What you hear about beans is correct! From the familiar kidney and pinto beans to the more "exotic" adzuki and Appaloosa varieties, beans are a versatile and healthy food choice.
Beans are packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (healthy plant compounds) and are one of best fiber sources around—just one cup of cooked beans can provide up to 15 grams of dietary fiber, more than half the daily value (DV) of 25 grams. In addition, beans are naturally low in fat and don't contain saturated fat or cholesterol.
The terrific nutrition profile of beans may help them provide a number of health benefits. For instance, research shows that eating beans may help reduce the risk of breast, prostate and colon cancer, aid in weight loss, reduce risk for high blood pressure and help manage diabetes.
A recent research trial found that eating as little as a half-cup of cooked beans daily helped participants lower their total blood cholesterol levels, which may help reduce risk for heart disease. Studies also show that heart disease risk is 22% lower among people who eat legumes (the general category that includes dry beans, peas and lentils) four or more times per week compared to people who eat them less than once a week.
Beans are available in several forms: dried, canned, frozen and fresh. Canned varieties are quick and convenient to use, but if sodium is a concern, choose reduced-sodium brands or rinse them under cool running water to reduce sodium by up to 45%.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating at least 3 cups of beans per week. If you're not used to eating beans, add them slowly to your eating plan to help minimize digestive problems.
Here are some ideas to "get on the bean:"
Toss chickpeas (garbanzo beans) or kidney beans into green salads.
Add extra pinto or kidney beans to your favorite chili recipe.
Use hummus (chickpea dip) as sandwich spread.
Custom-make a bean salad: Mix one or more types of beans with chopped red pepper, purple onion and parsley; toss with your favorite vinaigrette dressing.
Buy canned minestrone, black bean, lentil and split pea soups. Check for reduced-sodium brands, if sodium is a concern.
Look for delicious, bean-based recipes such as Cuban black beans and rice, southern Hoppin' John with black-eyed peas, Italian pasta e fagioli with cannellini beans (white kidney beans), or Boston Baked Beans with navy beans.