By Victoria Le Maire, a Registered Dietitian for Kroger Health
They’re known as the magical fruit – for good reason! Though tiny in size, beans are huge in terms of nutrition. Packed with fiber and protein, they’re an ideal addition to any diet – especially if you’re looking to eat more plant-based foods.
Beans also are versatile (available canned or dry) and easy to work with. They can be added to so many dishes! Even if your family is full of picky eaters, beans can be transformed into tasty soups or dips and be virtually undetected, allowing everyone to reap their benefits.
So, what are beans?
Beans are a part of the legume family. Legumes are plants that produce pods that are filled with seeds. Many different beans and peas you’re probably familiar with, including soy, navy, kidney and black beans, fall into this group.
Beans double dip in the world of food groups as they’re considered a vegetable but also work well as a main protein option for meals.
The nutritional value of beans
First, let’s talk fiber. Beans deliver loads of fiber, which is important for digestion and heart health, while also protecting us from conditions such as diabetes and cancer.
Not only does fiber help keep us “regular,” but it also plays a part in helping us to feel full longer. This can contribute to both losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight.
On average, most American adults do not eat the recommended amount of fiber (25 to 38 grams) every day. Most are falling short, getting only 15 grams daily. Beans are an effortless way to increase that number.
Do beans have protein?
You bet. Beans are an excellent source of plant-based protein. Protein plays an important part in many aspects of our health, including helping us to feel full and more satisfied with our meals (just like fiber!).
If you’re trying to cut back on meat (a popular source of protein), beans make a great substitute. Not only do they supply protein, but you get fiber, iron, zinc and other nutrients you won’t find in animal-based products. In fact, meat offers no fiber at all.
Giving beans a go
Whether you’re enjoying Meatless Mondays or simply looking to add more plant-based foods to your diet, beans are a good place to start.
(Note: If you’re not used to eating beans, take baby steps! Start with smaller amounts and increase gradually to avoid side effects of increased fiber in your diet.)
Simply add beans to dishes you already enjoy, like burritos, quesadillas or tacos. Try sprinkling them on top of salads or adding them to a warm grain bowl. You can also make bean chili, bean dip or bean soup.
You may have noticed some bean-based pastas while food shopping; this is an innovative way to bring beans to your plate. Pastas made with beans, lentils, edamame or chickpeas are packed with protein and can easily be incorporated into your meals.
Fun bean facts:
- Did you know that there are over 40,000 bean varieties? Only a fraction of those are produced for consumption.
- Beans have been cultivated for thousands of years. They’ve become an important food source for people worldwide.
- The United States is the global leader in dry bean production.
- Each year, U.S. farmers plant from 1.5-1.7 million acres of edible dry beans.
- North Dakota takes the lead in bean production at producing almost 1/3 of the country’s beans.
- Time for planting beans is between late spring and end of summer. Maturity is typically between 55-60 days from planting to harvesting.
- The top five grown beans in the U.S. are pinto beans, navy beans, black beans, red kidney beans and great northern beans.
- Dry pinto beans are one of the most budget-friendly options coming in at 7 cents per ½ cup serving. In comparison, 4 oz of lean ground beef is approximately $1.18 and chicken is about 82 cents per 4 oz. serving. No buyer’s remorse with a price that low!