Benefits and Uses for Beans and Legumes

Benefits and Uses for Beans and Legumes

Rich in protein, fiber and nutrients, beans rank high on almost every “top 10” superfood list. Here’s why.

Move over, baked beans – it’s time to share the spotlight. Make way for black bean salads and split pea soup, lentil chili, bean dips and sweet edamame. Or how about some cannellini beans with roasted red peppers?

Ah, the wonderful world of beans and legumes (just another word for beans and lentils). Rich in protein and fiber and loaded with nutrients, they rank high on almost every top 10 super food list.

Why are beans considered a nutrition powerhouse? Here’s the rundown of their healthy advantages:

Packed with protein

Beans are a great source of vegetarian protein. Combining beans with a small amount of animal protein (meat, cheese or egg) or small amounts of grain (corn, wheat or rice) will create a complete protein equal to that of animal sources. A half cup of beans has 7 grams of protein. Protein has staying power, too, meaning it can help keep you full.

Filled with fiber

Experts advise that women get at least 25 grams and men at least 35 grams of fiber per day. Beans have the highest fiber concentration per serving of almost any food. Just one-half cup of most cooked beans contains about 6 g to 9 g of fiber.

Not only is fiber good for normal bowel function, but it can also help ward off chronic disease. High in soluble fiber, beans are especially helpful for reducing cholesterol and blood sugars. This is key for the prevention of heart disease and diabetes. And since fiber is filling, it can also aid in weight loss.

Excellent energy, vitamin and mineral source

Beans are a great energy source. The complex carbohydrates in beans digest more slowly than simple carbohydrate foods, like foods made with sugar and white flour. So they satisfy hunger longer. One-half cup of cooked beans contains 120 calories or less. Beans also provide a host of vitamins and minerals. Iron, zinc, folic acid and magnesium top the list.

Convenient and cost-effective

Beans can always be cooked from scratch, but they are just as healthy from a can. All you need to do is open the can and rinse them off, and they are ready to eat. The only exceptions are lentils and split peas, which do not come canned. Beans are also very inexpensive. A 16-ounce can or 16-ounce package of dried uncooked beans won’t set you back more than two dollars.

Cooking with beans

Beans are incredibly versatile and easy to cook. Use them in soups, salads, pilafs and chilies.

Check out these recipe ideas:

  • Mix canned refried beans (no lard) with whole pinto beans and salsa. Sprinkle with low-fat cheese and bake. Makes a great side dish or taco filling when mixed with diced chicken.
  • Saute onions, carrots and celery. Add 1 cup lentils, 1/2 cup barley and 4 cups broth. Bring to a simmer and cook 45 minutes until lentils are tender. Add 12 ounces crushed tomatoes. Heat and serve.
  • Make salads with a bean base such as chickpeas or black beans. Add finely diced veggies and dress with olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar.
  • When making chili, use less (or no) meat, and increase the amount of beans and vegetables.
  • Mix together a rinsed can of cannellini beans and a small jar of diced roasted red peppers. Heat and serve.
  • Snack on edamame.
  • Instead of ham, use sweet potatoes to liven up your split pea soup. It’s a great duo.

But don’t forget that beans have lots of fiber, which could make you gassy. To avoid this problem, introduce more beans slowly to your diet. Also be sure to drink lots of water and chew the beans well.

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