Beans are a simply delicious, naturally nutritious food. We’re talking about dry edible beans, beans that are harvested when the beans are dry in the seed pod.
All types of beans—including black, cranberry, Great Northern, dark red kidney, light red kidney, white kidney, navy, pink, pinto, and small red—are good sources of protein, excellent sources of fiber, and naturally fat-free, sodium-free, and cholesterol-free. Many types are also good sources of potassium.
Beans Are Part of A Healthful Diet
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating about 3 cups of legumes, including beans, per week. If you eat about ½ cup of beans every day, you’ll meet the weekly Dietary Guidelines for legumes.
And when you consider the fact that USDA MyPlate guidelines count beans as both a vegetable and a plant-based protein source, you’ll begin to see how easy it is to put more beans in your diet.
Bean Nutrition Facts
Data based on ½ cup servings of beans that have been cooked from the dry form and drained of cooking liquid. Canned beans will contain more sodium.
Dry Beans Provide Complex Carbohydrates
- Complex carbohydrates, also referred to as dietary starch, are made of sugar molecules strung together like a necklace. Complex carbohydrates are typically rich in fiber.
- The majority of the calories in dry beans come from carbohydrates in the form of starch, resistant starch (digested by beneficial bacteria in the gut), and small amounts of non-starch polysaccharides (also digested by beneficial gut bacteria).
- Being rich in complex carbohydrates, as well as a good source of protein, beans have a low glycemic index. This makes them an ideal food for the management of insulin resistance, diabetes and hyperlipidemia. (Foster-Powell, 2002; Rizdalla, 2002)
- Beans contain some complex sugars called oligosaccharides (all-uh-go-SACK-are-rides), which are non-digestible, fermentable fibers. They are broken down by beneficial bacteria in the colon, which may result in gas production and flatulence. There is increasing research and attention about the health of the gut or gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and how certain foods benefit or harm the gut (Zanteson, 2012). Beans may be a very important food for a healthy gut!
Dry Beans Provide Beneficial Dietary Fiber
- Dry beans are rich in both soluble and insoluble fibers. (Tosh, 2010)
- Soluble fiber traps dietary cholesterol inside the digestive tract. The cholesterol is then excreted versus being absorbed, which helps to lower blood levels of LDL cholesterol, especially if LDL cholesterol levels were high to begin with.
- Dry beans also provide substantial amounts of insoluble fiber, which help attract water to the stool and keeps you regular. This may help to combat constipation, colon cancer, and other digestive health conditions (Lanza, 2006).
Dry Beans Are A Source of Plant-based Protein
- Dry beans are a good source of plant-based protein and have therefore been identified as a meat alternative by the USDA My Plate food guidance system (USDA Dietary Guidelines, 2010).
- Beans contain between 21 to 25% protein by weight, which is much higher than other sources of vegetable protein. (U.S.D.A. Nutrient Database)
- Regular intake of dried beans is extremely important worldwide as they provide a good source of protein at a low cost compared to animal protein sources like beef, pork, and chicken.
Dry Beans Contain Essential Vitamins and Minerals
- Most types of beans are good sources of potassium, a mineral that promotes healthy blood pressure levels.
- Beans are excellent sources of copper, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium—nutrients that many Americans don’t get enough of.
- Most types of dry beans are rich sources of iron, which makes them important for vegetarians and vegans who do not get an animal source of iron.
- Dry beans are an excellent source of the water-soluble vitamins thiamin and folic acid and a good source of riboflavin and vitamin B6.
Foster-Powell, K., Holt, S.H.A., & Brand-Miller, J. C. (2002). International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 76, 5–56.
Lanza, E., Hartman, T. J., Albert, P. S., Shields, R., Slattery, M., Caan, B., Paskett, E., Iber, F., Kikendall, J. W., Lance, P., Daston, C., & Schatzkin, A. (2006). High dry bean intake and reduced risk of advanced colorectal adenoma recurrence among participants in the polyp prevention trial. Journal of Nutrition, 136, 1896-1903.
Leterme, P., and Muu ̃ oz, L.C. 2002. Factors influencing pulse consumption in Latin America. Br. J. Nutr. 88(S3): 251–254. doi:10.1079/BJN/2002714.
Rizkalla, S.W., Bellisle, F., and Slama, G. 2002. Health benefits of low glycaemic index foods, such as pulses, in diabetic patients and healthy individuals. Br. J. Nutr. 88(S3): 255–262. doi:10.1079/BJN2002715.
Salmeron, J., Manson, J.E., Stampfer, M. J., Colditz, G. A., Wing, A. L., & Willett, W. C. (1997). Dietary fiber, glycemic load, and risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes in women. Journal of the American Medical Association, 277, 471-477.
Tosh, S., and Yada, S. 2010. Dietary fibres in pulse seeds and fractions: Charac- terization, functional attributes, and applications. Food Res. Int. 43(2): 450– 460. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2009.09.005.
United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010.
United States Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Retail data for beef, pork, poultry cuts, eggs and dairy products (December 2014). Retrieved on February 26, 2015 from http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/meat-price-spreads.aspx
United States Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Fruit and Vegetable Price, 2008. Retrieved on February 26, 2015 from http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/fruit-and-vegetable-prices.aspx
USDA Nutrient Database. Retrieved on February 24, 2015 from http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search
Zanteson, L. (2012). Gut health and immunity – It’s all about the good bacteria. Today’s Dietitian. 14(6): 58.