Getting protein from beans helps protect against diabetes, certain types of cancer, and premature death. Beans also help with weight control: People who ate them had a 22 percent lower risk of being obese than those who didn’t.
Did you know beans have a dual identity—they’re both a protein and a vegetable.
“They have double the benefits in each bite,” says Joan Salge Blake, R.D.N., a nutrition professor at Boston University. In addition to being an excellent source of muscle-building protein, beans are at least as rich in potassium, fiber, and antioxidants as many veggies.
Beans are a top source of fiber, a nutrient that an estimated 95 percent of Americans don’t eat enough of.
There are about 4 to 10 grams of fiber in ½ cup. (Men older than 50 should aim for 28 grams per day; women, 22 grams.) “Not only can fiber keep you regular, but the type found in beans can help lower your blood cholesterol levels,” Salge Blake says.
Bean eaters may be healthier, too.
Daily consumption resulted in about a 10 percent lower risk of heart disease and high blood pressure compared with not eating them, according to a review of 28 studies published in the journal Advances in Nutrition. Getting protein from beans instead of red or processed meat helps protect against diabetes, certain types of cancer, and premature death, other research shows. Beans may also help with weight control: People who ate them had a 22 percent lower risk of being obese than those who didn’t, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found.
Which Beans Should You Buy?
Nutritionwise, you really can’t go wrong with any legume. Though lentils are the fastest-cooking and red kidney and black beans may be rich in antioxidants, the differences aren’t significant enough to favor one over the rest. Try a variety—garbanzo, kidney, pinto—to keep things interesting.
As for canned vs. dried, it’s a matter of choice. Canned beans may be higher in sodium, but draining and rinsing them cuts sodium by an average of 41 percent. (You can look for low-sodium canned beans, too.) Dried beans require some planning—you need to hydrate most kinds overnight, then cook 45 minutes to 2 hours. But they’re less expensive, and you can make a big batch and refrigerate or freeze them in some liquid.
Once your beans are ready, there are loads of delicious summery ways to dish them out.
• Toss black beans with frozen corn, cooked in the microwave and brought to room temperature, and a bit of jarred tomato salsa for an easy black bean and corn salsa. Eat on its own, stuff into an avocado half as a meal, or use to top grilled chicken or fish.
• Lentils or chickpeas tossed with a quick vinaigrette—olive oil, vinegar, and mustard—and chopped vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots, bell pepper, and cucumber, is a balanced meal—especially when served over a whole grain like farro or purple rice.
• White beans cooked in olive oil with garlic and rosemary can be a surprisingly fresh-tasting addition to pasta. Or mash them lightly with a fork and use to top whole-grain toast.