I get the question a lot – are beans good for you?
Yes, yes and yes. And they’re the closest thing to a ‘superfood’ you’ll ever hear me talking about.
Before we get started though, I’ll just mention that I’m using the word ‘beans’ to mean all beans, legumes, lentils and pulses.
And just one favor … please set aside those first thoughts that come to mind when I say the word beans. You know the ones: tummy discomfort, gas, bloating! Just until the end of this article, ok?
Beans are full of protein, fibre and nutrition
Wowzers, talk about bang for your buck!
Beans are also:
- eaten across the world and show up in most culture’s cuisines
- available in many different forms including dried, canned, pureed, flours,
- used in both meals and snacks
- very cost effective
- great panty staples as they store well
Beans, lentil and legumes are a staple for people looking to move toward a more plant-based way of eating, something I’m hearing people talk about so much this year.
Let’s move away from the thinking that beans are just for chilli or beans and wieners though. I’m willing to bet they can be added to many, many more dishes than you’d think! More on this in a bit.
Beans are superfood
I don’t use the word superfood lightly, or even very often. But as I said, beans are the closest it comes to a superfood, in my opinion.
Beans are good for you because they:
- lower cholesterol (especially the unhealthy kind)
- keep arteries healthy and elastic
- slow down digestion which means more even blood sugars – important for everyone, diabetes or not
- improve blood sugars for people with diabetes when eaten regularly over the long-term
- keep you feeling full for longer
- make bowel habits more regular
- give many different vitamins and minerals – they’re a powerhouse of nutrition
They are naturally gluten-free and low in saturated fat and salt (unless canned). But more importantly, they’re great sources of potassium, iron, B-vitamins, fibre, protein and other vitamins or minerals that not only help to keep our bodies healthy overall but play a role in heart health.
Beans: what no one wants to talk about
Gas. Bloating. Embarrassing. Discomfort.
This is such a common concern. And what people tell me is the biggest reason they are against including more beans into their way of eating. Even one of my family members has more than once stated, with no uncertain terms, “beans are evil”.
Strong statement yes. But this is real life we’re talking here!
Tips to avoid gas from eating beans:
- Replace the water multiple times during the cooking process and rinse them always, for both home-cooked and canned varieties. The water or liquid absorbs the gassy compounds from the beans. If a recipe calls for a can of beans, undrained – replace the canned liquid with fresh water after draining and rinsing.
- Start with ¼ cup of beans at first
- Continue to have beans regularly, ideally daily (keep reading … especially if you’re thinking, ugh how boring!)
- Slowly increase the portions if you want, or just stick with what’s working for you. Just keep in mind that if you’re trying to eat enough to replace the meat in your meal, you’ll likely need more than ¼ cup of beans.
- Drink plenty of water or other fluids
Beans are good for the environment and are local food
Canada is a major producer of pulses, so you’ll be supporting our farmers and eating more locally. These crops also give back to the soil, making it more nutritious for future crops. As well, they have a lower environmental footprint than other crop types or food systems.
Beans can be easy to prepare … really
Another common statement I hear from people is: “I don’t want to go through all the hassle of soaking and don’t know how to cook them!”
Because beans are so versatile, let’s explore some of your options.
Canned options are handy and convenient … so no cooking needed. If you’re watching your salt intakes, just be sure to rinse them off before using.
Flours can be used in baking by substituting some of the all-purpose flour with the bean flour. Different bean flours will be used a little differently in place of the white flour so be sure to do some research.
Cooking dried beans in 1 or 2 steps
Note: here I’m talking about dried beans and chickpeas, not lentils as they don’t generally need to be soaked.
1) The long soak or overnight soak
This is probably the one you’re thinking of and it takes the most amount of planning. The benefit I’ve found with this option is that the beans stay in one piece a bit better when cooking (ie the skins crack and peel less).
For every 1 cup of dried beans or whole peas, add 3 cups of water. Soak for 12 hours in the fridge. Drain off the water and cook according to the recipe.
2) The quick soak
This one is quicker than soaking overnight but you still need to be around the kitchen to tend to them.
For every cup of dried beans or whole peas, add 3 cups of water in a pot. Slowly bring to a boil and boil gentlyfor 2 minutes. The gently part is important to help keep the beans/peas in one piece later. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain off the water and cook according to recipe.
1) Oven or slow cooker
Think baked beans or casseroles, etc. To avoid hard or dry beans, make sure enough liquid is available. You might also consider cooking for a bit on the stove top to cut down on the baking time.
- add about 1 tsp of oil to the cooking water to prevent foaming over
- salt and acidic ingredients like vinegar or tomatoes can slow down the cooking process so add them only after the beans are already tender
- other herbs and seasonings like onion, garlic can be added to the cooking water right from the beginning
- cook beans in a large enough pot that will allow the beans to double or triple in size
Basically put soaked beans into a large pot and add plenty of water. Bring to a (gentle) boil, cover tightly, reduce heat and simmer until beans are just tender, not mushy. For beans and chickpeas, this will 30-60 mins depending on the type of bean
How to know if they’re done? Taste one! It should be tender and not have any ‘raw’ taste to it (I think of it as a metallic taste).
This is the way I used to cook my beans most often before I found the Instant Pot!
3) Pressure cooker – my favourite!
I can’t actually speak specifically to how a pressure cooker compares, though the Instant Pot has a pressure cooker feature that changed the way I cook and enjoy beans!
First of all, there is no soaking needed and the beans cook in approx. 30-45 mins start to finish. No need to monitor the boiling and simmering, or watch for foaming or boil-overs, or keep an eye on the time. This not only results in beans that are more tender and in one piece, with much less hassle, but also that I can just cook what I need (from dried), as I need them. As I now have less freezer space than in the past, this is a big help for us.
Are beans good for you if they’re in desserts?
Yes, you read that right … desserts!
During university I helped out with a study about pulses and how they help our arteries. It certainly wasn’t the most exciting position of the study – I delivered prepared meals with beans to the people participating.
But in most cases, when I dropped off the meals for that week, people were so excited to tell me how great they were feeling, how their fear of symptoms didn’t last long (which was surprising to them) and how they looked forward to trying the new meals.
At the end participants were given a recipe book of the items they had during the study. They told me how thankful they were to be able to continue making the dishes.
Best, and most surprising, to them? How delicious the items were, including the desserts we gave.
Although chickpeas and black beans are often used in baking, lentils are probably one of my favorites. I use lentils regularly in muffins, cookies, smoothies, granola bars, even bread sticks. They’re quick to cook, puree and freeze in portions that are just right for baking on a whim.
Let’s give lentils some credit too
Aside from baking, I always keep lentils on hand to bump up the protein or replace the meat in many of our usual meals and snacks.
As I mentioned before, lentils are usually quicker to cook and don’t need to be soaked. They’re so versatile and can be easily frozen.
Great news too for people who really have a hard time digesting beans … lentils seem to be better handled by the people I’ve worked with 🙂
Here are some of my favourite ways to use lentils:
Lentil cheese melt: put a thin layer of lentils on a piece of bread, sprinkle with garlic powder, top with grated cheese and broil for a few minutes
Tacos: in place beef. If I’ve planned well, I heat up with taco seasoning just like I would with ground beef. If I haven’t, well they go in plain. Either way delicious.
-Adding lentils to your usual taco ground beef is also a way to boost the nutrition, cut back a little on the meat as well as to stretch it out a bit longer.
Pizza: just another topping that helps to keep me full longer, and is one that I actually don’t taste much once it’s all mixed in with the other toppings
Smoothies: Blend about ¼ cup in with other usual ingredients
Pasta sauce: heat up in with your usual pasta sauce (either homemade or jarred). Can leave whole for some texture, or could puree/mash into the sauce.
For the baking and cooking I do with lentils, it’s usually the brown or green kind. Though the red cook up even faster and work well for adding to smoothies or other items where you might want a more mashed or pureed texture.
What do you think? Are beans good for you?
Science says yes. There are many possible ways that beans can be good for our bodies.
But at the end of the day, if you’re feeling unsure about how they can fit into your way of eating, it might be something you’d like to learn more about. And I’d love to chat more with you if this is the case … leave me a message and let me know what you think of beans!
Have I convinced you that it might be time to think beyond chili and use beans, lentils and legumes in a new way? Are you ready to try them out in desserts? What are your biggest fears about eating beans?
Or maybe you’ve been using beans for years and none of this is new. In that case, help me spread the word! Share some of your bean creations over on my Facebook page. Together we can help our friends get passed their fear of beans and take one more step toward preserving and protecting their nutritional well-being while feeling great in the day-to-day.
Angela Hubbard is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) with 10 years experience working in the field of nutrition. Her work focuses on empowering people with young minds and aging bodies as they enter their retirement years and beyond. In her off time she loves swapping recipes, creating and exploring Northern BC life with her young family.