9 Reasons to Eat a Lot of Beans

From longevity and weight control to being great for the planet, here's why the humble bean is so mighty.

Bean salad, with black beans, chickpea, apple, spring onion and dill.
Bean salad, with black beans, chickpea, apple, spring onion and dill.

Westend61 / Getty Images 

Ah, the humble bean. They star in favorite dishes from around the world – cassoulet, feijoada, red beans and rice, pasta e fagioli, the list goes on and on. Beans are as cheap and durable as they are delicious and nutritious; it's no wonder that they've been such an important part of our diets throughout history.

And it's also no wonder that during the coronavirus pandemic, beans have taken center stage. As The New York Times notes, "... amid all the panic shopping, the growing demand for beans has stood out as an especially potent symbol of the anxious and uncertain times. At supermarkets, shoppers are stocking up on canned beans from familiar brands like Goya Foods, as well as thick bags of dry beans that usually lie largely untouched on store shelves."

So if you find yourself with a kitchen stuffed with a stockpile of beans, be grateful. Aside from being one of the greatest comfort foods ever, here's what else the mighty bean has going for it.

1. Superb Practicality

Beans provide protein, fiber, folate, iron, potassium, and magnesium while containing little or no total fat, trans-fat, sodium, and cholesterol. Compared to meat, Harvard Medical School puts it plainly: "beans are a much better nutritional bargain than steak." Beans are inexpensive; and whether canned or dried, they have a long shelf life. Lastly, for those of us who are soothed by stirring a pot of a simmering something over the course of a day, beans are meditation, therapy, and dinner, all in one.

2. A Longer Life

Michelle McMacken, a board-certified internal medicine physician and an assistant professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine, writes at Forks Over Knives that beans and other legumes (like lentils and chickpeas) are “the most important dietary predictor of longevity in people of different ethnicities.” All this time we thought the fountain of youth was comprised of some ethereal and mysterious potion – and it’s really just beans? McMacken tells of one study in which nearly 800 older adults in several countries increased their daily bean and legume consumption – for each 20-gram increase, there was a 7 to 8 percent lower risk of dying during the study period. “No other food groups consistently predicted survival,” she notes.

3. Less Diabetes

The American Diabetes Foundation calls beans a “diabetes superfood” for their vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Meanwhile, the Harvard Medical School notes that a cup of beans or lentils each day, when combined with a low-glycemic diet, helped lower blood sugar levels and coronary artery disease risk in patients with type 2 diabetes. “Legumes, because they pack a lot of protein, help dampen the blood sugar response, and lower blood pressure. And as a good source of fiber, beans can help lower cholesterol, too.”

4. A Healthier Heart

Research shows that eating beans and legumes four or more times a week versus less than once a week leads to a 22 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease. That is really significant. Research also shows that these power foods also lower blood pressure – McMacken points out that a single serving of beans a day can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol by 5 percent.

5. Less Cancer

While of course The Bean Institute is going to sing the praises of beans, on their site they list all kinds of references to scientific studies backing up their claims. The research they cite shows that regular bean consumption may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, noting that: "Beans unique composition of fiber, as well as important micronutrients and antioxidants, makes them an important food choice for many reasons, including their possible anti-cancer properties for certain types of cancer, including colorectal, breast, and prostate.” See more on each of these and the research at The Bean Institute.

6. A Smaller Waistline

Earlier we reported on a study that found that beans and peas were more satiating than pork and veal-based meals. More satisfaction means less eating of nutrient-deprived junk foods, which leads to weight gain. One study is so sure of this that they titled their research: “Bean consumption is associated with greater nutrient intake, reduced systolic blood pressure, lower body weight, and a smaller waist circumference in adults.” Sold!

7. A Great Source of Protein

Looking to give up or reduce your consumption of meat? As mentioned above, beans are more satisfying than meat, and are such a good source of plant-based protein – containing between 21 to 25% protein by weight – that they have been identified as a meat alternative by the U.S. government guidelines.

8. More Options, Less Waste

Beans are the perfect pantry staple. They are dirt cheap, last for ages, and can be cooked into a million different dishes. Their long shelf life makes for minimal waste since they don't spoil. Cooking dried beans from scratch is a breeze, but having a few (BPA-free) cans in the cupboard for quick dinners is still a good option.

9. Less "End of Civilization"

We reported on this research before and it’s eye-opening, to say the least. If Americans swapped beef for beans, the US would immediately realize 50 to 75 percent of the greenhouse gas reduction targets that we had set for 2020. Just beef – not eggs or chicken or pork or dairy. Since the current administration does not appear to believe that climate change is a problem, here is an excellent way to take those targets into our own hands and fight the good fight by simply swapping beans for beef! More beans, less eco-apocalypse ... sounds good to me.