While the term “bean” can include a variety of vegetables, including those in which the outer pod, in addition to the seeds inside the pod are eaten. In regard to superfoods, beans generally refer to the broad bean or more commonly, dried beans.
These would include black beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans and soybeans, as well as others. Beans have long been recognized as being significant sources of fiber and protein. Within the primary food groups, beans are included in the “protein group” which also includes meats, eggs, nuts and seafood.
As an all-inclusive food source, beans can’t be beat. Beans can hold their own against meat in the area of protein. One-quarter cup of beans contains as much protein as one ounce of meat, yet they contain none of the fat.
Black Beans vs Lean Meat
In a side-by-side comparison, black beans can be shown to have many benefits over lean meat.
Four ounces of lean ground beef contains:
- 23 grams of protein
- 20 grams of fat
- 0 grams of fiber
- 306 calories
Twice the amount of black beans (8 ounces) contains:
- 18 grams of protein
- .09 grams of fat
- 15 grams of fiber
- 227 calories
In regard to fiber, beans contain more fiber per serving than vegetables, fruits or whole grains. The amount of fiber a person needs varies depending on what he or she has eaten in a given day. With one cup of beans providing 15 grams of fiber, beans easily provide almost twice the fiber of most fruits and vegetables.
Because the body has to work harder to digest the calories contained in beans, this means that fewer of them are absorbed into the body. One study suggests that if a person wishes to lose weight, adding an additional 14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories consumed, can decrease the number of “recordable” calories by 100. With one cup of beans containing 15 grams of fiber, this is good news for everyone!
Beans are also low on the glycemic index which means they release their natural sugars slowly and steadily into the bloodstream. This helps the body resist the spiking and falling of blood sugar levels and also helps to provide sustained energy. Beans provide a source of B vitamins, folate, potassium and calcium. Folate is a B vitamin that the body is unable to produce on its own. Beans are the most significant source of folate which provides protection against cancer and heart disease.
Surprisingly, one of the areas in which beans rank the highest is in antioxidant capacity. In an article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, red beans, red kidney beans and pinto beans ranked at the top. Only wild blueberries contain as many antioxidants. Adding to this impressive performance is the fact that beans pack their punch in a serving size half that of most other foods.
For the gardener, beans can be enjoyable to grow at home. They require very little care and are left in the ground until the end of the season when they start to dry up. Then the plants are simply pulled from the ground and left to dry the rest of the way on a screen or hanging in the garage or basement. Shelling the beans, the process of removing them from the pod, is easily done when the pods are dry and is a job that even children enjoy doing.
Experts across the board agree that beans easily earn their place on any list of superfoods because of their significant protein and fiber, low levels of fat and calories and bargain price at the check out line. Overall, beans are the closest to a complete food source that any one food can come. They are by far, the most versatile of all foods. Beans are one of the only foods that can successfully be used as a main dish or a side dish, or used in soups, dips and salads. Because they can easily be added to other dishes, it is a convenient way to take advantage of the additional fiber, protein and nutrients.