Beans: A Secret Superstar for Excellent Nutrition

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March is National Nutrition Month®, during which we spotlight different aspects of nutrition and how to fuel our bodies to their fullest potential. Today, we are highlighting a great source of plant protein—beans!

Beans have an excellent nutrition profile, come in a variety of types, are cost-effective and versatile. Let’s explore each of these areas and why beans as a plant protein can be a great addition to your diet.

What are the benefits of beans?

The nutrition value of beans varies between types of beans. However, beans tend to bolster a high amount of protein and fiber.

We typically associate protein with meat, but protein can also be found in plants. Beans are the superstars of the plant proteins. For example, a 1/2 cup serving of black beans contains 7g of protein. Protein plays an important role in our bone, muscle, skin and immune health.

Not only do you get a significant amount of protein, but beans are also high in fiber. Fiber is essential for proper digestion and maintaining healthy bowel movements. We tend to fall short of the daily fiber intake recommendation, so incorporating foods that are high in fiber can really help fill in the gap! A 1/2 cup serving of pinto beans can give you 5g of fiber.

According to the American Heart Association, a leading cause of heart disease involves high amounts of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Incorporating beans into your diet can lower the amount of LDL cholesterol, leading to a healthier heart. Studies have also shown potential improvements in HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

A variety of flavors and textures

There are many types of beans with different flavors and textures. Some common beans you may find at the grocery store include black, pinto, chickpeas, kidney, and great northern beans. Each type of bean can be used in different dishes to give the dish the right flavor and texture. Black beans, for example, are a staple in Mexican dishes. Chickpeas can be ground up to make hummus to pair with vegetables. Pinto beans are the foundation of “soup beans,” a dish that originated in the Appalachian region of the United States and usually paired with cornbread.

The variety does not stop at the types of beans available, but also the different forms in which you can buy them. Beans can come dried or canned. Dried beans require soaking in water before cooking, while canned beans are already cooked and suspended in liquid.

Inexpensive and versatile food

Many of us are looking for ways to stretch our food dollar, and beans can be a great addition to your grocery list to help your money go further. Each type of bean is priced differently, and price will depend upon where you shop, but 1 pound of dried beans costs between 1-2 dollars for about 13 servings. You can also purchase dried beans in larger quantities like 2- or 5-pound bags to save even more money.

Canned beans are also inexpensive, though not as dollar-saving as dried beans. A 15.5 oz can of store-brand beans can be bought for one dollar or less depending on where you shop. Each 15.5 oz can is 3.5 servings.

Whether you buy dried or canned beans, this dish staple is very versatile. For example, black beans can be added to taco dishes or formed into a black bean burger. Kidney beans can be added to salads or used in soups and chili. Pinto beans can be mashed into refried beans or a bean dip. Adding different flavors and spices to beans can change how they function in a variety of dishes.

3 things to consider when adding beans to your diet

You’ve been reading about how beans are an amazing food that combines health benefits with affordability. However, there are some considerations to note as you look to incorporate beans into your diet.

  1. It is important to thoroughly cook dried beans. According to PennState Exension, dried beans need to be completely cooked before consuming due to a lectin found in beans that can be toxic if consumed raw or undercooked. Kidney beans contain an especially high amount of lectin. Cooking the beans at boiling point for 30 minutes destroys the lectin, and beans can be safely consumed. Not sure about cooking dried beans correctly? Canned beans are already fully cooked and do not need to be cooked again to enjoy. That process has already happened before the beans were canned! Canned beans can be enjoyed straight out of the can or heated up for a few minutes to enjoy hot.
  2. Canned beans may contain added sodium. If you are looking to reduce your sodium intake, drain and rinse the beans to remove up to 40 percent of the sodium. You may find “no salt added” canned beans that drastically reduce the amount of sodium.
  3. Speaking of added ingredients, there are many types of pre-made bean products that you can buy in cans. Be aware of the nutrition facts and ingredients by reading the food label on the back of the can. While the base of these products are beans, the sauce they come in may have extra ingredients like added sugar, salt or meat that can affect the overall nutrition value. These products include baked beans, chili beans, pork and beans, and refried beans. These products can certainly be enjoyed—just be aware of the added ingredients by reading the food label.

Beans are a nutritious, versatile and cost-effective food. We hope you will join us in celebrating National Nutrition Month® by incorporating plant proteins into your diet!

CICOA’s Meals & More service helps Central Indiana seniors eat healthy and stay connected. Check out our nutrition education resources, or contact us to get started with meals programs.

Kristen Phillips
Kristen Phillips

Kristen Phillips, an AmeriCorps VISTA at CICOA, brings her background in hunger relief and working with older adults with dementia to the Meals & More department. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music therapy from Appalachian State University. While in school, Kristen worked with people of all ages to refine her skills as a music therapist. During her studies, she found her passion working with older adults with dementia and continued working with this population during a six-month internship to finish her certification. In 2018, she moved to Indianapolis to begin her first AmeriCorps VISTA term and gained experience in hunger relief efforts. Since then, Kristen has made Central Indiana her home.

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