Beans 101

Did you know that there are over 13,000 species of legumes? Legumes are a class of vegetables that include beans, peas and lentils. How many you include in your diet can have a dramatic effect on your health, as beans and other legumes bring a lot to the table. Let’s explore a few types of legumes and why they are so good for you.

Legumes and Protein

Legumes are not a complete protein, that is, they don’t contain all the amino acids that your body needs, unlike some other protein sources like meat. But, all this means is that you have to ensure that you are combining beans, peas or lentils with another source of protein that includes the missing amino acids and voila! – complete protein. A few examples of foods to include with your legumes are brown rice, nuts, and seeds.

Health Benefits of Beans

As mentioned above, legumes are a good source of protein but they also offer a lot more nutritional value. Beans and other legumes have a high fiber content, which is good for:

  • Makes you feel fuller, faster (great for weight management)
  • Slows digestion for better nutrient absorption
  • Levels blood sugar levels

Replacing meat in the diet with beans, peas or lentils helps to compound health effects by lowering saturated fat intake, helping cholesterol levels, and helping to improve the cardiovascular system. Besides the fiber content, bright-colored beans are an excellent source of antioxidants to help your body deal with cell damage and reduce the risk of certain cancers.

Which Legumes are Best?

There are thousands of types of legumes – how do you choose? It’s good to have a variety of legume types, so you can take advantage of each one’s various health benefits. Here are a few legume types to consider:

  • Black Beans: High in antioxidants, good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, folate, manganese, magnesium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamin), phosphorus, and iron.
  • Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans: Contain folate, manganese, phosphorous and iron, stabilizes blood sugar levels.
  • Kidney Beans: Good source of Vitamins B1 (Thiamin) and K, help to lower the risk of heart attack, energizes and helps memory.
  • Lentils: Contains phosphorus, copper, and potassium. Helps your cardiovascular system and lowers bad cholesterol. Bonus: Lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking.
  • Lima beans: Good source of manganese, folate, potassium, iron, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, and Vitamin B1 (Thiamin). Can help lower bad cholesterol, reduce risk of heart attack and improves energy levels.
  • Navy Beans: Source of folate, manganese, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, iron, and Vitamin B1 (Thiamin). Can reduce risk of heart attack and help maintain brain function.
  • Peas: Good source of manganese, protein, folate, Vitamin B1 (Thiamin), potassium, and phosphorus. Can help to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. Dried split peas do not need to be soaked before they're cooked for faster meals.
  • Pinto Beans: Can lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart attack, as well as maintaining brain health. Good source of folate, dietary fiber, manganese, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, and Vitamin B1 (Thiamin).

Tips for Preparing Beans

If you like to cook on the fly, you might prefer to buy canned beans, as opposed to dried beans. Canned beans can be drained, rinsed and then added to soup, chili, casserole, salad, wraps – pretty much anywhere to replace meat. However, dried beans are much less expensive, they just require a little forethought.

Traditional Method

  • Soak the beans overnight
  • Drain and rinse the soaked beans
  • Transfer beans to a cooking pot
  • Bring the beans to a boil
  • Reduce to a very low simmer and cook (can take 1-3 hours)
  • Add salt (if desired) when beans become tender
  • Drain and rinse beans

(or) Cool and store the beans (and liquid) in sealed container for later use (will refrigerate for one week or freeze for up to three months) Note: If you want firmer beans (for salads/pasta dishes) leave the lid off while cooking. For creamier beans (for casseroles, soups, etc.) leave the lid in place. Another note: Rather than tossing the bean liquid, use it as a base for soups and sauces – it’s full of healthy vitamins and minerals!

Pressure Cooker

To speed up the cooking of beans, you can use a pressure cooker to significantly lessen cooking times (some beans can cook in just a few minutes). Make sure you follow the instructions, and you’ll still likely want to presoak your beans. You can also add “aromatics” like bay leaf, garlic, and onion to flavor your beans. Here’s a great chart on

bean pressure cooking times, courtesy of Hip Pressure Cooking.

Slow Cooker

If you’re more of a “set it and forget it” type, a slow cooker can be a great way to create a healthy, bean-based meal while you concern yourself with other tasks. All you need to do is throw your pre-soaked beans in the slow cooker, add enough water to cover and then cook on high for 3-4 hours or 6-8 hours on low. Once completed, drain and rinse your beans and then throw them into your recipe or keep them in their liquid for storage. Two cups of dried beans will make approximately six cups of prepared beans, so you’ll be set for a while! Note about kidney beans and slow cooking: Red kidney beans contain a natural toxin which and still be present if the slow cooker doesn't reach a high enough temperature. Red kidney beans should be pre-soaked, drained, and then boiled in fresh water for 10 minutes before you start them in the slow cooker.

But What About…

Okay, we know what legumes can do, which may be why you feel the need to avoid them. The truth is, beans contain a type of fiber called oligosaccharides which, when broken down in the intestine, can cause gas. Different types of beans contain different levels of oligosaccharides – so you might want to avoid haricot and lima beans if you find it a problem (they have the highest levels). Some beans to consider include white beans and chickpeas. It also makes a difference how you prepare your beans – soaking overnight can reduce oligosaccharides, so can using a pressure cooker.

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