Green, black, white, pink, or red and shaped like tiny spheres, strings, or kidneys: Beans come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. With fun names like pinto and garbanzo, beans are high in protein and low in cholesterol, with plenty of other health benefits in between .
Spill the Beans — Why They’re Super
Beans are loaded with fiber, folate, and magnesium, and studies have shown these legumes can actually help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of certain cancers  . Beans are also a great source of iron, although certain types may provide more iron than others. One study showed that white beans reign supreme over red beans in the iron department, although other research suggests they’re both equally iron-packed  . It’s a good bet Iron Man’s been loading up on beans.
Beans are also a good source of protein— most varieties provide two grams of protein per ounce. Though ground beef contains more than twice the protein per ounce, bean-eaters can still pack in plenty of protein by mixing them with other foods. Beans don’t provide all the essential amino acids, but beans and rice are a match made in heaven, since rice fills in those amino acid gaps.
Calorie-wise, beans are a relative bargain. Green beans contain just nine calories per ounce; even garbanzos, one of the more calorific bean varieties, clock in at just 33 calories per ounce. Beans are also naturally low-fat and cholesterol-free, something many meat products can’t claim.
Cool Beans – Your Action Plan
Beans are definitely nutritional superheroes, but then there’s the problem of (ahem) flatulence. Beans naturally contain a type of sugar that is indigestible in humans— the sugar sits in the large intestine and bacteria ferment it, causing gas. Luckily, soaking dried beans can help ease the problem by breaking down the sugars, as can draining and rinsing canned beans (something the crew from Blazing Saddles clearly didn’t know about). Since beans contain a ton of fiber, introduce beans to the diet gradually so the digestive system can get used to higher amounts of fiber.
Another benefit of beans: they won't break the bank. Ground round, one of the cheapest cuts of beef, averages $3 a pound, while dried beans generally come in at less than $1 a pound.
Beans are also highly versatile when it comes to recipes. They can star in burritos, soups, stews, salads, dips, sauces— and can even sub in for shortening in baked goods! . Canned beans are incredibly easy to use because the soaking is already done, but it’s best to drain and rinse them first to lower the sodium content.
Superfood Recipe: Black Bean Chili
By Tulika Balagopal
What You'l Need:
6 cups canned black beans (the low-sodium variety)
2 8oz cans of plain tomato sauce
1 10oz can diced tomatoes (or diced with green chilies for an extra kick!)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons cumin
Salt and Pepper to taste
What to Do;
- In a small skillet, heat the vegetable oil (over medium-low heat). Lightly sauté the garlic and cumin until fragrant. Remove from heat.
- Rinse beans in cold water. Add to large pot with tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and corn and heat over medium-low heat.
- Add the garlic and cumin mixture, paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir well.
- Cook until heated through and flavors are mixed well!
- Serve with brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat tortillas, or baked potato for a satisfying and nutritious meal!
- Consumption of dry beans, peas, and lentils could improve diet quality in the US population. Mitchell, DC, Lawrence, FR, Hartman, TJ, et al. Diet Assessment Center, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2009; 109(5):909-13⤴
- The cholesterol-lowering effect of black beans (Phaseolus vulgaris, L.) without hulls in hypercholesterolemic rats. Rosa, CO, Costa, NM, Leal, PF, et al. Departamento de Nutrição e Saúde, Universidade Federal de Viçosa, Brasil. Archivos latinoamericanos de nutricion 1998;48(4):299-305⤴
- Consumption of black beans and navy beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) reduced azoxymethane-induced colon cancer in rats. Hangen, L, Bennick, MR. Food Science and Human Nutrition, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Nutrition and Cancer 2002; 44(1):60-5⤴
- White beans provide more bioavailable iron than red beans: studies in poultry (Gallus gallus) and an in vitro digestion/Caco-2 model. Tako, E, Glahn, RP. Department of Food Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. 2010 Dec;80(6):416-29⤴
- Iron and zinc bioavailabilities to pigs from red and white beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) are similar. Tako, E, Glahn, RP, Laparra, JM, et al. Department of Food Science and Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2009 Apr 22;57(8):3134-40⤴
- Pureed cannellini beans can be substituted for shortening in brownies. Szafranski, M, Whittington, JA, Bessinger, C. Department of Human Nutrition, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2005 Aug;105(8):1295-8⤴