Beans really are magical! They are high in protein, fiber, zinc, iron and for people following a plant-based lifestyle, similar to meat and poultry in terms of nutrition. They are a very affordable item and are lower in fat. They are also high in potassium. To give you a reference, a 1/2 cup of cooked beans has the same amount of potassium as a small banana.
You may have heard of beans referred to a vegetable subgroup known as legumes. Legumes are plants of the bean and pea family and include a variety of beans, peas (e.g., chickpeas, black-eyed peas, pigeon peas, and split peas), lentils, peanuts, and soybeans, basically the dried edible seeds of legumes. Beans include varieties such as kidney beans, pinto beans, white beans, black beans, lima beans, and fava beans. Legumes can be a vegetable or a protein depending on the needs of the person. Green peas and string beans are not counted in the beans group. Green peas are a starchy vegetable with little protein and string beans are a vegetable similar to green leafy vegetables.
You can fit in beans by pureeing them and mixing them in your meat dishes, baking up some warm chili, or making a black bean salsa. It doesn’t have to be a strict dietary change to add some beans here and there. Buying canned beans is a convenient way to have some on hand ready to go. The starchy water the beans are stored in can be used to thicken sauces. Blending beans into your meat dishes is a great way to fit in more plant-based foods without realizing it.
There are many types of beans, lentils and peas out there. But there are specific ones that are high in certain nutrients that are hard to get in the diet. The beans that are highest in iron are white beans, chickpeas, edamame, navy beans, lima beans, great northern beans, and black beans (in descending order). White-colored beans also tend to be higher in calcium. Soybeans, white beans, navy beans, great northern beans and chickpeas listed in descending order from the highest to moderate amounts of calcium. Soybeans are also the highest in protein with pinto beans being the lowest in protein.
Beans and grains are like best friends. One is not complete without the other. Eating grains and beans together, like a peanut butter sandwich, or a bean and grain stir fry, ensures your body gets all the essential amino acids to build a protein. Beans are lacking the amino acids methionine and tryptophan. Grains complement beans because they’re very high in the amino acids that beans are lacking (i.e. methionine and tryptophan) but have low levels of isoleucine and lysine with beans picking up the slack with higher amounts of these amino acids. Grains and beans really are a perfect match!
Next time you’re at the grocery store be sure to pick up a variety of beans to spruce up your meals and nutrition!