Beans, beans, they’re good for–just about everything! Whether you toss them on your salad, simmer them in chili, use them to bulk up soup or mix them in with pasta, you’re enjoying one of the most delicious, nutritious foods you can have on a plant-based diet. Here are five of the many amazing things that beans can do:
Unless you’re already consuming a plant-based diet, chances are you’re not getting enough fiber. According to WebMD, the average American adult only takes in 15g per day, far below the recommended 25g for women and 38g for men (Zelman, 2014). Beans have one of the highest fiber contents of any food, with navy beans serving up a whopping 10.5g per 100g serving (5 reasons to eat more beans, n.d.). This shouldn’t be surprising considering that pretty much the entire bean is made up of soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which play important roles in digestive health (Swalin, 2015).
- Soluble fiber digests slowly, keeping you full and satisfied for longer (Swalin, 2015). It also feeds the beneficial bacteria in your GI tract, which in turn produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that nourish the colon walls. You wind up with stronger digestion and a better balance of intestinal bacteria, a combination that works to reduce common GI complaints such as constipation.
- Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and promotes regular bowel movements.
Another benefit of fiber-rich foods, including beans, is their ability to lower cholesterol. The cholesterol your body doesn’t need is meant to pass out of the body, not wind up in your bloodstream. Too much cholesterol in the blood, especially dense LDL cholesterol, increases the chances of plaque formation and therefore the risk of heart disease. Fiber helps reduce that risk by binding with cholesterol in the digestive tract to ensure proper elimination.
Interestingly enough, a study published in the Canadian Medical Journal showed that eating one serving of beans per day can actually reduce LDL cholesterol concentrations by 5% (Swalin, 2015). Whether this was just because of the fiber or because study participants replaced high-cholesterol foods such as meat with beans is unclear, but it’s a big benefit all the same.
Stop the Blood Sugar Roller Coaster
Carbohydrates have earned a bad reputation no thanks to the refining process used in most commercial flour-based products. The carbohydrates in beans, however, digest much slower than those in refined grains due both to the fiber and the protein content. Slower digestion means steadier absorption of carbs and a slower climb in blood sugar. Refined carbohydrates send blood sugar spiking and crashing, leading to swings in energy and mood. These swings also result in high levels of insulin flooding the blood stream in an attempt to keep blood sugar stable. Eating beans induces a much more moderate insulin response, helping to protect against the insulin resistance that can be a precursor to Type II diabetes (Swalin, 2015).
Pack a Nutritional Punch
Beans may well be the original “superfood.” They offer a wide range of nutrients including iron, B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese and potassium, which not only makes them good for general nutrition but also protective against some of the major causes of death such as heart disease and cancer (Murray, 2005). Beans help to combat iron deficiency, the most common mineral deficiency in the US, though for best absorption it’s a good idea to eat them with foods that contain vitamin C such as bell peppers, kale, collards or broccoli (Murray, 2005).
Soybeans have added benefits due to their essential fatty acid content. EFAs are necessary for maintaining the health of your brain, circulatory system and cell membranes (Murray, 2005). They’re also anti-inflammatory, an important characteristic given that chronic, low-grade inflammation is now thought to be the root of many common diseases.
Provide an Inexpensive (and Healthy!) Protein Source
While its true that meat, dairy and eggs all contain high amounts of protein, they’re also high in saturated fat, contain naturally occurring trans fats and are full of the hormones, chemicals and antibiotics that are used in modern factory farming processes. Beans, on the other hand, have all of the previously mentioned benefits plus a wide range of health-promoting phytonutrients (Taraday, n.d.). Soy in particular is a great protein source that contains all nine essential amino acids. Choose soybeans and whole soy products such as tofu and tempeh from non-GMO sources to enjoy a healthy protein boost.
In terms of economy and affordability, beans have meat beat, hands-down. One pound of meat contains about five servings; one pound of dried beans provides as many as 12 servings. With a pressure cooker, it’s easy to load up on bulk dried beans and cook them in minutes whenever you need them. Doing this also eliminates the added salt found in canned beans, yet another benefit for overall health.
Looking to get more beans in your diet? Try these tasty recipes:
- 2-Bean Chipotle Chili
- Burrito Bowl with Fresh Tomatoes
- Cilantro-Lime Quinoa with Black Beans and Kale
- Garlic Curry Hummus with Siracha
- Millet Salsa Bowls
- Roasted Potatoes with Italian Lentil-Veggie Saute
- Robust Kona Coffee Chili
- Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Kale Enchiladas
What’s your favorite bean recipe?
5 reasons to eat more beans. (December 18, 2013). In Rodale News. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.rodalenews.com/are-beans-healthy.
Murray, M., Pizzorno, J., Pizzorno, L. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Simon and Schuster
Swalin, R. (January 12, 2015). Reasons you should eat more beans. In ABC News. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/reasons-eat-beans/story?id=28124148.
Taraday, J. (n.d.). 5 reasons you shouldn’t avoid eating beans. In Breaking Muscle. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://breakingmuscle.com/nutrition/5-reasons-you-shouldn-t-avoid-eating-beans.
Zelman, K. M. (August 20, 2014). Fiber: How much do you need?. In WebMD. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/fiber-how-much-do-you-need.