Full of protein and fiber, beans are also high in minerals and contain no cholesterol. Not only are beans healthy, but they also come in different forms — so there's bound to be a few types of beans that suit your tastes.
You can buy beans either dry or canned. If you buy canned, you don't have to soak them, but you should rinse them. Lentils and black-eyed peas don't need to be soaked.
Kinds of Beans
Beans were first domesticated more than 7,000 years ago in Central and South America. They were often grown with corn and squash. Beans moved northward across Mexico to the United States. The dry edible bean industry started in New York in the mid-19th century, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.
Green beans aren't really beans, according to Ohio State University. Although called beans, these veggies don't have the protein content of other beans. True beans are what are sometimes called dry beans. Green beans are harvested before the bean in the pod has matured, which is why they don't have the protein of black beans, pinto beans or other dry beans. They still have lots of fiber and nutrients, however.
The types of beans known as dry beans range from pinto to navy, black, great northern, red, kidney, lima, garbanzo and black-eyed peas. There are edamame beans, fava beans, cannellini beans, cranberry beans, mung beans and lentils. Dry beans are an important staple in the American diet, with annual consumption at about 7.5 pounds per person, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.
Read more: The 9 Best Foods for Your Brain
List of Beans
A list of beans from the Bean Institute includes:
- Adzuki: Himalayan native, now grown throughout Asia. Small, nearly round red bean with a thread of white along part of the seam. Slightly sweet and starchy.
- Anasazi: New World native (present-day junction of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah). It is a white speckled bean with burgundy to rust-brown. Slightly sweet.
- Appaloosa: New World native. Slightly elongated, curved, one end white and the other end mottled with black and brown. Holds it shape well. Slightly herbaceous and piney in flavor.
- Black bean: New World native. Shiny, true black uncooked. Creamy texture when cooked. Flavor has an unusual, faintly sweet note, reminiscent of chocolate.
- Cannellini/white kidney bean: New World (Argentina) native, now much loved and used in Italy. Creamy texture, slightly nutty.
- Cranberry: New World (Colombia) native. Ivory or tan, beautifully mottled with striations of red, burgundy, even bright pink. A melty, creamy texture, a little nut-like.
- Great northern: New World native. A white bean, slightly larger than the navy, meltingly textured.
- Kidney bean: New World native. Kidney shaped, shiny dark-red seed coat. Cooks up creamy, with a little sweetness. Mild in flavor.
- Mung: India/Pakistan native. Small, almost round and green with a small white stripe along part of its seam. Mild and starchy.
- Navy: New World native. Smaller white bean. Soft but not creamily so. A pleasant neutral flavor.
- Pinto: New World native. Pinkish bean mottled with a deeper brown-burgundy. It cooks up plump, creamy, a little sweet, mild. Pinto beans account for about one-third of all beans grown in the U.S., according to the Crop Science Society of America. You can plant your own, and grow it as a bush or pole bean.
There are many other kinds of beans. They include: Garbanzo or chickpeas, which are used to make hummus; lima beans, sometimes called butter beans; and small red beans, also called Mexican red beans, used in chili and Creole dishes. In all, there are hundreds of bean varieties. Beans are typically sold canned or dry.
If you want to save money, buy dried beans, says the Bean Institute. It can take three to 24 hours to rinse, soak and cook dry beans, although you can freeze some for later use. If you want convenience, buy canned beans. To remove some sodium, drain and rinse them; if you want even less sodium, look for low-sodium varieties.
Full of Nutrition
Beans are a nutritional powerhouse. Consumer Reports says beans deserve the moniker superfood. Beans are packed with protein and fiber. They're full of magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, folate and iron. They are also good sources of manganese, thiamin, vitamin B6 and riboflavin, according to the Bean Institute. Dried beans cost pennies per serving, Consumer Reports says.
Eating beans as part of a heart-healthy diet may improve high blood cholesterol — a leading cause of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Beans make you feel full longer, the AHA says. Beans are low in fat and contain soluble and insoluble fiber, the Mayo Clinic says.
Because they have protein, the Mayo Clinic says beans can be a healthy substitute for meat, which has more fat and cholesterol. When beans are paired with rice or another grain, they provide all the needed amino acids for a complete protein, according to Ohio State. One cup of black beans contains 15 grams of protein.
Read more: Nutritional Facts of Black Beans
More Bean Health Benefits
Just about every type of dried bean is high in fiber and high in protein. Beans are legumes, which means they're a starchy vegetable, says Consumer Reports. Along with all that protein, you're getting more benefits from beans than you would from an equivalent serving of meat, the AHA says.
The soluble fiber in beans is especially beneficial. It helps to lower your LDL cholesterol, or the harmful cholesterol that causes your arteries to become clogged, according to Harvard Health. Consumer Reports says cooked beans contain 0.6 to 2.4 grams of soluble fiber per half cup. All that fiber helps you feel full, and helps you lose weight, Harvard Health says.
In fact, a review of studies in the May 2016 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a diet rich in legumes helps you lose weight even when you're not cutting back on calories. The review looked at 21 studies with a total of 941 participants.
A review of plant-based diets in the June 2016 issue of PLOS Medicine found that a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and vegetable oils helps prevent chronic disease. The review looked at the diets of over 100,000 people in several long-term studies, including the Nurses Health Study, the Nurses Health Study 2 and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.
- Consumer Reports: "The Many Health Benefits of Beans"
- Agricultural Marketing Resource Center: "Dry Edible Bean Profile"
- Ohio State University: "Green Beans Aren't Quite Beans"
- American Heart Association: "The Benefits of Beans and Legumes"
- Bean Institute: "Bean Nutrition Overview"
- Mayo Clinic: "Beans and Other Legumes: Cooking Tips"
- Bean Institute: "Beans Around the World"
- Bean Institute: "Bean Nutrition & Health Benefits"
- Bean Institute: "Dry Vs. Canned Beans: Which Is Better?"
- Crop Science Society of America: "The Upstanding, Outstanding Pinto Bean"
- Harvard Health Publishing: 11 Foods That Lower Cholesterol"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effects of Dietary Pulse Consumption on Body Weight: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- PLOS Medicine: "Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women: Results From Three Prospective Cohort Studies"