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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.