Nutrition Articles

Beans: The Super Food that Keeps You Full

4 Ways to Enjoy the Tasty Nutrition of Beans

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The humble bean is quite the super food: packed with calcium, iron, potassium, B vitamins, plus about a quarter of the protein and half the fiber recommended daily for adults—all in a single serving. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, beans may even lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels, which can help boost heart health. Beans also do double duty in the food pyramid as both a vegetable and a protein. Not to mention, beans are easy to cook with, widely available and inexpensive.

Beans and their legume cousins (such as soybeans, chickpeas and lentils) have been cultivated and consumed for centuries as a part of many world cuisines: Black beans figure prominently in Central American and Caribbean dishes, chickpeas are a staple of Middle Eastern cooking, lentils are common in Indian and Persian recipes, and white beans are a fixture of French and Italian cookbooks.

Even though beans offer a slew of health benefits and culinary flexibility, they aren't a prominent staple of American diets—though many vegetarians routinely incorporate beans in their cooking. Perhaps it's a matter of taste or texture: By themselves, cooked beans aren't intensely flavorful (but that makes them a great foundation for other ingredients like tomatoes, peppers and herbs) and their texture can be a bit mushy if overcooked. Then there's the gastrointestinal effect that beans produce in some people. Because beans are high in both complex carbohydrates and soluble fiber, they can cause gas when they're digested in the large intestine. Rinsing canned beans can remove some of the sugars that can cause gas as well. (Beano, sold in most drug and grocery stores, is commonly thought to help avoid such distress. Adding a strip of kombu to dried beans during cooking also helps.) Learn how to make your beans less musical!

Beans have such compelling nutritional benefits that they're worth experimenting with in your kitchen. Here’s how.

Canned Beans vs. Dried Beans: Which is Better?
Canned beans are super easy to use, and you'll find a number of options on your grocer's shelves. But, like many packaged foods, they can pack a lot of salt. When selecting canned beans, choose a low-sodium variety whenever possible. Scan the nutrition labels and opt for the product with the lowest sodium—levels can vary widely. For example, Eden Organic chickpeas have 30 milligrams of sodium per half cup serving; Progresso chickpeas have 280 milligrams for the same portion. Most recipes call for draining and rinsing canned beans and doing so removes up to 40% of the added sodium. Also, rinsing off the starchy liquid the beans were cooked and preserved in helps keep the beans from getting too soggy in your recipe--and remember that it helps reduce the gassy feeling beans can cause.

Though canned beans are a quick and easy alternative to dried, it is worth noting that canned foods like beans may contain traces of the plastic chemical BPA, which can permeate canned foods through the plastic lining inside of the can. Very few brands of canned foods are made without BPA, so if exposure to this chemical concerns you, dried beans are the way to go.

Dried beans are quite easy to prepare from scratch, but they do take more time. Using dried varieties will also allow you to control how much salt is added and to get the texture you prefer. Some people believe that freshly cooked beans also taste better than canned.

To prepare dried beans, start with a bag from your grocer (you can also buy dried beans in bulk), then rinse the beans and pick out any small stones or broken pieces. Next, place the beans in a large bowl, cover them completely with water, and soak for several hours or overnight (they’ll expand, so make sure to use plenty of water). Soaking the beans reduces their cooking time. Drain the beans and place in a large pot, along with a stalk of celery, a carrot and a small onion, all cut into large chunks. Bring to a boil for about five minutes, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are done to your taste. Cooked beans freeze well; simply portion them out in zip-top bags or freezer containers, spoon in a bit of cooking liquid, or drizzle with a bit of olive oil and freeze for up to six months.

Simple Ways to Bean-up Your Diet
You know that they are good for you, but how do you begin to incorporate beans into your meals? Here are four simple ideas, along with some healthful recipes you can try!
  1. Incorporate beans into your favorite dishes. Italian and Mexican recipes are easily enhanced with beans. Simply rinse and drain a can of black beans and add them to your favorite homemade or jarred salsa. Use the mixture to top tostadas or tacos. Or, make an easy and hearty traditional Italian pasta dish with sausage, spinach and white beans.
     
  2. Add beans to soups and stews. White beans, also known as Cannellini beans, are prime candidates for the Italian soup called pasta e fagioli. Use kidney or black beans in your family's favorite chili recipe. Make a Cuban-style black bean soup that's packed with bell peppers and a kick of jalapeno; make it vegetarian by using vegetable stock instead of chicken.
     
  3. Add beans to your repertoire of snacks and appetizers. A puree of Cannellini beans, garlic, olive oil and an herb like basil or rosemary makes a simple and flavorful spread for warm pita, flatbread crackers or bread sticks. Spread the puree on a slice of whole wheat bread and top with sliced tomatoes, red onion, red bell pepper, lettuce, cucumber or whatever's in the produce drawer for a protein-packed veggie sandwich.
     
  4. Pack beans for lunch. The high fiber and protein content makes beans a smart addition to your midday meal. Combine a can of white beans (rinsed and drained), a can of light tuna, a bit of scallion, parsley, olive oil and lemon juice to make a Mediterranean-style salad that carries just 125 calories per serving. Or, toss white beans with a pint of cherry tomatoes (halved), a bit of Feta cheese, lemon juice, olive oil and cracked black pepper, then use whole wheat pita bread for scooping.
Nutrition Facts for Popular Beans

 
 Legumes, 1 cup cooked  Protein  Calories  Fiber
 Black beans  15 g  227  15 g
 Garbanzo beans/Chickpeas  15 g  269  12 g
 Kidney beans  15 g  225  11 g
 Lentils  18 g  230  16 g
 Lima beans  15 g  216  13 g
 Navy beans  16 g  258  12 g
 Pinto beans  14 g  234  15 g
 Soybeans  29 g  298  10 g
 Split peas  16 g  231  16 g

If you're feeling adventurous, branch out beyond the navy beans you'll find in your local stores and look for varieties like Borlotti, Scarlet Runner, or Cranberry. If you're lucky, your hometown farmers market may be a good source for unusual or heirloom shelled and dried beans.

Source List:
6 Reasons to Love Beans, from Johns Hopkins Health Alert
Gas in the Digestive Tract, from National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
Recommended dietary allowances for meats/beans, from ChooseMyPlate.gov
Review Toxicological and Health Aspects of Bisphenol A, from World Health Organization

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Member Comments

  • A pressure cooker is a great kitchen appliance ... especially when dried beans and other legumes are a big part of your diet. Slow cookers can give you mush ... conventionally stove top cooking takes time. Use of spices - aromatic in particular make for variety. If you do choose to use canned beans, wash them several times before starting. Not as good as fresh or dried but better than so many other protein and fiber sources.
  • SKIRUNNER1
    1st sentence-"about a quarter of the protein and half the fiber recommended daily for adults—all in a single serving.". ARE YOU KIDDING ME? What do you consider a serving? My favorite kidney beans have 6 G protein and 7 fiber for my 1/2 cup serving. Portion control is such an important part of learning to fuel our bodies that at least say how big this "portion" is. I love beans and they have been front and center in my weight loss with Sparkpeople, but I couldn't get past that claim to read the rest of the article! :). Now I will.
  • I prefer dry beans versus can beans. But as a child as well as an adult I did not know how to cook or prepare dry beans.
    Its amazing how over the past 8 years, my cooking and eating habits have drastically changed for the better.
  • MABLEMONSTER
    i love beans and cornbread my fav meal
  • ALICERED
    for Belladonna74:

    Mark Sisson is a quack, and I suspect you're a Paleo troll. Here's an actually scientific article that mentions Mark Sisson) about the Paleo diet. http://www.scient
    ificamerican.
    com/article/w
    hy-paleo-diet
    -half-baked-h
    ow-hunter-gatherer-really-eat/
    Also: You end your bizarre pseudoscience rant with the "radical" suggestion to eat a steak. I agree there. Consumption of an animal corpse is indeed extreme. I'm a slender, fit vegan (have been for 15 years) and I thrive on beans and grains. I have many older and even elderly vegan and vegetarian friends who are also quite healthy.
  • Yes I cook my beans in the slow cooker or crock pot as well. While I am doing other things I just let them cook.
  • QUAIL480
    Just read the article on beans. Loved it. In order to help with the gas problem my grandmother would bring the dried beans to a boil, pour that water off, add more water then add her seasoning meata d salt then she would continue cooking as normal. Being a good grandson, I do the same. Seems to help with the gas problem. I found out I am in the normal range for gas. I have been thinking I had a major problem.
  • TEECEA
    The article didn't mention to look for beans in the frozen foods section, but they are great too...I won't eat canned Lima Beans but the frozen ones taste awesome.
  • LUCYBRAD
    Thanks for sharing the secret. Beans are fabulous! I have never found canned beans to be soggy and I use them in almost every dish. Perhaps it is the brand I use which is ALSO BPA-FREE - Eden Organic beans. Love them.
  • soaking beans before you cook them also breaks up the carbs to make the beans easier to digest. This is especially good for people with ibs or crohnes.
  • Thanks for this article. I love beans. They don't cause any gas problem for me anymore. Maybe the body adapts. I use a slow cooker after cleaning and soaking them overnight.

    I sometimes add black or white beans to veggie salads or marinated veggies. It always gets compliments.
  • I hope this tastes as good as it looks!
  • Belladonna74 - That site you linked to is based on a load of hooey. One study said this or that is no basis for a sound scientific understanding of nutrition. Someone selling something there? Of course they are! I have eaten both a meat eating diet and a vegetarian one and you can be healthy on either as long as you get all your nutrients and forget all about nonsense diets based on creating fear to manufacture markets.
  • Even for stovetop cooking, there's really no need to soak beans. I rinse mine and check to see that there's no grit or bad beans, and then put them on to cook with an inch of water over the top, and add onion, garlic and seasonings (a bit of lean ham chunks added when they've been cooking a couple of hours makes them especially savory).

    Set 'em on low, stir occasionally, and add water as needed. Yummy over brown rice with a side of fruit.
  • HEARTY SANDWICH SPREAD--I use up leftover kidney beans (cooked with herbs and hot pepper flakes for some kick) by partially mashing them, adding some minced vidalia onion and minced celery--maybe some pickle relish on occasion. That'll fill me up 'way better than peanut butter, with NO fat and LOTS of flavor.

About The Author

Bryn Mooth Bryn Mooth
Bryn Mooth is an independent copywriter and journalist focused on food, wellness and design; she's also a Master Gardener and enthusiastic green thumb. She shares seasonal recipes, kitchen techniques, healthy eating tips and food wisdom on her blog writes4food.com.

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