Whether your diet is built completely around plant foods or you’re just moving toward more plant-based eating, beans deserve a front-and-center role in your menus.
These foods—chickpeas, lentils, black eyed peas, limas, and hundreds of others—have been an important part of healthy diets for as long as people have been growing their own food. As populations adopt more meat-centric western-style diets, however, bean consumption has been on the decline.
It’s too bad, because replacing animal foods in the diet with beans has all kinds of benefits. For starters, they are the only protein-rich foods that also offer a big dose of fiber. It makes them one of the best choices for boosting the satiety of a meal since both the protein and fiber help you feel full for longer. And while eating animal foods can raise blood cholesterol, the type of fiber in beans helps to lower it.
Beans are much higher in potassium than meat, fish and chicken, and in fact, are higher in this mineral than many other plant foods. Their combination of protein and potassium makes them a powerful food for protecting bones. Some, like black and navy beans, even offer a little bit of bone-building calcium.
Beans are also high in a type of starch—resistant starch—that resists digestion in the small intestine. As a result, they release glucose to the blood more slowly and gradually, helping to maintain healthier levels of blood glucose and insulin after a meal.
All of this adds up to make the humble bean a formidable foe against chronic disease. Studies show that people who eat more beans have a lower risk for developing diabetes. In those who have this disease, they can help with blood sugar control. People who eat more beans also have a lower risk for heart disease.
Simply adding more bean dishes to your existing diet can actually improve your health according to some research. But you can expect an even greater benefit when bean dishes replace either animal foods or refined grains in your meals.
Aside from these health benefits, beans are a great way to save on your grocery bill without sacrificing nutrition. Along with nuts and seeds, they have the best nutritional value of all foods per dollar spent.