Beans are often underrated but pack a powerful nutritional punch at an affordable price. Discover why beans should be a mainstay in our diet and how to cook them from scratch at home.
Beans are a beloved food staple enjoyed all over the world. Whether it is Latin American beans and rice, an English breakfast of beans on toast, creamy hummus in the Middle East, Indian bean curries, or Texan barbecued baked beans, beans play a starring role in many global cuisines. Beyond their versatility and toothsome flavor, beans provide an array of nutrients for a budget-friendly cost, providing a high-quality plant-based protein alternative to meat. The USDA actually recommends we consume 1.5 to 2 cups of cooked beans per week for their health-promoting benefits alone.
Beans are heart-healthy nutritional powerhouses
Beans are low in fat, high in antioxidant polyphenols, and chock full of essential micronutrients including B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and zinc. When cooked, beans are also an important source of protein, providing 7 to 8 g of protein in a half cup serving. Beans are also especially high in fiber with a half cup containing between 5.2 to 7.8 g of total fiber, higher than the 1.7 to 4 g of fiber found in a half cup serving of whole grains. Beans are especially high in soluble fiber, a type of dietary fiber linked to reduced cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. Ingesting 1 cup of cooked beans daily, containing 1.2 to 4.8 g of soluble fiber, has been shown to lower total cholesterol by -8 mg/dL and triglycerides by -22 mg/dL after 3 months.
Beans have a lowering effect on blood sugar
Although high in carbohydrates, beans actually produce a lower rise in blood glucose after a meal compared with other carbohydrate-rich foods. A 2012 study found that participants who ate 1 cup of cooked beans every day for 3 months experienced an average drop in HbA1c by -0.5% compared with a drop of -0.3% for those who consumed 17 g of daily high wheat fiber foods such as whole wheat cereals and breads during the same timeframe. Beans’ blood sugar lowering effect may be explained by their high fiber content which, like common diabetes medications, slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates into the blood.
Cooked beans vs. canned beans: how do they compare?
There are two ways to incorporate beans into our favorite dishes. We can cook beans from their dry state or buy them pre-cooked and canned. Canned is the more convenient option, but how do canned beans compare nutritionally with beans you can cook from scratch at home? Cooked beans are very low in sodium and contain significantly more protein, fiber, iron, folate, and potassium than canned. High-sodium brine used to preserve and flavor canned beans can dilute the nutritional density the beans provide. A single can of beans can contain up to 500 mg of sodium, which is around 20% of your recommended daily amount. The great news is that simply draining and rinsing canned beans can reduce their sodium by around 40%, and many commercial brands offer low-sodium canned options as well.
How to cook dried beans at home
Cooking beans requires some time but takes only a minimal amount of effort. To start, rinse and drain your dry beans and place them in a pot. Cover them with a few inches of water and soak them overnight in the fridge. If you are short on time, quick-soak your beans by boiling the beans in water, turning off the heat, and letting them soak for 30 minutes. After soaking, drain the beans, transfer to another pot, and again cover with water. Bring them to a simmer, making sure the water does not boil. During this step, add any desired seasonings like onions, garlic, salt, and fresh herbs. Simmer for another 30 to 60 minutes until the beans are tender and ready to use. If you own a pressure cooker, the process is much faster. Beans can be cooked in under an hour, no soaking required.
Whether you opt for canned beans or decide to cook your own, the most important thing is that you enjoy them as a healthy addition to your weekly eating rotation. If using canned, remember to look for low-sodium options. If these are not available, drain and rinse your beans to significantly reduce your sodium intake.
Zesty Black Bean Dip
2 cans low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup chopped yellow onion
⅓ cup chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic minced
1 small jalapeño, seeds removed and diced
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp chili powder
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp black pepper
Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Season with extra spices or salt if desired.
Fiesta Bean Salad
2 cans low-sodium kidney or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 can low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1 red bell pepper, diced
½ red onion, diced
2 jalapenos, seeds removed and chopped
¼ cup cilantro
½ cup white vinegar
¼ cup canola oil
1 Tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
- Whisk together dressing ingredients: vinegar, oil, maple syrup, and spices. Taste and adjust any seasonings if necessary. Set aside.
- Toss together the salad ingredients, and pour dressing on top of salad. Mix well to combine.
Moroccan-Spiced Roasted Chickpeas
1 can low-sodium chickpeas
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp spice mix
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chile powder
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch of ground cloves
1. Pre-heat oven to 350F.
2. Drain beans and rinse well with cold water. Pat dry with paper towel.
3. Make spice mix.
4. Toss chickpeas with olive oil, spice mix, and salt.
5. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast 40-50 minutes until slightly browned.