Beans Nuts and Peanut Butter

• Add a variety of legumes (beans and lentils) to your shopping list: adzuki, cannellini, garbanzos, navy beans, soybeans, and pinto beans, to name a few. With the demand for nutrient-rich, high-fiber recipes and the interest in ethnic cooking, today's stores stock a greater variety of beans and lentils—dry, canned, and frozen. You may find fresh legumes in the produce department and frozen beans in the freezer case.

If the store doesn't carry the type you're looking for, you usually can substitute another. For example, pinto, adzuki, and black beans can substitute for kidney beans, giving a dish a slightly different look. Cannellini, lima beans, and navy beans are the same color, just a different size. Nutritionally, most legumes are about the same, even though their appearance, texture, and flavor may differ somewhat. To explore the varieties of legumes, see "Bean Bag" in chapter 6.

• For freshness, look for these qualities in dry beans:

no pinhole marks or discoloration, beans with a bright color, and bags that aren't torn.

  • When food preparation time is short, opt for canned, rather than dry, beans. Unlike canned varieties, dry beans require cooking and perhaps soaking time. If your blood pressure is sodium-sensitive, be aware that salt is added to canned beans; check the Nutrition Facts and the ingredient list to compare similar products. Tip: Rinse canned beans under cold running water to reduce sodium.
  • Read labels on peanut butter. Peanut butter is simply roasted peanuts ground into a paste. The style— smooth, chunky, or crunchy—doesn't affect the nutritional content. All are good sources of protein, but the added ingredients may make a difference. To the ground peanuts, salt or small amounts of sugar may be added for flavor; unsalted and sugar-free varieties also are sold. You'll also see reduced-fat varieties, which may not be lower in calories; sugar and other ingredients may be added to enhance flavor and texture. The small amount of naturally occurring oils in peanut butter may be hydrogenated for spread-ability, adding trans fats. For more about partially hydrogenated (trans) fats, see "About Trans Fats" in chapter 3.

To keep oil and solids from separating, stabilizers usually are added to peanut butter. However, in "natural" peanut butter, the oil separates out. At home, avoid the urge to make peanut butter lower in fat by pouring that fat away. Your peanut butter will become too stiff to spread. Instead mix it well, or turn the jar upside down to let the oil run through.

• Buy a variety of tree nuts—almonds, cashews, hazlenuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, among others. Their nutrient and phytonutrient benefits differ, and their fats are mostly polyunsaturated. Be aware that nuts often are sold in salted and unsalted varieties. Unsalted nuts typically are found in the baking aisle; salted nuts, with snack foods.

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