Diet and Nutrition: Why Beans Are Good for Your Health

Beans are a great source of fiber. Fiber helps keep you regular and protects against some diseases.

Lots of Fiber

Beans are a great source of fiber. That's important because most Americans don't get the recommended 25 to 38 grams each day. Fiber helps keep you regular and seems to protect against heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and digestive illness. Navy beans have about 19 grams of fiber per cup. Add some smoked turkey, kale, onions, and carrots, for a hearty soup.

Beans are a great way to get protein that already has the fiber and carbs mixed in.

Plenty of Protein

Beans are a great way to get low-fat, low-calorie protein that already has the fiber and carbs mixed in. A single cup has around 15 grams. That's two to three times more than rice or wheat. It's especially good for a protein building block called lysine that you might not get enough of if you're a vegetarian. Cook a savory, protein-rich vegetarian stew with lentils, onions, carrots, tomatoes, and chili powder.

Make it a habit to eat beans, they'll keep you at a healthy weight.

Keeps You at a Healthy Weight

If you make it a habit to eat beans, you're more likely to have a lower body weight, slimmer waist, and a lower body mass index (BMI). Studies show that obese men on a protein-rich diet lost more weight with beans as their top protein source. Try a nourishing, low-fat, spicy kidney bean chili as a main course instead of meat.

Studies show that beans can lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Boosts Your Heart Health

You'll do your ticker a favor if you make beans a regular part of your diet. Studies show it can lower your LDL "bad" cholesterol. For a really heart-healthy food option, try a simple salad made from beets, beans, and greens.

Beans help prevent diabetes and control high blood sugar.

A Good Food for Diabetes Control

Eating a variety of beans not only seems to help prevent diabetes, it also appears to help control the high blood sugar that is both a cause and symptom of the disease. Steam some fresh green beans with a sprinkle of salt and a touch of olive oil for a delicious summer side dish.

Beans are a great source of iron, which help move oxygen around your body.

Great Source of Iron

Your body uses iron to make blood proteins (hemoglobin and myoglobin) that help move oxygen around your body. It's also a key nutrient for your hormones, and connective tissue like tendons and ligaments. A cup of soybeans has almost 9 milligrams. You can cook soybean pods, also called edamame, in salted boiling water. Eat them warm, straight out of the pod.

Black beans are a great source of magnesium, which can help stabilize blood sugar.

Provides Magnesium

Magnesium helps make protein and bone, and stabilizes blood sugar. Black beans are a particularly good source at 120 milligrams in a single cup. That's about a third of the recommended daily amount. Try the tried-and-true combination of black beans and rice. Add a bit of shredded chicken and some lettuce and salsa for a delicious, healthy lunch.

Beans have quite a bit of potassium, especially lima beans.

Chock-Full of Potassium

Your body needs the stuff for almost everything, including your heart, kidneys, muscles, and nerves. Beans have quite a bit of potassium, especially lima beans, which will give you almost 1,000 milligrams per cup. That's about double what you'll get from a banana.

Beans are loaded with zinc, which your cells need to fight off germs, make genetic material, and heal wounds.

Loaded With Zinc

Your cells need it to fight off germs, make genetic material, and heal wounds. It helps children develop properly and aids your senses of smell and taste. A cup of chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, has about 2.4 milligrams. That's about a quarter of what you need for the day. You can make it into a dip called hummus that works as a snack or a meal in itself.

Beans have scads of the B vitamin folate, which is good in pregnancy, for heart health, cell division, and your nervous system.

Scads of Folate

This B vitamin is especially important for women who are pregnant or trying to have a baby because it helps prevent certain birth defects. It's also good for heart health, cell division, and your nervous system. You'll get about 300 micrograms -- three-quarters of the recommended daily amount -- in just one cup of pinto beans. It's the traditional base for the delicious refried beans used in many Mexican dishes.

Increase good resistant starch in beans by cooling them down and refrigerating them.

Contains Resistant Starch

Resistant starch acts like fiber in that it's harder to digest. It moves to the large intestine, where "healthy" bacteria in your gut feed on it. Resistant starches make you feel more full and keep your blood sugar down. You'll increase the resistant starch if you let your beans cool down and refrigerate them. Try a mixed bean salad as a simple summer side dish.

Canned beans have many of the same nutrients as fresh beans.

Canned Beans Work, Too

Don't worry if you don't have time to soak and cook your beans. You just need to heat them up, and you're good to go. Canned beans have many of the same nutrients, though home-cooked beans may have slightly more. Just watch out for the extra salt that some brands add. You can rinse some of it off with water after you open them.

Beans, beans, the magical fruit... You may get gas if you suddenly add a lot of beans to your diet.

What About the Gas?

There is one downside to beans. You may get gas if you suddenly add a lot of beans to your diet. It's not usually unhealthy, but it can be unpleasant. You should get less gas after the first week, as your body gets used to it. Drinking plenty of water can help. So can over-the-counter meds like Beano. Preparation makes a difference, too. You'll get less gas from dried beans if you soak them overnight and throw away the water.

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REFERENCES:

  • The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Nutritional and health benefits of dried beans."
  • BBC: "Mixed bean salad."
  • Consumer Reports: "The Many Health Benefits of Beans."
  • Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Ask the Expert: Legumes and Resistant Starch."
  • Mayo Clinic: "Beans and other legumes: Cooking tips."
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Zinc," "Iron," "Folate."
  • NFS Journal: "Evaluation of resistant starch content of cooked black beans, pinto beans, and chickpeas."
  • North Dakota State University: "All About Beans Nutrition, Health Benefits, Preparation and Use in Menus."
  • Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: "Potassium," "Iron."
  • Scientific Research Publishing: "Comparison of Nutrient Density and Nutrient-to-Cost Between Cooked and Canned Beans."
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture What's Cooking USDA Mixing Bowl: "Beets, Beans, & Greens," "Refried Beans," "Lentil Stew," "Black Beans," "Black Bean and Rice Salad," "Chunky Garbanzo Bean Dip," "Hummus," "Tuscan Smoked Turkey and Bean Soup."
  • Whfoods.org: "Navy beans," "Lima beans," "Brown rice," "Lentils," "Magnesium," "Potassium," "Zinc," "Iron," "Soybeans," "Cajun Kidney Bean Chili," "Folate."
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