Pinto soufflé, garbanzos a l'orange, black bean flambé...if we afforded beans gourmet status, we may well reduce the burden of many of our most common degenerative diseases. That’s because the incredible health benefits of beans are simply undeniable. Let’s take a look at how the many benefits of beans can positively affect your health and well-being.
Benefit #1: High in Protein
Though lean meats and fish typically get all the glory, one important health benefit of beans is their protein content. A cup of cooked beans—black, pinto, or kidney, to name a few—contains roughly 15 grams of satiating, muscle- and tissue-building protein. So whether you’re a vegetarian or just looking for something other than chicken, fish, or turkey to add to your plate, try beans instead.
Benefit #2: Loaded With Fiber
Did you know that the average American only consumes about half the daily recommended amount of fiber? Instead of getting the 30–35 grams required for optimal health and proper digestion, most people only eat about 16 grams. Adequate fiber intake can lower cholesterol, ward off diabetes, enhance intestinal health, help with weight loss, reduce heart disease risk, and relieve a number of other health concerns. Another benefit of beans? You can get about 7.5 grams of fiber in just one half-cup serving.
Benefit #3: Bursting With Nutrients
Another benefit of beans is that they are packed with vitamins and minerals, particularly B-vitamins, folic acid, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and copper—nutrients that the standard American diet tends to be deficient in. Beans also contain other phytonutrients such as plant sterols and phenolic compounds with diverse health-enhancing properties.
Benefit #4: Rare Plant Source of Lysine
An interesting health benefit of beans is that they are one of the few plant sources of the amino acid lysine. Why is lysine important? For starters, it’s an essential amino acid, meaning it’s necessary for health but your body cannot produce it so you must get it from dietary sources. Furthermore, it’s required in the formation of collagen and connective tissue, the conversion of fatty acids into energy, and the absorption of calcium. Meat, fish, cheese, and eggs are good sources of lysine, but the clear winner in the plant world is beans.
Benefit #5: Low on the Glycemic Index
If you are watching your weight or your blood sugar, you are probably familiar with the glycemic index (GI) of different foods. In laymen’s terms, glycemic index basically refers to how quickly foods are broken down in your body and how they affect blood sugar. Foods with a high glycemic index cause rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin (and subsequent crashes), and foods lower on the GI list tend to be digested more slowly and have less of an effect. The slower breakdown of foods helps keep blood sugar on an even keel, makes you feel full longer, and has positive effects on several aspects of health. Foods with a GI of 55 or lower are considered low glycemic. Beans have a GI ranging from 10 to 40, with chickpeas (garbanzo beans) being the lowest.
Benefit #6: Boon for Heart Health, Diabetes, and More
The benefits of beans really are undeniable. Regular consumption of beans has been linked to improvements in heart and intestinal health, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, weight control, and more. Everyone should try to incorporate more of these nutritional powerhouses into their daily diets. (Check out the healthy bean recipes below for ideas on how to get started.)
How to Overcome One Downside of Beans
Despite all the health benefits of beans, they can produce intestinal gas, which can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. It’s caused by the human body’s inability to completely digest resistant starches and other carbohydrates in beans called oligosaccharides. We simply lack the enzymes to break them down into simpler molecules for absorption. When these undigested carbs arrive in the intestinal tract, they are metabolized by the trillions of bacteria that reside there, which break them down in a fermentation process that releases hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases. (The odor is caused by sulfur compounds.)
There are two ways to reduce this problem. First, soak dried beans plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda in cold water for eight hours or overnight. Pour off the soaking water and rinse well before cooking. This will get rid of a significant percentage of indigestible oligosaccharides.
Second, take Beano or digestive enzymes when you eat beans. Beano contains alpha-galactosidase, an enzyme that converts the indigestible carbohydrates in beans into simple, readily absorbed sugars.
Healthy Bean Recipes
Looking for easy ways to reap the benefits of beans? Give these delicious and healthy bean recipes a try.
Herbed Feta Chickpea Salad
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
15–20 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small-to-medium cucumber, peeled and quartered
¼ cup white onion, minced
½ cup fresh basil leaves, washed and chopped (or torn)
½ cup yellow bell peppers, chopped
1 medium lemon, juiced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2-4 ounces herbed feta cheese
1 medium avocado, cubed
Dash pepper (to taste)
In a large bowl, combine chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, basil, and bell peppers. Add lemon juice, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and feta cheese. Toss well. Add cubed avocado, fold ingredients together gently, and let sit for 10–15 minutes allowing the flavors to mingle. If desired, add a dash of pepper just prior to serving.
Mexican Bean Chowder
¾ pound dried black beans, rinsed
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
7 ounces (1 large can) chopped green chilies, drained
¾ cup cilantro, chopped (divided use)
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
8 tablespoons salsa
8 teaspoons low-fat sour cream
2 limes, cut into fourths
In a medium bowl or saucepan, cover beans with water, and 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, and soak overnight. Before cooking, discard soaking water and rinse beans. Heat olive oil in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4–5 minutes. Pour broth into pan and add beans, chilies, ½ cup of cilantro, and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for about 2 hours, until beans are soft. (Skim off any foam that might rise to the surface.) Add water if beans start to get too dry. To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon salsa, 1 teaspoon sour cream (placed on top of salsa), and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.