s DSM E-News survey, almost 80% of respondents have never tried it!) One reader commented that quinoa was quite costly where she lived. Yes, this grain (or seed, actually) is more expensive than your basic rice, for example, so perhaps it’s not something that you eat all the time. However, I urge you to give it a try if you’re able; not only does it lend a different taste and texture to your meals, you’ll get an added nutrition boost, too.

This week, we’ll continue our look at superfoods. I’m going to highlight two more foods from the starch group: beans and sweet potatoes.

Starches: Breads, Grains, Starchy Vegetables

What they offer: All bean jokes aside, you might be pleasantly surprised at what this lowly vegetable has to offer. Did you know that there are more than 1,000 species of beans? Beans, meaning black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, etc., are sometimes referred to as “legumes,” which means that they have seed pods which split open along the side and the seeds are attached to one half (you can share this definition at work tomorrow).

Anyway, beans go way back — at least 20,000 years. The United States is the sixth leading grower of beans, by the way. Beans have so much to offer in terms of nutrition and versatility. They contain both carbohydrate and protein, are high in fiber (both soluble and insoluble), have very little fat and sodium, and have no cholesterol. How good is that?

But that’s not all: Beans are high in iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium, some B vitamins, and antioxidants. Eating beans regularly can, well, keep you “regular” by preventing constipation. A diet high in beans also may lower LDL cholesterol and lower the risk for Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. Another plus: Because beans are so high in fiber, they fill you up so you might just eat less, and that, in turn, can help with weight loss.

Nutrition info: In general, one half cup of beans contains about 120 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrate, less than 1 gram of fat, 7 grams protein (equal to one ounce of protein), and 7 grams of fiber. Beans also have a low glycemic index.

What to look for/how to use: Try all types of beans. Some dry beans have to be soaked for several hours before cooking. You can speed things up using a pressure cooker, or you can use canned beans. Just be sure to rinse them well in a colander to wash away most of the sodium.

Cooked beans can be refrigerated for up to five days, so cook up a batch, or at least stock your pantry with canned beans. Try to eat one or two meals that have beans each week, such as chili, bean burritos, or minestrone soup. By using beans instead of animal protein, you’ll do your heart, your waistline, your wallet, and the environment a favor. For recipes and more fascinating bean facts, check out

Sweet Potatoes
What they offer: Sweet potatoes are actually not potatoes (they’re related to the Morning Glory), and they’re definitely not yams (yams refer to an African root vegetable that is less sweet). The flesh of sweet potatoes comes in different colors, including the usual orange, white, purple, and yellow.

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, giving them antioxidant power. They contain other nutrients too, including manganese, potassium, vitamin B6, phytonutrients, and fiber. All of these nutrients make the sweet potato a nutrition powerhouse; this vegetable may help fight heart disease, breast cancer and prostate cancer. In addition, studies of the Okinawans link sweet potatoes with longevity.

Nutrition info: One medium, 4-ounce sweet potato contains about 100 calories, 25 grams carbohydrate, less than 1 gram of fat, and 4 grams of fiber, with a moderate glycemic index of 64.

What to look for/how to use: Choose sweet potatoes that are firm and that are free of cracks and soft spots. They’re best stored in a cool, dry place (not in the fridge, though).

Baked sweet potatoes are a tasty replacement for white potatoes. But if you haven’t as yet tried sweet potato fries, you’re in for a treat. Try this recipe for Baked Sweet Potato Fries from EatingWell magazine: You’ll get the great taste of fries without all the fat.

Even more superfoods next week!

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