High in fiber, low in calories and packed with protein, beans are a food everyone can enjoy.

From fava and chickpea to navy and black-eyed-peas, beans come in many different shapes, flavors and forms. Also known as legumes, beans have been a popular staple of the human diet for centuries. In fact, beans date back to ancient Egypt and Greece, and classical Italy.

Although regarded differently in various cultures (ancient Greeks found beans a “poor man’s” food, while ancient Egyptians found them fit for a king), most civilizations ate beans in some shape or form.

When exports and imports grew in popularity starting in the 16th century, Europeans were introduced to the western bean varieties, and among them was the common bean. Beans from the New World were hardier, easy to grow and nutrient-dense, making them a popular import in Europe.

During times of hardship, the bean was used as a meat substitute. During the Great Depression in the United States, beans were used as a good source of protein when meat supply was low. They were also used during World War II as a food staple, and after the war bean production soared.

Beans have a low calorie count, but tout high fiber content. They can help lower cholesterol and are high in antioxidants, protein, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and zinc, thus making them a must-have addition to any household pantry.

The U.S. Dry Bean Council states that eating beans regularly can promote a healthy heart, and the phytochemicals in beans may reduce the risk of certain cancers. Beans have a low glycemic index, which in turn assists in blood sugar management for those with diabetes. They offer a good source of energy, and the high fiber content can even contribute to a slimmer waistline. Research also shows that people who eat more fiber tend to weigh less.

Did You Know?
Beans are the only food in the food pyramid to fit into two categories on the USDA Food Guide Pyramid. Legumes are considered both a vegetable and a protein.

Need a Superfood recipe? Try one of these:

Chickpea hummus

Summer bean salad

Enjoy Rocco DiSpirito’s exclusive recipe from his new book, Cook Your Butt Off!, and learn more about his amazing transformation in our cover story:

Rocco’s chili-rubbed chicken with black bean salsa and rice