By: Chelsea Didinger, PhD candidate and author of A Legume a Day
When I saw that this year’s Plant a Seed campaign from Slow Food USA is celebrating beans, my heart was happy. I am a PhD student researching beans (well, pulses, to be exact — see what a “pulse” is here), and I truly think beans are the perfect food. I have yet to meet a food that can check so many boxes: support thriving local food systems, advance sustainability goals and environmental health, culturally relevant to cuisines around the globe, incredibly versatile in the kitchen, delicious, and — of course — nutritious. I would be remiss as a Food Science and Human Nutrition doctoral student if I didn’t tout the human health benefits that beans have to offer because the list is quite impressive indeed.
Nutritional profile of beans
Beans are well known for being nutrient-dense and a wonderful source of plant protein. Numbers vary slightly, but one-half cup of cooked beans packs about 6-9 grams of protein. All this healthy protein in that half cup comes with no cholesterol, almost no fat, and is only about 100 calories. But that’s not all: beans are incredibly unique nutritionally because they are high in both fiber and protein, in about a one-to-one ratio. In fact, beans are one of the very best natural sources of dietary fiber, which the Dietary Guidelines for Americans classify as a “dietary component of public health concern” because it is so important for health, and yet dramatically under-consumed by the public. In only about 100 calories of beans, you can get approximately 7 grams of both fiber and protein! That is much higher than you will find in even whole grains.
My professor, Dr. Henry Thompson, says that beans will help us eliminate the “fiber gap,” or the difference between the amount of fiber that is recommended and what people actually consume. You may be wondering why it is important to include high-fiber foods in our eating patterns. The list is quite long and includes catchy terms and phrases like “bowel health” and “helps keep you regular.” Plus, fiber is linked to a myriad of other health benefits (keep reading).
Enjoy more beans for your health
Beans are associated with a wide variety of human health benefits, including:
- Gut health – More and more, we are finding that beans can improve gut health. In turn, gut health is linked with numerous other aspects of our health, including mental health and not developing chronic diseases. The benefits for gut health appear to be coming from the high-fiber profile of beans.
- Healthy weight maintenance – Fiber and protein may improve satiety (meaning they help keep us feeling full), and beans are rich in both.
- Longevity – Beans are a key “Blue Zone food,” or a food enjoyed by people living in Blue Zones around the world, which are regions known for having a high concentration of centenarians and low rates of chronic disease.
- Chronic disease prevention – Beans may help prevent a host of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, like colorectal cancer.
Mark your calendar to celebrate beans!
Beans are such an amazing food that they have multiple days dedicated to celebrating them. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses to highlight the importance of pulses (e.g., beans, chickpeas, cowpeas, dry peas, lentils) and promote their consumption worldwide. If you are looking for specific days to invite family over and enjoy bean-centric dishes and legume-related conversation, keep these in mind:
- January 6th is National Bean Day
- February 10th is World Pulses Day
- Although Earth Day is technically not a bean-specific holiday, it’s hard to think of a more relevant day to honor the power of beans. I talk to lots of farmers, and they tell me that there are many reasons they choose to grow beans. For example, beans require less water than other crops, and they are critical for crop rotation and soil health. Also, farmers love to grow such a healthy food item for their communities.
I don’t know about you, but all this bean talk is making me hungry! Check out some of my favorite bean recipes here for culinary inspiration. You can also give this recipe for simple and flavorful Pinto Beans in Olive Oil a try.
On that note, cheers to enjoying beans every day — for your health and the well-being of our planet!
Photo credit: A Legume a Day (https://alegumeaday.com/)