We often reach for whole grains to get our fiber fix, protein to keep us full, and veggies for lots of vital nutrients. But are we overlooking beans?
They might not be the sexiest of foods, but beans are more versatile and nutritious than you’d think. Not only do they pack more fiber (sometimes even more than many grains, cereals, and pastas), but they also come with additional perks: They’re high in protein, low in fat, and full of other important micronutrients such as zinc and iron.
Research has even shown that meals made up of beans leave you feeling more satiated than those with meat.
A food with this much variety and nutritional power deserves more love, and we’re here to spill the beans. Here are some compelling reasons you need more beans in your life.
The many types of beans
Here are some bean varieties to look out for when you’re shopping, all with their own nutritional perks:
- black beans
- pinto beans
- kidney beans
- red beans
- garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas)
- navy beans
- fava beans
- cannellini beans
- lima beans
- black-eyed peas
1. They may help you live longer
Beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat… the longer you live? Maybe. An older 2004 study that tracked the dietary habits of elderly people across four countries found that eating just 20 grams of legumes a day (basically any plant that grows fruit inside a pod, including beans) may reduce one’s risk of death by 7 to 8 percent — and no other food group even comes close. In fact, beans are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets.
Legumes may also help with brain function as we age, which means they can help increase the quality of those extra years as well.
2. They may help ward off disease
Beans might not help you avoid the black plague or the flu, but they have been linked to the prevention of certain chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. All varieties found are to play a role in disease prevention and treatment — so your taco bar can have a huge impact on your health.
3. They pulverize bad cholesterol
You probably can’t undo the cholesterol levels of every post-happy-hour-mozzarella-sticks meal? But the good news is that beans may help keep that overall cholesterol down. Pulses (a fancy name for beans, chickpeas, lentils, and dry peas) significantly lower LDL, aka low-density lipoprotein (the “bad” cholesterol).
If you’re worried about your cholesterol levels, try replacing foods that are high in saturated fats (for example, fried cheese sticks and red meat) with fiber-rich beans such as chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, and butter beans.
4. They can help you lose weight
What if there were a magical food that could help you feel fuller longer and lose weight? We’d all be rushing to the store to buy it, right? Turns out it exists: An older review of studies indicated that eating pulses on the reg has been linked to weight loss and weight management, and some studies show they’re a key ingredient in successful weight-loss. However, it’s important to note that these results were from randomized controlled trials, not a general “weight loss plan.”
And if dessert is your undoing? Try adding beans to everything from blondies and brownies to cake and cookies. They not only add more protein and fiber to whatever sweet treat you’re whipping up, but they also rank low on the glycemic index so can help curb blood sugar spikes.
5. They battle sun damage
Sunscreen is a daily necessity, but it isn’t the only skin saver on your side. Eating beans can actually help fight the effects of UV rays. Older research points to fewer wrinkles in the skin of older subjects who ate a lot of legumes, though more recent research is needed to be sure.
Legumes are also high in zinc, which is known to help heal scars and prevent sun damage and other signs of aging. Half a cup of kidney beans contains almost a whole day’s amount of zinc, so eat up for better skin health. Beans also contain antioxidant-rich polyphenol, which, combined with sunscreen, may help protect you against the sun.
6. They’re good for the environment
Chowing down on beans instead of meat can drastically reduce your carbon footprint — one report says that subbing them in place of beef would allow the U.S. to reach 46 to 74 percent of its greenhouse gas reduction goals.
And they don’t just help the air. Most plants need a nitrogen fertilizer to thrive — but not beans. Legumes basically make their own fertilizer by storing nitrogen in their roots, which not only helps them grow big and strong but also benefits other crops that are rotated in the soil after them.
7. They don’t actually make gas worse
Much as we love the old nursery rhyme, you don’t need to fear a surge in flatulence from eating beans. Older research shows bean-induced gas, if it happens at all, may decrease once you start eating them more regularly.
There are few risks in eating beans for most people. But if you happen to be allergic to a certain type of bean or other members of the legume family, you may find that you’re allergic to multiple types.
Some types of beans also contain lectins, a type of protein that can bind to carbs. Research suggests that lectins may prevent nutrient absorption. Using canned beans and cooking dried beans well is the safest route to removing the lectins and making them safe to eat. It’s rare that people end up consuming too much lectin, so don’t worry if you’re mostly using canned beans.
If you live with irritable bowel syndrome or eat a low-FODMAP diet, beans may also not fit into your eating plan.
For most of us, though, the biggest side effect of that bean burrito will be gas, and it isn’t even likely. And as we mentioned, it could just be happening if you’re newer to eating beans. But if it does, it can range from mildly embarrassing to really uncomfortable. If you’re not a bean eater on the regular (pun intended), start adding them slowly so you’re not gassing up the joint later.
Canned beans are some of the easiest ingredients to add to your stews, soups, baked goods, and more. So finding out that they’re also really great for you is a mega bonus. They’re a great whole protein source for vegetarians and vegans, too.
Browse those grocery aisles for new types of beans you’ve never tried to spice up your culinary life (and your health at the same time!).