It’s still World Vegan Month. To mark this, we shared some information on the health benefits of lentils a couple of weeks ago. Now it’s the turn of beans, another great vegan food.
When I was looking for ‘B’ words to go with beans I came across bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. If you search for synonyms for that phrase, you’ll find words like strong, composed, fit and flourishing. Perfect! Beans can help you become those things.
Kind of similar to lentils, you’re thinking. In terms of health benefits, yes! Absolutely. That’s why we’ve featured them both. And they’re part of the same family. But in terms of taste and recipes, they’re quite different.
Beans are a nutritional powerhouse and a great addition to your diet if you’re looking for a vegan food that can support your health and fitness goals.
Let’s take a look at why beans rank high in our go-to food list….
Why would you include beans in your diet?
Here are some great reasons to include beans in your diet.
They are vegan
Not a single cell or nutrient derived from animals. They have a great texture and a dense satisfying feel that provides an alternative to meat and fish.
High in protein
As vegan foods go, they are pretty high in protein. The protein makes them filling and satisfying. Just be aware it’s not a complete protein, missing the amino acids methionine and cystine – more on this below.
There are black, kidney, pinto, butter, white, red, navy… the list goes on. Did you know…. navy, also known as haricot, are the beans used in commercial baked beans?
But why choose commercial baked beans when you can make your own – healthier – version. Take a look at our previous post featuring baked beans from scratch. If you make your own you can decide which beans to put in.
Beans come in different sizes, textures and tastes. Most of you will be familiar with the distinctive taste of kidney beans, for example. If you’re a meat eater you’ll know they go really well in a chilli con carne. Try them all and see which ones you like best.
You can prepare lots of different types of meals with beans.
- Add them to your salads for some texture, depth, protein, carbs and satiation.
- They do a great hearty filling soup – they’ll give you interesting chewy satisfying lumps and help make your soup a meal in itself. Note that a bean filled soup ticks all the boxes for a filling meal – protein, fibre, liquid, slow carbs.
- You can mix them with grains, such as rice or wheat, to improve the overall nutrient content and make them more filling. This will also make the protein complete. Grains tend to contain the amino acids that are missing from beans. You can use your bean-grain mix in the same way you would use the grain on its own. And of course, that well-known food combination ‘beans on toast’ is also a great example of food combining to achieve a vegan complete protein.
- They work wonders in the slow cooker, or a crock-pot as it is sometimes called. Just take a look at this great big list of slow cooker recipes for some ideas.
If you fancy including more beans in your diet and you’d like some inspiration, take a look at another list of bean ideas.
Beans are a low hassle food:
- They generally come in cans, already pre-cooked and you can just heat them up. Note that if you cook them from dry then it’ll take some time, but a slow cooker meal will take the hassle out of it.
- They are easy to store once cooked. So, you can prepare a big batch with whatever additional ingredients and flavours you like, put them in a Tupperware container in the fridge and just spoon it out when you need it. You can then add them to a salad, or to your chicken/rice/vegetables lunch, or to a soup that you’re rustling up.
They are super healthy
You probably guessed this was coming. Yes, they are really nutritious and healthy. For me this is the most compelling reason to eat beans, due to the sheer number of health benefits. More on this in the next section.
So, what are the health benefits of beans?
So many! Here goes….
High in protein
Beans pack a protein punch. If you take black beans for example, you’ll get around 22g protein per 100g uncooked. That’s up there with meat as a source of protein. That makes them great if you need or like a higher protein intake to help you with your sporting goals. But, as mentioned earlier, the protein is incomplete, so is not quite so good for building and maintaining muscle. Mix them with grains or other vegan complete protein sources to ensure you’re getting a full quota of amino acids. We’ve written before about getting enough complete protein in a vegan diet in our veganism blog.
High in fibre
According to nutritiondata.self.com, black beans have 15g fibre per 100g. That’s pretty decent. Fibre will keep your colon clean and slow down the digestion of everything in your meal. That means it’s great for keeping you full, preventing blood sugar spikes and reducing your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Slow digesting carbs
Beans typically have a glycemic index of around 30. That means they’re not going to spike your blood sugar and insulin, so are a much better carb choice for diabetics. Those slow digesting carbs will also keep you going for longer before you get hungry again.
Great for weight loss
When you’re losing weight, you need to be in calorie deficit. It’s easy to be hungry all the time if you eat the wrong foods. The right foods will keep you full and prevent hunger. The formula for filling meals? Protein, fibre, slow digesting carbs – all listed above – and liquid. The liquid is provided by the cooking process when beans absorb a lot of water. That makes beans the perfect filling food as they tick all the boxes. Filling foods are great for weight loss.
Healthy looking skin
Potassium, iron, folates, magnesium – they’re all essential for skin health. Get more beans, look younger!
Think of prebiotics as food for healthy gut flora. It’s generally fibre that you don’t digest and which passes into the large intestine where it provides fodder for healthy bugs. There’s plenty of prebiotic carbohydrate in beans which means they are great for helping you maintain a healthy gut.
Beans are stuffed with healthful nutrients. Here’s the rundown
Beans contain good amounts of Thiamin, riboflavin and B6 but are particularly abundant in folates. That makes them a good choice if you’re pregnant.
They are good sources of potassium, iron, manganese, zinc and magnesium. The iron content makes them a valuable food for vegans. Non-vegans tend to get most of their iron from animal products. Vegans need to find alternative sources of iron. In our blog on the pros and cons of veganism, we talk more about potential deficiencies of the vegan diet and alternative sources of various nutrients.
This is where beans come in to their own. This is an excellent short paper which packs in a lot of information and citations. Here are the cited benefits associated with the various polyphenols in beans
That’s a long list! In general, the darker the bean the more polyphenols it has in it, with black beans being top of the list. Get beans in your diet regularly and you’re going to help yourself stay healthy and reduce disease risk.
Any downsides to beans?
Well, yes, there’s one in particular that is often spoken about…
They may make you gassy!
All the activity of those healthy gut flora is going to generate some gas. But is it such a bad thing? No, I’m not thinking farting is fun! Although it is. No, I mean creating a little gas is a good thing, at least it tells you your beneficial bugs are thriving!
If the gas bothers you then you might want to read this article on beans and gas. What’s the bottom line? Eat them regularly and the gas problem will dissipate. That’s the perfect piece of advice, because we recommend you eat them regularly too, for health reasons.
Slow Cooker Chilli Black Bean Stew
Chilli beans? You’re thinking, that’s a recipe for intestinal indiscipline! But, as noted above, much less so if you eat it regularly.
This recipe is delicious, filling, low hassle and healthy.
We cook this in the slow cooker as it is easy to prep the night before and leave it cooking while we’re out at the studio. It can just as easily be cooked on the hob or in the oven.
Here’s what you’ll need
- Black beans (tinned)
- Tomatoes (tinned)
- Onions chopped
- Carrots sliced
- Celery sticks sliced
- Garlic crushed
- Chilli powder or Paprika
- Fennel seeds or ground fennel
- Cumin seeds or ground cumin
- Coriander seeds or ground coriander
- Tomato puree
- Vegetable stock cube
You’ll note the quantities are not specified. It’s not an exact science. The quantities will depend on the capacity of your slow cooker, how spicy you like your food and what you’ve got available at the time. It’s going to taste great whatever quantities you use.
If you’re watching your salt intake, you might like to use a low salt vegetable stock cube.
And here’s how to make it
- Soften the onions, carrots and celery in a pan – we use a little water to soften the veg rather than oil.
- Add the garlic and spices and cook for 1 minute.
- Crumble in the stock cube, add the tomatoes, beans and tomato puree.
- Bring to the boil.
- Transfer to your slow cooker, make sure the beans are covered by the liquid.
- Cook on ‘low’ for 8 – 10 hours
- Scoff it!
The Wrap up
If beans aren’t part of your diet then you’re missing out. They are delicious, filling, great for weight loss, have lots of health promoting benefits and are packed with nutrients. They’re not only healthy, they’re vegan and they’re low hassle. And what’s more, there are thousands of recipes out there that you can try. What’s not to love? Go and get some beans, start creating delicious new meals today and eat them regularly as part of your new diet .