Dry Beans A Good Fit
In Two Food Groups

By Alice Henneman, MS, RD

“Use your bean” is a common phrase that encourages people to think or use their brain. The Smithsonian Institution’s “Food and Think” blog muses whether this has to do with the brain being bean-shaped (1).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Choose MyPlate dietary guidelines recommend dry beans for everyone, because of their high nutrient content. USDA’s Food Patterns classify dry beans as belonging to both a subgroup of the Vegetable Group and as part of the Protein Foods Group (2).

As a high-protein vegetable, dry beans can provide the nutrition of a vegetable and the protein needed for a healthy diet (3). One half cup of cooked dry beans weighs in at approximately 115 calories and 8 grams of protein. You just can’t count dry beans toward recommendations for both food groups at the same time.

Susan Raatz, PhD, MPH, RD, provides an excellent overview of dry bean benefits (4, 5). According to Raatz, dry beans pack a nutritional punch with these attributes:

  • Complex carbohydrates and fiber
  • Good source of dietary protein
  • Low in fat
  • Plentiful vitamins and minerals
  • In the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 (DGA2010), dry beans were also recognized because of their nutritional profile in relation to sodium and potassium.

USDA cites “Reduce sodium intake” and “Increase potassium intake” in its list of “Key Consumer Behaviors and Potential Strategies for Professionals (6).”   The report of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee (DGAC) explains this recommendation, “Excessive sodium intake, especially when accompanied by inadequate potassium intake, raises blood pressure, a well-accepted and extraordinarily common risk factor for stroke, coronary heart disease, and kidney disease … (7).”

Excessive sodium and insufficient potassium likely have other health consequences besides their effect on blood pressure, according to the DGAC. Sodium intake has been linked with an increased incidence of gastric cancer while inadequate potassium intake may increase the risk of kidney stones and perhaps osteoporosis (7).

Dry beans, cooked from scratch or frozen, without added salt, average less than 5 milligrams of sodium per 1/2 cup (8). “No-salt-added” forms of canned dry beans are also negligible in sodium content. Draining and rinsing regular canned beans reduces sodium by approximately 41 percent (9).

At the same time that dry beans provide a food rich in vitamins and minerals that helps individuals meet the DGA2010 recommendation to lower dietary sodium, they also help meet the recommendation to increase dietary potassium intake. USDA identifies dry beans as one of the foods it considers an “excellent” source of potassium (10).

About the Author
Alice Henneman, MS, RD, and extension educator with University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, has spent her career helping people eat healthy in a way friendly to their health, waistline, pocketbook, and, most importantly…taste buds.  Most recently, she helped develop, coordinate, and is the main contributor to the food.unl.edu web site, which receives close to 1.5 million hits annually.


  1. Bramen, Lisa. Spilling the Beans on the Origins of Food Idioms. (2010, April 13). Food & Think Blog, retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/food/2010/08/spilling-the-beans-on-the-origins-of-food-idioms/
  2. USDA Department of Agriculture. Beans and Peas Are Unique Foods. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://www.choosemyplate.gov/foodgroups/proteinfoods_beanspeas.html
  3. USDA Economic Research Service. Dry Beans: Questions and Answers. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/drybeans/faq.htm
  4. Raatz, S. Nutritional Value of Dry Beans. USDA Agricultural Research Service, retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=20820
  5. Raatz, S. Historically Healthy, Dry Beans Provide Nutritional Value. The Dry Bean Institute. Retrieved November 13, 2011, from http://beaninstitute.com/historically-healthy-dry-beans-provide-nutritional-value/?rel=newsletter
  6. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Appendix 2. Key Consumer Behaviors and Potential Strategies for Professionals to Use in Implementing the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. Retrieved November 13, 2011, from http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/PolicyDoc/Appendices.pdf
  7. Report of the Dietary Guidelines Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Part D. Section 6: Sodium, Potassium, and Water. Retrieved November 13, 2011, from http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/DGAC/Report/D-6-SodiumPotassiumWater.pdf
  8. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. YOUR GUIDE TO Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH. Retrieved November 13, 2011, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/how_make_dash.html
  9. Shadix, K. Reducing Sodium in Canned Beans – Easier than 1-2-3. (2010, January). Today’s Dietitian, 12(1) 62. Retrieved November 13, 2011, from http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/011110p62.shtml
  10. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Chapter 4. Foods and Nutrients to Increase. Retrieved November 13, 2011, from http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/PolicyDoc/Chapter4.pdf