Joco Diversions

Eating for life — Beans are a low-fat protein source with antioxidants as an extra benefit

Chances are you’ve heard nutrition experts consider blueberries a brain food. But less expensive and always in season, black beans are also a smart choice.

When a 2004 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry rated the top 100 antioxidant foods, many nutrition scientists were surprised to learn the versatile frijole measured 4,181 units per 3 1/2-ounce serving on the ORAC scale, which measures the oxygen radical absorbance capacity — or disease fighting power — of various fruits, vegetables and legumes.

The ORAC scale was invented by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. Dark chocolate tops the list at a whopping 13,120. Blueberries come in next at 9,019. Black beans rank third, out-muscling other nutrient-rich super foods such as spinach (1,260), broccoli (890) and onions (450).

From a purely practical standpoint, beans have long flavored the cuisines of the world and provided an important low-fat protein source. All bean varieties add fiber, B vitamins, iron, folate, potassium and magnesium to the diet. But this new research confirms the darker the bean, the more antioxidant protection.

The Star’s South-of-the-Border Black Bean Soup incorporates Tex-Mex seasonings to create a delicious soup. By using canned beans and a slow cooker, you have an easy dish that comes together with little muss or fuss.

You’ll also find other super foods in the crock: tomatoes add lycopene, and chilies pump up the flavor while increasing your metabolism for several hours after eating.

Shopping tip:

Canned beans work best for this recipe. Of course, there are differences between the way various brands of canned beans are prepared, and ultimately some people like their beans soft while others like them hard.

For a dish such as this one that requires firm beans, Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook (Rodale, 2005), recommends Bush’s, Goya, S, Westbrae and Eden brands. For pureed dishes and refried beans, she recommends choosing softer beans, such as Green Giant, Progresso or Whole Foods Market’s 365 brand.