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Why beans are so good for you

Welcome to vegcurious – the blog for people who are curious about plant-based eating.


“Beans beans…they’re good for the heart. The more you eat…” Well, thanks to Bart Simpson and playgrounds everywhere, we all know how that little rhyme ends! Unfortunately, while it’s true that beans can cause some unpleasant (but avoidable) side effects, this little schoolyard rhyme has probably turned a lot of people off beans and that’s a shame. Beans, which are the seeds of plants, are not only an excellent source of protein, but they are also an inexpensive, extremely versatile, nutritious, and sustainable food that comes in hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties that range in taste and texture from almost meaty to soft and buttery. Ready to learn why you should be adding more beans into your diet? Read on!

"Beans come in hundreds, if not thousands, of delicious varieties!"

Beans…a (very) short history

Did you know that beans were some of the earliest crops to be domesticated? There is evidence that they were cultivated and eaten as far back as 20,000 years ago in what is now Eastern Europe, 13,000 years ago in modern-day Greece, and 9,000 years ago in Thailand. If fact, pretty much every civilization throughout history has consumed beans in some form. Fast forward to today and around the world almost every culture is associated with specific varieties of beans and with specific bean-based dishes. With that much historical evidence, isn’t it time you gave beans, in all their delicious glory, a chance?


What’s in it for me?

Turns out a whole lot! Beans are a powerhouse of nutrition! Of course, exact nutrients will vary from variety to variety, but generally speaking, along with being an excellent source of protein in the range of 21 – 25% protein by weight, beans provide nutrients including potassium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, iron, magnesium and B-vitamins. They are rich in carbohydrates, high in fibre, and contain almost no fat. Did I mention that they are also delicious?

" Beans are an excellent source of protein with 21-25% protein by weight."

Beans…the greatest hits

There are so many different beans out there, to cover them all would require a book, not a blog, so I’m going to talk about the ones that are the most popular, and therefore the most accessible for everyone. If you find yourself falling in love with beans after this blog, or if you want to explore some of the more exotic and rare varieties, you can easily find them in specialty stores and online from suppliers like Rancho Gordo.


White beans

These beans are a category rather than a specific variety and are characterized by all being…white! Didn’t see that coming, did you? They range from little cannellini beans to slightly larger navy beans, to very large lima beans. Yes…fully mature lima beans are naturally white. Those hard, green, starchy things you were forced to eat as a child are immature lima beans. The fully mature, white variety is creamy and are often called butter beans.


White beans are extremely versatile with thin skin and a very creamy texture. Greeks love to eat them on bread, smothered in olive oil and sea salt. Italians will often put them in soups. Many middle eastern cultures mash them up with garlic, lemon juice and other ingredients to make a white bean hummus, and the French fancy-pants them up in the form of their famous dish, the cassoulet.



Black beans

You may know these beans from their starring role in lots of Mexican, Southwestern and Latin dishes. These delicious little gems can easily be prepared from scratch, or purchased in a can from pretty much any grocery store. While black beans, on their own, have an earthy and slightly sweet taste, they are equally at home in a burger as they are in a brownie. But don’t stop there, black beans are also great as a dip


Along with tasting delicious, black beans are an excellent source of nutrition. Just half a cup of cooked black beans provide almost 8g of protein, 7.5 grams of fibre, less than1 gram of fat, and almost no sugar. All this plus they are a good source of vitamins and minerals including thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and iron, and they are a very good source of folate. Not bad for a humble little bean that spends most of its time in a taco!



Chickpeas

First cultivated some 7,500 years ago in the Middle East, chickpeas are a nutritional star! They contain a huge amount of protein, fibre, and some fat, making them a great source of energy. They also have a good amount of folate, manganese, iron and copper, and they are a good source of calcium, vitamin K, vitamin B6 and selenium.


Depending on where you are from in the world, you may know these dense and “meaty” legumes as garbanzo beans, chickpeas, Egyptian peas, ceci beans, or kabuli chana. And you may think of them as being beige, black, green, red, or brown. And, not only do they have a lot of aliases, but they are also one of the most versatile beans to cook with. Of course, most of us are familiar with chickpeas in hummus but they love to make guest appearances dried or roasted for a crunchy snack, as a stand-in for croutons in soups and salads, and ground as a substitute for coffee! OK, that last one probably hasn’t been really popular since the 18th century, but some people still swear by it as a caffeine-free coffee alternative. If you try it…let me know!


Pinto beans

Native to Mexico and popular in Mexican cooking, pinto beans are very high in copper and folate along with thiamine, and manganese. They also contain the highest amount of fibre of all their bean relatives, and they are the most popular bean consumed in the USA. In fact, Dove Creek, Colorado, claims to be the Pinto Bean Capital of the World! Of course, like all beans, they are an excellent source of protein for a plant-based diet.


Pinto beans are particularly fun to cook with because, on their own, they have a very mild flavour and creamy texture, but they also have the unique ability to soak up the flavours around them adding an extra punch of deliciousness to your favourite Mexican and southwestern recipes.

"Don't fear the flatulance!"

You know we have to talk about it…

A lot of people dismiss eating beans altogether because they fear the flatulence – that’s fancy language for farts. Yes, beans do produce gas. This is due to them containing oligosaccharides, a type of complex carbohydrate that we humans simply cannot digest on our own. But there is help. First, you can soak your beans overnight (for at least 16 hours) before cooking them. Be sure to toss out the water they were soaking in and start fresh for cooking. Another thing you might try is an over-the-counter anti-gas remedy like Gas-X. These have worked like a charm for me, but they don’t mix with all medications, so be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist before trying them. And, lastly, you can just start slow and build up your tolerance. If you gradually increase your bean intake over time, you should see a significant reduction in the amount of gas you produce.


So…to summarize, beans are an extremely inexpensive, versatile, and easy-to-prepare source of protein and lots of vitamins and minerals with the only downside being easily managed on your own or with a little over-the-counter help.


I hope this blog has helped you find your way to plant-based eating. Remember…the goal is not to be perfect. Do the best you can and enjoy the journey! If you haven't subscribed already, go to vegcurious.ca and sign up for our monthly blog.


Note: It is strongly recommended that you consult with your primary care physician before making any changes to your diet. This blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended to recommend or endorse any particular product, diet or eating plan.

 

Next post: Vegan favourites from around the world!


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2 Comments


Guest
Jan 09

great article. I definitely will start adding more beans to my diet! Thanks.

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Unknown member
Jan 09
Replying to

Thank you! So happy you found it helpful.

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