There are few foods that are as important worldwide as the humble bean. These versatile plant seeds are essential to many cultures as a primary food source. It helps that beans are pretty tasty, too.
Asia, Europe, and the Americas all have their own unique species of native beans. As a result, there are unique cultural histories surrounding different species of beans.
Hundreds of bean varieties exist, but some of the most common types today are soybeans, black beans, pinto beans, and white beans. All bean varieties have their own subtle flavor, but when it comes to nutrition, they provide similar health benefits.
The nutrients in beans can provide significant health benefits. The antioxidants found in beans can help reduce cell damage caused by free radicals. This can lower your risk of cancer, sagging skin, and other signs of aging. Darker-colored beans have more of these antioxidants because they have more of the pigments that contain them.
Other health benefits of beans include:
Beans have a low glycemic index rating, which means that the body absorbs energy from them slowly. This helps prevent your blood sugar from spiking after a meal. People with diabetes, especially Type 2 diabetes, often find that low-glycemic-index foods like beans help them manage their blood sugar and insulin levels more effectively.
Lowers “bad” cholesterol
Beans are rich in soluble fiber, which is a kind of fiber that turns into a watery gel in your stomach. This gel absorbs cholesterol, especially “bad” LDL cholesterol, before your body can. Lower cholesterol levels help prevent problems like heart disease and stroke.
Beans are also full of insoluble fiber, which your body can’t digest. Insoluble fiber can help add bulk to your stools, reducing problems like constipation. Some of the bacteria in your digestive system consume this insoluble fiber. Eating insoluble fiber helps fuel these good bacteria, keeping your digestive system running smoothly.
Lower cancer risk
Beans are a good source of phytonutrients. These nutrients may help to reduce the risk of certain cancers, like breast, colon, and prostate cancer. Phytonutrients may also help reduce the risk of heart disease and reduce the symptoms of menopause.
Nutrients per Serving
There are many varieties of beans, but most have relatively similar nutritional content. For example, a half-cup serving of pinto beans contains:
- Calories: 122
- Protein: 8 grams
- Fat: 1 gram
- Carbohydrates: 22 grams
- Fiber: 8 grams
- Sugar: Less than 1 gram
Beans are a significant source of plant-based protein, which makes them a staple food for people who choose to eat a plant-based diet. Beans are often eaten together with grains to form complete proteins, such as in the American dish rice and beans.
Beans are also an excellent source of:
- B vitamins
Beans are high in folate, which is a necessary nutrient for healthy nerve growth, DNA reproduction, and embryo development. Doctors recommend that people who are or might become pregnant consume at least 400 micrograms of folate a day to prevent birth defects. A single serving of beans provides a quarter of that amount on average.
How to Prepare Beans
Since beans are a staple food around the world, there are hundreds of ways they can be prepared. From baking to boiling to grinding them up, different cultures have found inventive ways to include beans in their daily diets.
From pinto beans to black beans, there’s a bean for just about every dish. In the United States, beans can most often be found canned or dried for long-term storage. Canned beans can be added directly to recipes, but dried beans require a little preparation.
To prepare dried beans, it’s important to soak them. You can combine one pound of dried beans of any type with ten cups of water and leave them in the fridge to soak overnight. In the morning, you’ll have beans that are ready for cooking.
Here are some suggestions to add beans to your diet:
- Add beans to soups for extra protein.
- Make bean dip out of black and pinto beans.
- Add beans to salads.
- Try making bean burgers.
- Toast beans in the oven as a snack.
- Make chili, heavy on the beans.
Include beans in casseroles.