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Food for Thought: Nutritional Benefits of Beans and Legumes

Food for Thought: Nutritional Information for Beans and Legumes

For a while when I first started Kitchen Stewardship®, I may have been known as a beany gal. I had lots to say about beans, focused a huge early Monday Mission on eating more beans, and even ran a meal plan analysis series to help people include more beans in their weekly plans. It was clear how I felt about beans.

Lately, we’ve been tackling many other things, and I think it’s worth a big re-visit to the beans topic. Using beans makes the list of my 3 Easy Changes to Make That Won’t Cost Too Much, and I’d put them pretty high up on any list of foundational Kitchen Stewardship® habits. I personally try to include them at least once a week in our dinners.

And now that my kids can make them it’s even easier to reach that goal!


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Why Eat Beans?

Beans have a lot going for them. When you’re fighting the tensions of the four pillars of Kitchen Stewardship®, you often feel the pull: your budget starts to hurt because of the meat, milk and eggs you are buying to be more kind to the earth and improve your nutrition. You’re spending a lot of time preparing healthy grains and wondering how much to spend on organics. It’s tough to balance them all, and that’s why I’m here. I love to focus on any habit that hits all four pillars with a positive impact.

Beans are:

  • very nutritious, a source of both protein and iron, among other things
  • extremely frugal, especially if you use dry beans
  • fairly easy on the earth, with only a plastic bag going to waste with dry beans (or nothing, if you can find them in bulk)
  • not time-consuming and can make huge meals that are easy to freeze for simple dinners later
Nutritional benefits of beans

I’m a big fan!

Take One Step Up

For your Back to Basics mission this week, ponder your relationship with beans and take one step forward on the continuum:

  1. Bean haters: Try sneaking some lentils into taco meat or finding a good hummus you can stand. Start small!
  2. Occasional bean users: Shoot for beans once a week for the next month in your menu plans (are you with Plan to Eat yet?). Your budget and waistline will thank you!
  3. Canned bean lovers: Learn to soak and cook dry beans, both to upgrade the nutrition and make more space in your food budget for other things (like next week’s Back to Basics focus, healthy fats).
  4. Dry bean aficionados: You all have it easy this week. Rest on your laurels a bit, but do find one new bean recipe to try and love.

When I was a child all the way through to somewhere in college, I really disliked beans. Chili was always on my “don’t eat it” list, and I never did refried beans. I’m not sure what happened to my tastebuds – or most likely my texture sensors – but I’ve grown to love them. The more I learn about beans (the legume kind – kidney, pinto, black, lentil, etc.), the more I find to love. My family tries to include beans in at least one meal a week.

Related: Pressure Cooking Beans Without Soaking

My Changing World of Beans

When I was pregnant with my first child, I ate more beans because of the protein and iron content. After a friend of mine went to a nutritionist for PCOS, she learned some information that really got me to appreciate beans. You can always find someone who says there’s something in there that you shouldn’t be eating, but beans have a pretty clean rapsheet. Almost everyone says they’re good for you, and I concur!

This Food for Thought (Link no longer available) will give you the briefest overview possible of why I’m going to recommend you eat more beans. Read it if you want, or just skip to the Monday Mission to get practical ideas for MORE BEANS.

Nutrition of Beans

Beans will give you the following nutritional benefits:

All those nutrients can improve your health:

This is a serious list. If you are pregnant or might become so, diabetic, pre-diabetic, or it runs in your family, have a family history of heart disease or high LDL cholesterol, want to lose weight, have digestive issues, or are just poor and want healthy food…EAT MORE BEANS!

Beans, Beans, Beans

Are you curious about the info from my friend’s nutritionist that really convinced me to include beans more often? First, I’ll tell you that the diet my friend was put on was pretty strict:  no sugar or carbs of any kind, no caffeine, 7 servings of veggies, 5 of protein every day…and beans 3 times a day, once at each meal. Three times a day! That’s beans and eggs for breakfast, beans on a salad at lunch, beans in SOMEthing at dinner…every day. Phew. That’s a lot of beans.

Why Beans?

The nutritionist explained that my friend’s body was stressed, and that’s why she wasn’t ovulating. Her analogy:  If your mother was sick with cancer, what would you do? You would drop everything and help take care of her. Even though you’re not sick, you’ll have a lot of stress. It’s the same thing in the body – if adrenal/pituitary glands are under stress and over producing, your ovaries don’t ovulate. You must get your body to stop freaking out. She needed to put her system into complete rest mode:  no sugar, no carbs, no caffeine, because all those things make your body work harder and stimulate your adrenal glands.

There are a lot of impurities that our bodies encounter every day that stress out our system. The job of the liver, of course, is to clean out impurities in the blood. The bile in the liver, however, can only take so much. To maintain it and clean out the bile so it’s not saturated with “junk”, beans will do the job. The beans take the impurities out of the bile in your liver and carry them out of your body. Think of beans as the janitorial crew, worthy of a “Dirty Jobs” episode to be sure.

That’s why the nutritionist starts out her patients with beans three times a day, for major spring cleaning, then as the system starts to regulate, you can level off.

Incredible. Beans are cool. Beans are cheap. Beans do a lot of good for the body. Do move on to the Monday Mission to learn how to prepare and serve beans in delicious ways, including Homemade Refried Beans.

The Everything Beans Book is here!

85 pages all about beans, with science geek info like this post plus 30 recipes, from appetizer to desserts:The Everything Beans Book is on sale now! Inside The Everything Beans Book you’ll find details on why beans are healthy, six arguments against beans and my counterpoints, detailed steps for how to cook dry beans and store extra cooked beans, soaking and sprouting instructions, how to menu plan with beans and even ideas for the bean haters among you.

There are also 30 recipes, many with multiple variations similar to my Healthy Snacks to Go eBook, so the total value ends up being more than 30 different dinners. I also include links to other great bean and legume recipes around the web, furthering your beany reach.

Here are some cameos to give you a sneak preview of what’s inside, but do keep in mind that beans are not always the most photogenic of foods! I’ve been working on my food photography a bit lately, and with my new camera (nothing fancy, a Sony DSC-W290, great all-around family camera, but a huge improvement over my 5-year-old Sony Elph), I’m pretty happy with the results. It’s almost embarrassing to put any of my old pictures next to these new ones, so I think I’ll just share the four dishes I’ve shot in the past few weeks, along with a few other recipe titles to pique your interest:

chickpea wraps
chickpea wraps

Chickpea Wraps…good for the bean haters among you!

Food for Thought: Nutritional Information for Beans and Legumes

Pasta with White (Bean) Sauce…even better for the bean haters! (free download)

sausage bean and kale soup
sausage bean and kale soup

Sausage, Bean and Kale Soup…one of my favorites! Perfect for summer or winter.

Mexican Beans And Rice

Mexican Beans and Rice…a classic!

You’ll also find recipes for:

  • Turkey Vegetable Chili
  • Cuban Black Beans and Rice
  • Slow Cooker Lentil Rice Casserole
  • Black-Eyed Pea Stovetop Casserole
  • White Chicken Chili, two ways
  • and much, much more!

For a sneak preview of The Everything Beans Book look here, about half way down the page.

Are you in? What recipe(s) are you going to try with beans this week?

See my full disclosure statement here.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

About The Author

9 thoughts on “Food for Thought: Nutritional Benefits of Beans and Legumes”

  1. Lindsey @ Why Just Eat

    I just made a crock pot full of navy beans – yum! Is there a use for the leftover cooking water? Seems like an odd question, but after learning how much whey I have wasted over the years I’d hate to find out that there is a good use for bean cooking water, too!

    1. Lindsey,
      If a recipe calls for vegetable broth, you can toss carrots, onions, celery and garlic into the bean pot for the last hour and you’ve got a rich veggie broth. I also use the bean broth in place of water in recipes where it will disappear like chili. But 80% of the time, I just have to pitch it b/c I couldn’t possibly save it all and use it. 🙂 Katie

  2. Hi Katie
    With reference to your statement “As far as flatulence goes, pouring off the soak water (even doing it twice, once halfway through the soak)…”
    Should we add the acid medium again when we pour off the first soak and add water for the second soak? Should the water be warm?

    1. Good questions! I haven’t actually taken the time to pour off water and re-do to reduce flatulence (ha!), but I imagine you’d want the acid medium still in there for the second soak. I always forget if the water has to be warm to soak beans, so I don’t know that it matters. I think I do read that bean soak water should be warm (I’m just to lazy to heat it and don’t like using warm tap water b/c of metal leaching.)

      1. FWIW, I poured off the soak water one time for this most recent batch of beans, and I “re-added” whey to the soak water. I even warmed it up a little bit (in the pot on the stove). I figure the warmth helps the little bacteria do their job during the soak process. Hopefully I’ll notice the results after dinner tonight!! 🙂

  3. I’ve pretty much switched to making all my beans from dry beans… Since they take so long to cook… do you ever make large batches and refrigerate or freeze them? Does that work with beans?

    Also, do you know of any ways to reduce the gaseous aftermath of beans??

    I’ve been soaking mine for 24 hours in water with several tablespoons of whey. I cook for at least 4 hours, more if I have time.

    This week I am sprouting my beans to see if that makes any difference, but I won’t know until Thursday night when I make chili.

    Love to know if you have any tips in those areas!

    1. Sarah,
      Good questions. I thought I addressed the freezing of beans in my Monday Mission post that week, but I didn’t. I edited the info in: (Yes, you can freeze them!)

      As far as flatulence goes, pouring off the soak water (even doing it twice, once halfway through the soak) is supposed to help, as is a spice (herb?) called epazote. It’s common in Mexican cooking, although I don’t see it a lot around here. It was recommended to me at my fav spice store, Penzey’s, when I was shopping for my friend on the bean diet (mentioned above).

      I sprouted beans once, but I don’t remember if that helped with gas or not. It’s much healthier, and so easy. I just haven’t been thinking about doing it lately. Let us know after Thursday night! 🙂

  4. Great post! We love beans (I’m partial to black and kidney these days – and, of course, lentils) in chili’s and soups (and I will admit to LOVING refried beans with breakfast. I know, I’m weird) but I especially love them in the summertime mixed up with a salad. My aunt’s three bean salad is legendary (it includes green beans) as is my lentil salad and a Southwestern style salad with black beans, corn, etc. YUM!

    And then, of course, there’s hummus, which my husband can eat by the gallon, it seems!

    Thank you for the insight on all of it’s great nutrients! I knew that they were good for us, but there is more to them than I thought!


  5. Jenny @ Nourished Kitchen

    We don’t eat beans as often as we should. You’re right though: they offer a fantastic nutritional profile. And soaking resolves the phytic acid issue. We like lentils too.

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