The biggest nutritional difference-makers come in the smallest packages.
By Todd Soura
Beans and seeds rarely seem to surface in discussions of restructuring diets. Maybe it’s the fart jokes from junior high resonating. Or the perception that they’re too hard to incorporate into non-vegetarian cooking.
Either way, you’re missing out. Don’t infer from their small size that they’re not a source of anything worthwhile. Truth is, they’re among the nutrient-densest foods.
Allow me to acquaint you with three of my favorites from each family. And come the end of this article, you’ll see why size, in fact, does not matter.
Chia A tablespoon contains eight grams of carbs, five grams of fat and three grams of protein, but over half of that fat are omega-3 fatty acids, which improve heart, brain and cellular health. Chia seeds also possess an abundance of minerals. Ten percent of your recommended daily dose of calcium can be found in that teaspoon.
Their crunch plays well with cereal, yogurt and almond butter. I also eat them as a paste. Add one part chia seeds to three parts water and give them a few hours. Then, drizzle with some fresh lemon or lime juice.
Pumpkin High in magnesium and higher in antioxidants. A quarter cup contains almost half your recommended daily intake of magnesium, which, alone, should make it irresistible to those who exercise regularly and are, as a result, usually deficient. Magnesium’s harder to come by than most vitamins. So when you find a robust source like pumpkin seeds, take advantage.
Sunflower Also rich in antioxidants, especially vitamin E, which helps boost the immune system, too. They’re a good source of magnesium—25 percent of the daily recommendation in a quarter cup—as well as vitamins B1 and B6, which help convert carbs to fuel and metabolize fats and protein; copper, a key ingredient in the production and storage of iron; and selenium, an antioxidant that also appears to have some impact on cancer. Early studies have shown a lower rate of cancer-related deaths among people with a higher-than-average intake of selenium.
Lentils Bursting at they’re skins with fiber (15 grams in a quarter-cup’s worth), protein (13 grams), vitamins and minerals (25 percent of your recommended daily portion of folate and 10 percent of your iron). All that and less than a gram of fat. Basically, lentils are a nutritional beast. Eat them to fuel a workout and to recover from one.
Kidney Not quite the same powerhouse, but no slouch in their own right. At three grams of protein per quarter-cup, nine grams of carbs, three grams of fiber and 14 percent of your recommended daily intake of folate, kidney beans are a solid go-to if you’re crunching calories.
Fava Largely similar in profile to the kidney bean. Where it distinguishes itself is with the wondrous levodopa, which is converted to dopamine, known for its mood-lifting and anti-depressant potential. As if that’s not good enough, levodopa also triggers the release of growth hormone, which combats fat and tones muscle.
Before you go all in on a full-fava diet, hem your expectations. It’s never that effortless. But a little (a few servings a week) should provide a noticeable difference.