Beans sometimes get a bad rap, but they’re a nutritional powerhouse that you should definitely add to your pantry.

By Lisa Milbrand
August 05, 2020
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They may be infamous for their gassy impact on your digestive system, but there are plenty of benefits of beans that make them worth making a regular part of your diet. If you’re looking to pack in more nutrients—especially if you’re considering a more plant-based diet—the many different types of beans may just be what you’ve been seeking.

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The health benefits of beans

You’ve probably focused more on the protein beans can provide, but beans pack a huge nutritional punch, too.

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“Beans are a great source of fiber, which most people are woefully lacking in,” says Jennifer Hanway, nutritionist and certified personal trainer. “That ranges from 11 grams of fiber in a cup of kidney beans, to 17 grams of fiber in adzuki beans.” Fiber helps keep you feeling fuller for longer (which explains why high-fiber foods are so popular), so consider adding beans to your lunches if you find yourself craving a snack every day a few hours before dinner, or to your breakfasts if you’re always ready for lunch at 10:30 a.m.

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When you think of foods with antioxidants, you probably think of dark, leafy greens or colorful berries. But one of the health benefits of pinto beans and kidney beans is the tremendous amount of vitamins packed into every bean. “Red kidney beans and pinto beans are among the highest antioxidant foods—even higher than berries, peppers, and things we usually think about as antioxidants,” Hanway says.

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Beans provide an average of 15 grams of protein per cup, according to Hanway. (That’s the equivalent to two ounces of meat.) Some of the beans highest in protein include lima beans, kidney beans, soybeans, and black beans.

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Whether you’re looking to chow down on lima beans or green beans (which are actually technically just a legume), they’re a significant source of some essential minerals. “Most are high in much-needed minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc, and potassium,” Hanway says.

How to reap the benefits of beans

Adding beans to your diet is a smart (and tasty!) way to get a host of nutrients. Here’s how to do it right.

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Going from never eating beans to eating them several days a week is a lot for your body to digest, so start by incorporating them into one meal at a time. “You can use them as a fiber-rich replacement for rice, potatoes, or pasta, or try adding them to a summer salad,” Hanway suggests. “Or swap out half of the ground beef in your chili with beans.”

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Don’t pair beans with other gas-inducing foods, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale. Stick with spices and ingredients that will aid your digestion to ensure that you get the full health benefits of your garbanzo beans, black beans, or other favorites. “Cook them with spices that help digestion, like ginger, fennel, turmeric, cumin, and coriander,” Hanway says. Probiotics can also help maintain your microbial balance to make digestion easier.

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Chili and stew may be the first things you think of adding beans to, but there are other ways to incorporate them. You can get the health benefits of black beans (and your daily chocolate fix) by making fudgy black bean brownies, or blend your chickpeas with tahini, garlic, and lemon for a tasty hummus dip. If you’re into protein powder, swap out your whey powder for the health benefits of mung bean protein powder, which can be easier to digest, Hanway says. One of the benefits of bean sprouts is that they don’t need to be cooked—they can simply be tossed into a salad or make a crunchy add-in to a wrap or sandwich.

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Different beans offer different combinations of nutrients, so don’t stick with a single type. Variety helps you reap more health benefits from your beans, so plan to have red beans at one meal and green beans at another, for example.