Because of their propensity for causing gas, beans often get a bad rap. This is unfortunate because beans are an amazing food.
An obvious benefit of beans is their cost. A serving of dry beans (1/4 cup) costs about $0.15. Canned beans cost a bit more, but they are still affordable. Despite their affordability, beans are nutrient dense and incredibly versatile.
Here’s an overview of bean varieties that are common in the United States:
Beans are low in fat, but high in protein, fiber, iron, folate, and other key nutrients. I’ve described a number of the nutritional benefits of beans below.
- Cardiovascular health. Beans are a high quality protein source. Unlike their meat-based counterparts, beans are low in fat and free of saturated and trans fats. Research indicates that diets rich in beans may reduce a person’s risk of developing heart disease.
- Cancer prevention. Beans are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals. Research suggests that consuming beans and other antioxidant- and phytochemical-rich foods may reduce a person’s risk of developing cancer.
- Blood sugar control. Beans have a low glycemic index, so they can help people maintain their blood sugars in a normal range.
- Weight management. Beans are low in fat, high in fiber, and packed with protein. Research indicates that people who eat foods that are low in fat and high in fiber tend to weigh less. The protein in beans helps people feel full and supports the building of muscle.
- Healthy babies. Beans contain a lot of folate, a vitamin that helps reduce the risk of certain birth defects. Pregnant women can consume beans to help them take in recommended amounts of folate.
Preparing dry beans takes a little time, but it’s very easy to do. Personally, I prefer using dry beans over canned because dry beans are cheaper and they don’t come in BPA-laden cans.
- Carefully examine the beans and throw away any rocks or other debris found in the beans. Also toss out any discolored or shriveled beans.
- Rinse the beans with water. Place them in a large pot or glass bowl. Add enough water to cover the beans. Soak the beans for 8 hours or overnight.
- Drain the beans. Rinse with fresh water.
- Place the beans in a large pot and add fresh water to cover them. Heat the beans and water to boiling, then turn the heat to low and cover the pot. Keep an eye on the beans because they may soak up all the water. Add more water if this happens.
- Add seasonings to the beans as they cook. Wait until the beans are done cooking before adding salt (salt can lengthen the cooking time and toughen the beans).
- When the beans are tender, they are ready to eat. (Refer to the chart featured above for approximate cooking times for the different bean varieties.)
Beans can also be prepared in a slow cooker (which is how I prepare them) or a pressure cooker. When using a slow cooker, begin by following the directions provided above. You’ll place the beans in a slow cooker instead of a pot. Instead of bringing the water to a boil when you start cooking the beans, you’ll just cook them on low for the hours required to make the beans tender. Note: Beans will take longer to cook in the slow cooker because the water wasn’t brought to an initial boil. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using a pressure cooker.
What about the gas that beans cause? According to researchers, beans will cause less gas if you consume them regularly (at least once or twice each week). Starting with hot water when you soak beans can minimize how much gas they produce. Be sure to completely drain the soaking water and start with fresh water when you cook them. Always chew beans well before swallowing them and consider avoiding the beans that cause the most gas (these include lima, pinto, and navy beans).
What is your favorite type of bean? What is your favorite way to use beans in recipes?