By Keri Gans
May 28, 2013

As long as I have been in private practice, it seems to me that there are some foods I have a hard time convincing patients to consume more of, especially white potatoes and beans. People often think spuds are fattening, and they don't know what to do with beans. But a new study shows both foods are an inexpensive way to get important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Researchers at the University of Washington examined the nutrients per unit cost of 98 vegetables. While dark green vegetables had the highest nutrient density scores, after accounting for cost, starchy vegetables and beans provided better nutritional value for the money.

One medium-size potato with the peel, in particular, contains just 110 calories, more potassium than a banana, and almost half your daily vitamin C with no fat, sodium, or cholesterol. Beans (a.k.a. legumes) are also powerhouses in potassium, as well as great sources of protein, fiber and calcium.

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Hopefully more people will realize that starchy vegetables are not the enemy. However, they are still more caloric than dark green leafy vegetables, therefore portion sizes need to be adhered to. And how you cook these veggies are just as important: Smothering your potato with lots of butter and sour cream or enjoying your garbanzo beans as fried falafel are not exactly what I would have in mind. Instead, try these healthier ideas for potatoes and beans:

1. Simply baked potatoes. There are so many low-fat toppings to choose from, you can get adventurous; hummus, salsa, mustard, horseradish, low-fat Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese are just a few.

2. Roasted potatoes. I personally like using new potatoes. Halve or quarter them with the skin on, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with a little pepper and rosemary, and put in 400-degree oven. Cooking time varies but should be no longer than 1 hour.

3. Potato salad. My healthy version is especially a hit in the summertime. I combine cooked new potatoes (halved or quartered) with a little olive oil (in lieu of regular mayonnaise), white wine vinegar, mustard, and parsley.

4. Bean pasta sauce. One of my favorites is cooking whole-wheat penne and then tossing with garlic, olive oil, broccoli, northern beans, and feta cheese.

5. Black bean salad. Take black beans, corn, chopped tomato, and red onion, and mix with a little olive oil and pepper.

3. Black or kidney bean omelets. Stuff inside with lots of veggies, or serve the beans as a side with eggs instead of toast.

One of the easiest-and most inexpensive-dinner meals is a baked potato topped with black beans or kidney beans, a single fried egg, and a dab of low-fat sour cream, with your green veggie of choice on the side. And believe me, if you don't want to cook beans from scratch, you don't have to. Simply opening a can and rinsing the beans under water works just fine.

How do you like to enjoy potatoes and beans? Tell us @Shape_Magazine.