Beans nutrition - National Nutrition Month

Bean Nutrition: Boost Nutrition with Pulses!

March is National Nutrition Month® in the United Sates. You know what that means – time to party!! And if you’re looking for a nutrient-dense – and delicious! – food to celebrate, then beans and other pulses (e.g., chickpeas, cowpeas, beans, dry peas, lentils) are perfect. But just how nutritious are beans, you ask? In a nutshell: adding beans to our regular diet is a great way to improve nutrient intake, because of all the impressive nutrition these tasty morsels pack. I shared about bean nutrition in this post, including tables that highlight the dietary fiber, protein, potassium, iron, and folate content of beans. I get a lot of questions about protein in beans, so I also did a deeper dive on bean protein here, complete with a video. But, in honor of National Nutrition Month® 2024, I wanted to share about a recent article on bean nutrition! In this study, the researchers examined the effect of replacing other foods in the diet with pulses, to see what impacts this may have on diet quality.

Research on Bean Nutrition

Let’s dive right in, shall we? In late 2023, authors Agarwal and Fulgoni published an article titled Effect of Adding Pulses to Replace Protein Foods and Refined Grains in Healthy Dietary Patterns in the journal Nutrients. You can see the abstract and first full page below, or find the full article in Nutrients, linked to here. Nutrients is open access, so this article is not behind a paywall.

Bean nutrition abstract and first page

Essentially, the researchers used dietary modeling to evaluate impacts when substituting pulses for either protein foods or refined grains on:

  • Nutrient intake
  • Cost of the diet

In case you are wondering why they were examining replacing other protein foods and refined grains, that is because beans/pulses are counted in the protein food group, and they are also rich in healthy, complex carbohydrates. So, both of these substitutions make sense. The researchers established meaningful differences in nutrient intake to be a change of at least 10%. And guess what? Swapping out these other foods for pulses absolutely did have a meaningful impact on nutrition!

How Does Eating More Beans Impact Nutrient Intake?

In the abstract, the authors state, “Higher amounts of pulses replacing refined grains or combinations of protein foods and refined grains generally increase fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, and copper depending on the modeling scenarios. All modeling scenarios of substituting the servings of protein foods alone or in combination with refined grains with the servings of pulses were associated with cost savings.” This is a powerful and impressive summary of what adding more pulses to our regular diets can accomplish: a major win-win of improving nutrition and helping save money. What’s not to love?!

The paper is full of great tables that make comparisons in overall nutrient intake when different substitution levels are made. It can be a bit hard to visually process all the numbers at once, though. That is why I want to share these awesome graphics I saw from the Coalition for the Advancement of Pulses. I think they do an excellent job of summarizing some of the key findings from the paper.

Beans Versus Other Proteins

Coalition for the Advancement of Pulses - Pulse and bean nutrition - protein
Image credit: Coalition for the Advancement of Pulses

First off, switching out other protein foods for pulses decreased cholesterol and increased fiber. This is not surprising! Why?

  • Animal protein has cholesterol, but plant protein sources like pulses do not have cholesterol.
  • Pulses are PACKED with fiber, whereas animal protein naturally contains no fiber.

What is pretty impressive is that a mere extra 1/4 cup per day of pulses is enough to bring about these positive impacts. Nutrient-dense foods (i.e., how much good nutrition is being packed into the calories associated with a food), indeed!

Now, I’m not telling you to avoid animal protein – what you eat is of course your decision! I just want to share what the article has to say, and it is worth acknowledging that having a diet that includes more pulses can be a great way to increase fiber intake and lower cholesterol, and also provide environmental benefits.

Beans Versus Refined Grains

It’s no secret that refined grains are not the most nutrient-dense of foods. So, swapping out refined grains for pulses is an excellent way to increase intake of fiber and multiple nutrients. As the graphic below shows, substituting 1/2 cup of pulses for 1 ounce of refined grains (which is ~1/2 cup of cooked white rice, for example) can lead to a higher intake of:

  • Dietary fiber
  • Magnesium
  • Copper
  • Potassium

Why is this important? Well, having nutrient-dense diets is of course tied to health benefits. But, I think it is especially important to highlight how pulses can increase fiber and potassium content. Did you know that there are only four “dietary components of public health concern” for the general population in the United States, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025? Basically, this means that most Americans are not getting enough of these, and low intake is associated with public health concerns and therefore a priority to address. But, again here to provide a tasty solution to nutrition challenges, pulses are rich in two of those four: both dietary fiber and potassium! In fact, pulses are one of the single richest natural sources of dietary fiber, and one serving of pulses contains about the same amount of potassium as a banana.

Coalition for the Advancement of Pulses - Pulse and bean nutrition
Image credit: Coalition for the Advancement of Pulses

Happy National Nutrition Month®, everyone! If you are looking for a way to celebrate – whether it is a day in March or a day in any other month of the year – may I suggest enjoying some beans and other pulses?!

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