Beans and other legumes (including peas and lentils) are often listed at or near the top of the best food buys you’ll find at the grocery store. Year-round, you can get more bang for your buck nutrition-wise with beans than just about anything else.
Many people treat beans as a meat substitute — an obvious choice because, well, they are in the “meat and beans” group in the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans. But the Dietary Guidelines also list beans in the vegetable group, and suggest that people consume an average of 3 cups of beans or other legumes each week. Although the calories in beans (90 to 120 per half-cup) are on the high side for vegetables, they are nutrient-packed calories and deserve a place at the table.
Overall, beans are great sources of:
Fiber. Depending on the type of bean, a half-cup has 5 to 9 grams of fiber — about one-quarter to one-third of what you should eat in a day. Even better, beans are good sources of both soluble fiber, the type that helps lower blood cholesterol, and insoluble fiber, the type that prevents constipation.
Protein. A cup of beans has about 15 grams of protein, about 30 percent of the 50 grams most adults need in a day. Most beans (all but soybeans) don’t offer a “complete” protein — meaning they don’t contain all nine of the amino acids necessary in the human diet. But the missing amino acids are plentiful in meat and other protein products, as well as in grains. As long as you consume foods with the missing amino acids at some point in your day, you don’t need to worry about it.
Vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Beans are a good source of folate and other B vitamins, iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and even some calcium. In addition, beans and other legumes are an excellent source of a trace mineral called molybdenum.
Canned beans are just as nutritious as dried beans; each kind has its pros and cons. Dried beans are cheaper, but they also must be sorted, washed and then soaked for 6 to 8 hours or overnight (you can speed up the soaking time to a short two hours if you use boiling water). With canned beans, all you need to do is open the can. That convenience factor might help you eat more beans than you otherwise would. Still, canned beans also usually contain a lot of added sodium. You can reduce sodium substantially by draining and rinsing canned beans before using them.
Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.