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Beanz meanz a healthy heart

The first recorded double-blind test must have been Daniel's deal with the eunuch. The biblical Book of Daniel records that Daniel and four princely pals -- young Israelites -- were taken hostage by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, an early Iraqi who invaded Israel.

Nebuchadnezzar told his chief eunuch to feed them the meat and wine from the king's own store.

Daniel wasn't having any. He refused to eat anything but beans and water. But luckily, the Bible records, "God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs". This prince of eunuchs objected -- Nebuchadnezzar, a typically irritable Type A personality, had a taste for casting people into fiery furnaces, and would have his head if Daniel and the lads started to look dawny.

Daniel suggested: "Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, 10 days; and let them give us pulse to eat and water to drink." The "pulse", biblical scholars reckon, was probably broad beans, generally regarded as the fare of the labouring man. Daniel won the day. "At the end of the 10 days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat."

Beans, there's no question, are fine food. And for some reason, men seem to have a passion for them. Think of all those cowboy movies. Think of Blazing Saddles. They are also a brilliant way of consuming cholesterol-lowering fibre. Combined with grains such as rice or wheat or barley, they provide high-quality protein.

"Beans, phaseolus vulgaris, are legumes that are thought to have originated from southern Mexico and Central America over 7,000 years ago," said a 2005 study led by Edmond Kabagambe of Harvard, winner of the American Heart Association's National Scientist Development Award for heart disease research. "They still form an important part of the staple diet in those regions. For many centuries, beans have remained part of the human diet in countries on all continents.

"The combination of rice and dried mature black beans supplies various nutrients including essential amino acids, folate, soluble fibre, copper, magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, and [alpha]-linolenic acid."

Another study, by Lydia Bazzano of Tulane University in New Orleans found that people eating legumes at least four times each week had a 19pc lower incidence of heart disease compared to those who ate them less than once a week. Pulses are recovering from their unglamorous image, and turning into gourmet treats. Try this traditional lentil soup...

Start with stock made from the bones of a roast chicken, plus onion, celery, carrots and a couple of bay leaves if you're a meat-eater, or from onion, carrot, celery, leek, turnip, tomato, garlic, thyme, parsley stems, whole peppercorns, a bay leaf and a clove if you're vegetarian.

Drain the bones and veggies from your stock and sling them out. Heat the stock, and meanwhile fry five chopped carrots, a chopped onion, two bay leaves, two celery sticks and a handful of lentils. Pour in the hot stock, cook 'til the carrots are soft, add some chopped parsley, salt and pepper, cook another five minutes, remove the bay leaves and whizz with an electric mixer or serve straight.