The humble bean may be small, but it’s actually a protein-packed superfood high in fiber and rich in antioxidants.
Beans (also known as legumes) are comparable to meat in terms of their protein and calorie count, but because of their high fiber content, beans help you feel satisfied faster and stay full longer. Not only does the fiber help keep you satisfied (thus helping you consume fewer calories), fiber also helps prevent constipation.
The average American adult consumes far less than the recommended daily dose of 21 to 25 grams of fiber per day—in fact, the average woman consumes less than 15 grams of fiber each day. Beans can help make up the difference. One cup of cooked beans contains about 12 grams of fiber, nearly half the recommended daily dose of 21 to 25 grams per day for adults.
Beans also contain phytochemicals, important compounds found only in plants. One type of phytochemicals, antioxidants, protect against free radicals in the body, which can damage cells and play a role in aging, cancer and even neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Beans are also high in antioxidants. In fact, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study measuring the antioxidants in more than 100 common foods, three varieties of beans—small red beans, red kidney beans and pinto beans—made the top four. Black beans, navy beans and black-eyed peas ranked in the top 40.
Experts recommend consuming up to three cups of beans per week. If you find beans make you gassy, don’t stop eating them. Generally, the more regularly you eat beans, the less you’ll experience bean-related gas and bloating.
Though there are thousands of varieties of beans out there, some of the most common varieties available in the U.S. in both dry and canned form include: black beans, Great Northern beans, kidney beans, cranberry beans, navy beans, pinto beans, chickpeas and red beans.
Want to get more beans in your diet? Add beans to soups, salads, pasta dishes, sautéed veggies or cooked greens and garlic. For a nutritious and delicious meal, try this recipe.
Tuscan White Bean Soup
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, quartered
1 slice whole-grain bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups dried cannellini or other white beans, rinsed, soaked overnight and drained
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus 6 sprigs
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or broth
To make the croutons, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes to infuse the garlic flavor into the oil. Remove the garlic pieces and discard. Return the pan to medium heat. Add the bread cubes and sauté, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Combine beans, water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bay leaf in a soup pot over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover partially and simmer until the beans are tender, about an hour. Drain the beans, reserving 1/2 cup of the liquid. Discard the bay leaf. Place the cooked beans into a large bowl.
In a small bowl, combine the reserved cooking liquid and 1/2 cup of the cooked beans. Mash with a fork to form a paste. Stir the bean paste into the cooked beans.
Add olive oil to cooking pot and return to stovetop over medium-high heat. Stir in onion and carrots and sauté until the carrots are tender-crisp (6 to 7 minutes). Stir in garlic, cook until softened, (about 1 minute). Stir in remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, chopped rosemary, bean mixture and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the stew is heated through.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with croutons.