Beans are associated with an incredible array of human health benefits, such as improving gut health. What is it about beans that offers all these benefits for our well-being? To address that, let’s dive briefly into bean nutrition. And come back soon (or subscribe to my newsletter, on the sidebar or bottom of posts), because I’m working on creating videos about this, too! 🙂 Plus, in the meantime, check out the Global Bean Project, as they were the ones who inspired me to write this post as part of their April 2023 campaign to share about how amazing beans are. You can find more info about the Global Bean at the bottom of this post, too.
In my post about Differentiating Among Types of Legumes, I mentioned that my mentor Dr. Henry Thompson and I wrote a paper. In addition to explaining the difference between types of legumes (oilseed legumes, pulses, etc.), we also shared some tables that show just how very nutrient-dense beans and other pulses are.
I am sharing adaptations of the tables from our paper here. If you are one of those people who reads science articles for fun, then 1.) I hope you know how special and great you are; and 2.) you can find the full paper available for free here.
Before we look at the tables, I want to make a very important point – I highly recommend maintaining a diverse, varied, healthy diet. Other foods shown in these tables can absolutely be part of a healthy diet! My point here is simply to show how nutrient-dense beans are because, well, it’s pretty amazing! This bean nutrition information – combined with the environmental benefits, affordability, and deliciousness of beans – is part of why I personally have chosen to make them part of my daily eating pattern.
Beans Versus Grains – 100 Calorie Portions
The beans and grains shown in this table are cooked amounts. Yes, sorry, I know it says dry bean – but that is what Phaseolus vulgaris is called. But these are cooked amounts! And, to make things even, everything is shown in 100 calorie portions, so that we are not biasing this by calories. So ‘Approximate Amount’ refers to how much is in a 100 calorie portion. In the case of beans, that is generally around 1/2 cup cooked beans.
Has anyone ever told you that to increase your dietary fiber intake, you should swap refined grains for whole grains? This is a true statement! But, if you want to really boost your fiber intake and get the most fiber-bang for your calorie-buck, guess what one of the best options is? That’s right, beans. Beans have approximately 2 to 3 times more dietary fiber than even whole grains!
What do we notice in this table about bean nutrition that compares beans with several types of grains?
- Dietary fiber. I know I already said this, but it’s such an impressive difference I can’t resist mentioning it again. Beans are packed full of dietary fiber.
- Protein. Beans also have about double the amount of protein of other grains.
- Vitamins and minerals. Beans are a rich source of several micronutrients (e.g., vitamins and minerals), including iron, potassium, and B vitamins like folate.
For a more complete table of beans and grains, look at Table 4 in the paper.
Beans Versus Other Protein Sources – 100 Calorie Portions
Now, let’s check out the nutritional profile for beans versus other sources of protein. Again, these are cooked beans and 100 calorie portions.
Okay, so what do we see here? Compared to these other protein sources:
- Beans have much less fat (lipid).
- Beans hold their own and offer lots of protein. Granted, if you compare them to a very low-fat protein source, like skinless chicken breast cooked in no fat, then chicken will have more protein in 100 calories than beans do. But, chicken does not have any fiber.
- Whereas beans are one of the richest natural sources of dietary fiber in the world, animal proteins have no fiber. Other plant foods, like soybeans and peanuts, do offer some protein, but in a 100-calorie portion, they do not have as much fiber as much as beans.
- Beans have more carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are NOT a bad thing! Plus, the carbohydrates in beans are exactly the type that we want: they are healthy, complex carbohydrates.
If you want a more exhaustive table of beans versus other protein sources, check out Table 3 in the paper I mentioned. Or, to compare types of legumes, look at Table 1.
Summary of Bean Nutrition
Beans are the definition of a nutrient-dense food! What are you getting when you enjoy beans?
- Dietary fiber. It varies slightly with bean type, but in 1/2 cup of cooked beans, you’ll get about 7 grams of fiber.
- Protein. Beans are high in both fiber and protein, which makes them very unique. Why? Because animal proteins, for example, are generally high in protein but contain no fiber. Conversely, vegetables may be high in fiber but are not usually packed with protein. Beans, on the other hand, are rich in both fiber and protein, in approximately a 1-to-1 ratio. So, in that same 1/2 cup of beans you got 7 grams of fiber from, you’ll also get about 7 grams of protein. This combination of being high in both fiber and protein can help us feel and stay full, which is beneficial for healthy body weight management.
- Carbohydrates. Beans contain healthy, complex carbohydrates that break down slowly and fuel our body for hours. These complex carbs are very different from unhealthy, refined carbohydrates.
- Vitamins and minerals. Potassium, folate, iron, and lots of other good stuff is packed into beans! If you’re worried that the iron in beans is less bioavailable than it is in animal proteins, here is a tip to increase the bioavailability of iron from plant foods: eat them with vitamin C.
- No cholesterol.
- Low fat. Like, veeeery low in fat to essentially no fat, depending on the type of bean/pulse.
Way to go, beans!! To celebrate how awesome they are, why not go cook some bean recipes right now?
The Global Bean Project
The Global Bean Project collaborates with over 70 partners from around the world to showcase the amazing bean! They share information about growing beans, cooking beans, and much more. I encourage you to check out their website and sign up for some of their free events!