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What is the Healthiest of All Beans?

Beans have been described as nutritional powerhouses, superfoods and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that U.S. adults eat more of them -- three times more -- to reach three cups of beans each week.


Beans are nutritional powerhouses that may help fight cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Still, beans don't always get the respect they deserve. They're renowned for causing gas, lack any of the technological innovations of newer "superfoods," and then there's all those carbs.

In reality, however, beans are one of the oldest, healthiest foods out there, and research is confirming that adding beans to your diet is an easy way to improve your health.

"It's a very good package in terms of a single food," says Hannia Campos of Harvard University.

Major Nutrients in One Tiny Package

Beans are loaded with healthy nutrients like folate, magnesium, alpha-linolenic acid, calcium, potassium and vitamin B6. They're rich in protein (one cup of beans provides as much as 16 grams of protein) and are an ideal source of both soluble and insoluble fiber.

And, yes, beans are loaded with carbs, but they're the complex, good kind that help provide energy to your muscles and brain.

What does all of this mean to you?

Beans Fight Obesity, Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes and More

A report by nutrition experts at Michigan State University (MSU) reviewed 25 years of bean research and concluded that beans are an often-overlooked food source that could be helping Americans fight a host of chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

"It is becoming increasingly apparent that many people could reduce their risk of developing a chronic disease simply by eating more beans," the authors wrote.

The type of bean referred to in the report was "dry beans," which include dry-packaged beans in bags as well as pre-cooked canned beans, including pinto, navy, kidney, lima and black beans.

"Our report brings together a wealth of scientific evidence proving that beans can help fight the most critical health issues facing Americans," says Dr. Maurice Bennink, professor of nutrition in the food science and human nutrition department at MSU. "We found that it takes as little as two to four cups of dry beans per week for people to realize the positive health benefits."

Their report found:

  • People who ate legumes such as dry beans at least four times a week had a 22 percent lower risk of heart disease than people who ate them less than once a week.

  • Out of 41 countries, those with the highest bean consumption had the lowest death rates from breast, prostate and colon cancers.

  • Beans promote satiety and provide sustained energy, which helped individuals eat fewer calories and maintain a healthy weight.

  • The high fiber content in beans helps people with diabetes maintain healthy blood glucose levels.

Beans are also rich in antioxidant phytochemicals, which reduce the damage caused by free radicals and may also reduce the risk of cancer.

What is the Healthiest Bean?

Because so many types of beans are beneficial, we couldn't narrow it down to just one kind. Here we've listed some of the "cream of the crop" when it comes to beans, in terms of nutrients, antioxidants and great taste!

1. Black Beans: Also referred to as turtle beans, black beans are loaded with antioxidants and fiber, and are an excellent source of high-quality protein.
2. Kidney Beans: Along with lots of fiber and protein, kidney beans are an excellent source of the trace mineral, molybdenum. This mineral helps detoxify sulfites, a type of preservative added to many foods (and to which many people are sensitive), from the body.
3. Pinto Beans: "Pinto" is Spanish for "painted," which refers to the pinto beans' splashes of color. They're rich in antioxidants, fiber, protein, molybdenum, folate, manganese, vitamin B1, phosphorous, iron, magnesium, potassium and copper.
4. Navy Beans: Navy beans got their name because they were a staple food of the U.S. Navy in the early 20th century. They're rich in fiber, protein, folate, manganese, vitamin B1, phosphorous, copper, magnesium and iron.
5. Lima Beans: Sometimes also called "butter beans" because of their buttery texture, lima beans are high in fiber, protein, manganese, folate, potassium, iron and copper.

Two Bean Recipes for a Healthy, Tasty Meal

Black Bean and Mixed Rice Casserole


  • 1 package (6 ounces) white and wild rice mix
  • Vegetable cooking spay
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1/2 cup red pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms (4 ounces)
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked and cubed (2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans or 1 1/2 cups cooked dry-packaged black beans, rinsed, drained
  • 1/2 cup whole kernel corn
  • 1/2 cup peas
  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) shredded reduced-fat or fat-free cheddar cheese, divided
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Cook rice according to package directions, discarding spice packet.
  2. Spray medium skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium heat until hot. Add onion, green and red pepper, mushrooms, and Italian seasoning; cook, covered, over medium heat until mushrooms are wilted, about 5 minutes. Cook, uncovered, until vegetables are tender and excess moisture gone, 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. Combine rice, mushroom mixture, chicken, beans, corn, peas, sour cream and 1 cup cheese; season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon into 2-quart casserole; sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 350° F. until hot through, about 30 minutes.

Source: American Dry Bean Board

Quick Turkey and Bean Ragout


  • 1 pound boneless skinless turkey or chicken breast, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 green onions and tops, sliced
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) fat-free reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 package (16 ounces) frozen California blend vegetables
  • 1 can (15 ounces) Red beans or Dark Red Kidney beans or 1 1/2 cups cooked dry-packaged Red beans or Dark Red Kidney beans, rinsed, drained
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 cups cooked rice, hot


  1. Toss turkey with 1 tablespoon flour. Cook in butter over medium heat in large saucepan until browned, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, green onion and garlic; cook 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. Combine chicken broth and remaining 3 tablespoons flour; add to saucepan. Add frozen vegetables, beans, and herbs and heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer, covered, until turkey and vegetables are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Serve ragout over rice.

Source: American Dry Bean Board

Recommended Reading

The Six Healthiest Staple Foods in Mexican Cuisine

Potatoes: Once and For All, Are America's Favorite Vegetables Good for You or Not?


American Dry Bean Board

Beans for Health Alliance

The World's Healthiest Foods

Science News Online

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