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.
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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.

Member Comments

  • 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. - 7/30/2014 6:31:19 PM
  • 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. - 9/18/2013 8:45:28 PM
  • 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. - 9/14/2013 7:15:17 AM
  • 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. - 9/13/2013 9:49:24 AM
  • 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. - 9/13/2013 6:51:52 AM
  • 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. - 9/13/2013 3:13:55 AM
  • 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. - 8/17/2013 1:40:53 AM
  • I hope this tastes as good as it looks! - 2/7/2013 5:20:38 PM
  • 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. - 7/1/2012 1:10:42 PM
  • 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. - 6/30/2012 1:13:39 PM
  • 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. - 6/30/2012 9:50:48 AM
  • I use my RICE COOKER to cook up 1 cup of dried beans. Actually, I think of my rice cooker as a mini-crockpot, and use it for many foods besides rice. It's the perfect size for half a bag of beans, and minimizes boilovers. If the cooker flips itself off before I think the beans are tender enough, I just reset it. - 6/30/2012 9:46:55 AM
  • I can't believe there was no mention in the article of using a SLOW COOKER or CROCKPOT to cook dried beans. I find this is the easiest way to cook a big batch, then, I freeze individual portions to use in recipes later. - 6/19/2012 9:26:46 PM
  • i love incorporating beans into my diet. My two favorites are my homemade hummous and homemade Lebanese red lentil soup. So filling with the high fiber. Loved this article! - 5/18/2011 8:19:36 PM
  • I liked this article. Beans are great! I recommend beans from Rancho Gordo. They're beautiful, unique and very fresh dried beans.
    The only way to reduce gas after eating beans is to eat more beans. :)
    Oh, and take a look at the healthiest people in the world.. what are they eating? Grains, beans and legumes, vegetables, soy, and very, very little animal flesh.

    - 1/21/2011 8:14:30 AM

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