In “Jack and the Beanstalk,” the eponymous hero trades his family’s cow away for a handful of magic beans, grows a massive beanstalk, goes on an adventure, and finds treasure. While your average lentils and garbanzos probably won’t lead you on an epic journey to a giant’s castle, there are a whole lot of reasons to consider them magical.
For example, did you know that soy is one of the only vegetarian complete proteins? That’s not all, either. Most Americans eat diets that are deficient in important components like fiber and potassium — two more things that beans provide in abundance.
5 Reasons to Add Beans to Your Diet
1. They’re packed with protein.
As mentioned above, soybeans are a complete protein. Protein is a crucial macronutrient that’s vital for the growth and repair of body tissues. It’s made up of amino acids, of which there are 20 in all. Of those 20 different amino acids, nine are considered “essential.” This means that our bodies can’t produce them on their own, so we have to get them from dietary sources.Even beans that aren’t complete proteins are still great sources of protein in general. For example, just one cup of black beans provides about 15 grams of protein.
2. They’re loaded with fiber.
Some people don’t like beans because beans cause them to suffer from gas. This isn’t really because of the beans themselves, however. Beans are loaded with fiber, which we can’t digest. Instead, this fiber acts as a probiotic, feeding our gut bacteria and helping them grow. As they eat, they produce gases as a byproduct. This gas is actually a good sign — it means that your gut bacteria are doing their job!Research also shows that fiber is the main nutrient associated with healthy aging. It helps maintain healthy blood sugar and balance blood lipids and supports the gut bacteria that help the immune system and reduce inflammation.A one-cup serving of black beans provides about 17 grams of fiber.
3. They’re full of antioxidants.
As your cells function, they produce molecules called free radicals. Some of these can cause oxidative damage. While this is natural, oxidative cell damage can also be a trigger for some diseases. For example, oxidative damage is one of the factors that contributes to the development and growth of cancer.Like their name implies, antioxidants fight this oxidative damage. They scavenge for free radicals, so the body can remove them before damage occurs.
Beans contain special antioxidants called polyphenols, so they can be a big help when it comes to limiting cell damage from free radicals. Black beans also contain anthocyanidins, the same antioxidant compounds responsible for the dark color of blueberries and blackberries.
4. They have lots of minerals.
A lot of people’s diets are deficient in potassium, a mineral that’s vital for healthy heart and muscle function. While your kidneys are pretty good at keeping your body’s potassium and sodium levels in balance, it’s still important to make sure that you’re getting the right amount of these important minerals from the foods that you eat.Fortunately, beans are an easy way to get plenty of potassium. A one-cup serving of black beans will get you about 13% of your recommended daily allowance of this mineral, as well as almost half of your daily allowance of copper, 29% of your magnesium, 33% of your manganese, 20% of your iron, and 19% of your phosphorus. It also provides some calcium and selenium.
5. They’re low in saturated fat and sodium.
While beans offer lots of protein, so do animal products. One thing that beans have in their favor, however, is that they’re much lower in saturated fat and sodium than most meat and dairy.We do need some saturated fat and sodium, but too much can be detrimental to heart health. Not only are beans naturally low in both, their fiber, antioxidant, and mineral content can help protect your heart.
Easy Ways to Eat More Beans
There’s one more really nice thing about beans: They’re pretty flavor neutral. They’ll take on the flavors of whatever they’re prepared with, so you can do pretty much anything with them!
Take that one-cup serving of black beans, for example. If you sauté them with chili pepper, garlic, and cumin, they’re a great addition to tacos or burritos. Blend them until smooth with fresh lime juice, cilantro, and garlic, and they’re an awesome dip for crackers or vegetables. Blend them until smooth with cocoa powder, oil, eggs, vanilla, and your choice of sweetener, then bake them, and you’ve got fudgy brownies.
Another simple recipe involves substituting chickpeas in your favorite egg, tuna, or chicken salad recipe. Take some canned chickpeas (for best results, choose a variety with no added salt) and mash them using a fork or potato masher. Add half a chopped tomato, bell pepper, onion, a bit of sea salt and black pepper, and two tablespoons of mayonnaise. Mix well, serve on toast, and store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. It’s a delicious, low-effort way to fit more beans into your diet.
Are beans the secret to stealing a giant’s golden goose? Probably not. Are they a powerful ally against heart disease and cancer? It’s very likely! Beans are an inexpensive, easy to find, easy to use addition to your diet that provides lots of protein, fiber, and other important nutrients. Swap them into your favorite recipes and see what magic they can work for you.