The Benefits of Beans (Bean-ifits)

Often overlooked and under-appreciated, dried beans are an excellent source of nutrients.  Moreover, compared to traditional sources of protein like chicken or beef, dried beans are a low-cost, shelf-stable protein option. Eating a plant-based diet has been shown to protect against cardiovascular disease and is associated with lower triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. Due to their excellent fiber content, beans help control appetite by reducing hunger, and increased consumption has been linked to lower body weight and waist circumference. In addition, eating beans has been associated with reduced risk of colorectal cancers – which is the second leading cause of death in the U.S.

1280px-3_types_of_lentilSo many beans!

Along with lentils, peas, peanuts and soybeans, beans are a part of the legume family. Beans are a staple in many cultures and a familiar food all around the world. Roughly half of all the beans consumed in the U.S. are pinto beans. The sheer variety of beans makes for endless combinations and additions to everyday recipes you’re already using.

How many bean varieties can YOU name?
Dark Red or Light Red Kidney
Great Northern

beans chick

Mmmm… garbanzo beans (also known as chick peas)

Health Benefits
Beans provide a good source of fiber, folate, potassium, magnesium and iron while skipping out on less desirable nutrients like fat, trans fat, sodium and cholesterol. One cup of beans is equivalent to one serving of vegetables, and ¾ cup is equivalent to a serving of protein. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommends people following vegetarian or vegan diets consume 4 cups and 4 ¾ cups, respectively of legumes (including beans) a week. For people with diabetes, it’s important to remember that beans are a starchy food and one half cup of beans contains approximately 20g of carbohydrate or one carbohydrate serving.

Due to their low-fat content, substituting beans for a dish that would normally contain meat, such as making black bean burgers instead of ground beef burgers, may result in more favorable cholesterol levels over time. In addition, the soluble fiber contained in beans helps to eliminate LDL “bad” cholesterol from the blood. For this reason the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (ATP III) recommends the use of dried beans in the diet. One-half cup of cooked dry beans contains 5.5-8 grams of fiber, including 1-3.5 grams of soluble fiber which is 10-35% of the 5-10 grams of soluble fiber intake that is recommended by the NCEP ATP III.

Beans often catch a bad rap for causing some gastrointestinal discomfort, bloating, flatulence and increased frequency of bowel movements. Don’t let this scare you from adding beans to your diet. Incorporating beans gradually and in smaller amounts (ex. ½ cup a day) may help to decrease some of the symptoms. Also, drinking at least eight, 8-oz glasses of water throughout the day and increasing by 1-2 glasses on hot days and during exercise can help your gut during periods of increased fiber intake. Using hot water to soak beans and discarding the water several times during the soaking period will also help to decrease some of the gas-forming compounds. If you’re still suffering, consider taking an over-the-counter gas-reducing tablet with bean-based meals.

Serving of ½ cup dry beans, cooked (on average):

nutrition beans

How can you incorporate beans into your diet?  Here are some simple ways to start.

  • Add beans to your main dish at lunch or dinner. Beans work great in salad, soup, casseroles or pastas!
  • Make black-bean burgers instead of hamburgers or turkey burgers.
  • Have a bean-based side-dish like baked beans, 3-bean salad or hummus.
  • Use fat-free refried beans as a spread on your sandwich instead of mayo.
  • New to the world of beans? Try substituting for half the amount of ground turkey or beef in a dish.
  • Whip up the following recipe – kale and white bean soup!

Kale and White Bean Soup
Serves 8, 1 cup servings

bean kale soup

Onion, diced                            1 1/2 cups
Olive oil                                   1 ½ T
Garlic                                      ½ tsp
Cannelli beans, dry
(or 2 ½ cups cooked)               ½ lb
Vegetable stock or broth        4 cups
Bay leaf                                   1 leaf
Rosemary, dried                     1 ½ T
Salt                                          1 tsp
Black pepper, ground             ½ tsp
Carrots, diced                         2 cups
Kale, chopped                         7 cups
Parmesan cheese, grated       ¾ cup


  1. Cook beans the day before or prior to making soup or use canned beans.
  2. In a large pot, saute onions in oil for 5 min, add garlic and cook for an additional minute.
  3. Add cooked beans, stock, salt, pepper, bay leaf and rosemary and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Add carrots and cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Add kale and cook for 12 minutes, or until kale is tender. Add additional stock if more liquid is needed.
  6. Sprinkle parmesan cheese and serve hot.

More on beans in the next post!


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