Food and Health

Benefits of Beans + 12 Recipes That Will Make You Love Them

12 min read

The life-enhancing benefits of beans are almost a forgotten secret in today’s world. The power of beans is almost magical.

The life-enhancing benefits of beans are a forgotten secret in today’s world. These tasty morsels are often joked about as the magical, musical fruit, but it’s no joke – the power of beans is almost magical.

From black beans to chickpeas and from cannellini to kidney, beans and other legumes (like lentils and split peas) provide an easy and affordable way to get many of the critical nutrients you need to thrive.

The Benefits of Beans Can Help You Live a Longer, Healthier Life

According to research by Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” beans are one of the foods most associated with longevity.

For optimal health, Dan Buettner recommends eating a cup of beans each day. However, few people in developed nations today consume nearly this much.

Beans are one of the best sources of clean, whole food, plant-based protein. For people, such as athletes and seniors who might need to boost their protein intake, eating beans at most meals can be a great idea.

Cooked soybeans, for example, contain almost 30 grams of protein per cup! And cooked split peas and lentils have approximately 16 grams of fiber per cup. To put that into perspective, many nutrition experts believe that a 150-pound person requires about 54 grams of protein and 40 grams of fiber per day. Most people in developed nations today consume an excess of protein, yet only about 10-12 grams of fiber per day.

Beans provide an excellent source of protein and fiber, as well as nearly a full day’s worth of iron, plus a variety of micronutrients and phytochemicals.

The consumption of beans and other legumes is also associated with a slimmer waistline and can help lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

Preventing Cancer with Beans

There is no guarantee against cancer, but a large percentage of cancer risk is due to dietary and lifestyle causes. One of the benefits of beans and legumes is that they can help reduce the risk of many types of cancer in several ways.

One way is through the fiber they contain. Beans and legumes are among the foods richest in dietary fiber. Fiber is essential to help shuttle excess hormones and carcinogens out of the body. Without adequate fiber, these waste products continue to circulate over and over again, potentially causing cancer. This process is called enterohepatic circulation.

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, participants were put on a low-fat, high-fiber, high-fruit and vegetable diet, and researchers focused on the recurrence of colorectal adenomas (polyps) — which are a precursor to colon cancer.

After adjusting for all the commonly considered variables, the one food that made the biggest difference in whether or not participants had a recurrence of adenomas was the amount of beans they consumed.

Participants least likely to have a recurrence consumed 31 to 233 grams per day of beans. To put that in perspective, one can of black beans contains 172 grams of beans. These people were eating 3-4 times more beans than everyone else in the trial and a lot more beans than most people in developed countries.

Beans also contain a compound called phytic acid (phytates), also known as inositol hexaphosphate or IP-6. Although phytates have gotten a bad rap in Paleo circles, many researchers believe that dietary phytates may be one of the reasons that people eating a plant-based diet rich in beans and other legumes tend to have lower rates of certain forms of cancer, including breast, prostate, and colon cancer.

Beans and Heart Health

In a study published by Public Health Reports, people without legumes in their diets were found to be at quadruple the risk of suffering from high blood pressure.

In another study, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers gave participants just a half a cup of pinto beans per day. After eight weeks, their total cholesterol dropped an average of nearly 20 points, and their LDL cholesterol levels dropped 14 points — as much as the level induced by the leading prescription drug!

Beans and Weight Loss

If you’re looking to lose a few pounds or just maintain a healthy weight, beans and legumes are one of the best foods you can add to your diet.

A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that people who ate beans regularly had a 22% lower risk of obesity and were more likely to have a smaller waist than people who didn’t eat beans.

One possible explanation for this is that beans are high in soluble fiber, which slows digestion and makes you feel full longer.

Beans and Blood Sugar

Beans also have an extremely low glycemic index. Adding beans to your diet moderates blood sugar.

This was originally known as the Lentil Effect. But it’s now known as the Second-Meal Effect, and is the reason the consumption of beans is often recommended for people who have type 2 diabetes, as well as for those who want to prevent it.

The Hispanic Paradox

The Hispanic Paradox is an example of the powerful effect of beans. In comparison to national averages, Hispanic people living in the U.S. have lower access to healthcare, a higher poverty rate, and lower levels of education. But despite all this, on average, they live substantially longer than both white Americans and black Americans.

They have a 24% lower risk of premature death — with typically the lowest rates of COPD and lung cancer and lower rates of bladder cancer, throat cancer, and colorectal cancer, for both men and women.

Scientists have studied why this might be the case and have determined that their diet has something to do with it. Although Hispanics only represent 10% of the U.S population, they eat 1/3 of the beans consumed. So their bean consumption may be a reason they live longer because beans (and all legumes) decrease unwanted inflammation.

Soy – The Controversial Bean

Soy is a bean. However, many people today are convinced that they should avoid this much-maligned plant food. Let’s take a brief look at the evidence.

The Okinawan centenarians – the healthiest, longest-lived people in the world eat soy foods regularly. The consumption of moderate amounts of traditional soy foods like tofu, tempeh, miso, soy sauce, and soy milk has been shown to be protective against certain forms of cancer.

For example, in a study published in Cancer Causes & Control, the consumption of soy milk was associated with a 70% reduction in the risk of prostate cancer.

Similarly, in a study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women who consumed the most soy had a 29% reduced risk of breast cancer and 36% reduced risk of recurrence.

The phytoestrogens in soy have been found to be protective against cancer, and despite many claims to the contrary, they have not been found to cause the feminizing effects for which they are sometimes blamed. There are, however, high levels of actual estrogens in dairy, eggs, and meat, and these have been linked to early onset of puberty, as well as to fertility issues and cancer.

Food Revolution Summit speaker Michael Greger, MD, at, explains it this way:

“People don’t realize there are two types of estrogen receptors in the body—alpha and beta. And, unlike actual estrogen, soy phytoestrogens “preferentially bind to and activate estrogen receptor beta. This distinction is important, because the two types of receptors have different tissue distributions…and often function differently, and sometimes in opposite ways. And, this appears to be the case in the breast, where beta activation has an anti-estrogenic effect, inhibiting the growth-promoting effects of actual estrogen—something we’ve known for more than ten years.”

Some people are also concerned about soy and GMOs. Most of the soybeans grown in the U.S. today are genetically modified. Most of the genetically modified soybeans are fed to livestock, but many also make their way into soy protein isolate, soy oil, and other highly processed foods.

If you’re interested in saying no to GMO soy, it might be best to avoid eating meat and processed foods, and instead to opt for organic tofu, tempeh, soymilk, and other USDA-certified organic products.

John Robbins has written an extensive article about soy. You can find it here.

What About Lectins – and Farts?

Lectins are proteins present in many plants and concentrated in beans, whole grains, and certain fruits and vegetables. Some people are concerned about lectins, referring to them as anti-nutrients or even poison. One of the lectins found in kidney beans, for example, called hemagglutinin, can make people sick if consumed raw.

I don’t know anyone who’s actually in the habit of eating raw kidney beans. But some people don’t cook them properly, and this can allow a small amount of dangerous lectins to remain. For all legumes, it’s best to cook them well (in a pressure cooker if you have one) until they are fork tender. (Lectins aren’t a concern with canned beans because all canned beans are thoroughly pressure cooked.)

Although bean-induced tooting is the butt of a lot of jokes, some people do have trouble digesting beans. This is one of the reasons that it’s ideal to soak beans for 24-48 hours (rinsing twice per day) before cooking them. With every rinse, you’ll be draining off oligosaccharides, which are a leading cause of flatulence.

If you do this and still find your digestion less than optimal, you may want to try introducing beans to your diet slowly, starting with ¼ cup at a time and adding more every day or two to see how your body responds.

Some people also find that lentils and split peas are a bit easier to adjust to than beans – while offering similar nutritional benefits. Another thing you can try is to take a digestive enzyme with your legumes. A daily probiotic can also be helpful.

Affordable and Convenient – Beans are for Almost Everyone!

Most people I know are looking to save some money. And we all know that grocery costs can add up. Centering meals around beans can be a simple, affordable solution. Plus, you’ll get all the benefits of beans described above.

At just a couple dollars per pound for most organic dried beans, it’s easy to feed even a large family a healthy, affordable meal featuring the lovable legume. Beans are also convenient. It’s easy to keep a variety of dried and canned beans in the pantry for making many of the recipes featured below.

How to Prepare Beans

  1. First, soak beans for 12-48 hours prior to cooking by placing in a pot and covering with lots of water – enough to cover by 2 inches. Discard soaking liquid, rinse, and resoak 2-3x/day, and then rinse and cook thoroughly until tender in fresh water. (Soaking is not necessary with lentils, as they cook quickly.)
  2. Cook beans using a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker is my favorite way to cook beans. They come out perfectly every time. Pressure cookers save time and energy. The pressure also penetrates the tough exterior of beans, making them easily digestible. But, if you don’t have one, don’t worry. A simple pot or slow cooker can work well, too.
  3. Add a bay leaf or a strip of dried kombu (a sea vegetable) when cooking beans.
  4. You can also add spices, such as fennel, cumin, caraway, ginger, and turmeric to make beans more digestible.

12 Delicious Recipes Featuring Beans

1. Lentil-Beet Burgers 

Get the Benefits of Beans with These Lentil-Beet Burgers

These meaty, flavorful burgers are packed with both nutrition and flavor! You’ll hardly believe how easy they are to make. They are sure to become your new favorite.

Get the recipe from Katie Mae at Plantz St.

2. Caribbean Black Bean Soup 

Caribbean Black Bean Soup

This super-easy, healthy soup is a great option for a quick and easy weeknight dinner. Serve with a fresh green salad and some crusty bread for a delicious, affordable, and filling meal.

Get the recipe from Jessica Meyers Altman at Garden Fresh Foodie.

3. Hummus in the Blender 

Get the Benefits of Beans with This Hummus in the Blender

Hummus is a classic middle eastern spread made from garbanzo beans (chickpeas), tahini, garlic, water, salt, and sometimes olive oil. Variations abound, from roasted red pepper to spinach artichoke to edamame to herbed varieties.

This version is oil-free and silky smooth.Hummus is delicious as a dip for veggies and pita, spread on lavash or a tortilla for a wrap, or on bread for an Ultimate Veggie Sandwich.

Get the recipe from Susan Voisin at Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.

4. Butternut Squash Vegan Buddha Bowl

Butternut Squash Vegan Buddha Bowl

Bowls like this are a scrumptious and super-easy way to enjoy beans. Just steam or roast some veggies, cook some grains or potatoes, top with beans, and drizzle with a sauce. There are endless variations!

Get the recipe from Amy Katz at Veggies Save the Day.

5. Healing Red Lentil Soup with Turmeric and Ginger 

Healing Red Lentil Soup with Turmeric & Ginger

This quick and easy soup is full of healing ingredients including turmeric, coriander, ginger, and garlic. The combination of red lentils (which turn golden when cooking) along with spinach and lemon juice provide a wealth of nutrients including protein, fiber, iron, and vitamins C and K all in one bowl!

Get the recipe from Emily Honeycutt at Deliciously Green.

6. Zucchini Spaghetti with Lentil Marinara 

Get the Benefits of Beans with This Lentil Bolognese

Lentils are a healthy, thrifty and quick-cooking addition to marinara sauce. Instead of sprinkling with parmesan, try making your own plant-based version with nuts and nutritional yeast, such as the one. Lentils can also be used in used in recipes wherever you might use ground beef, such as Sloppy Joes or tacos.

Get the recipe from Kaylee at Lemons & Basil.

7. Ultimate Vegetarian Chili 

Get the Benefits of Beans with This Ultimate Vegetarian Chili

This meatless autumn classic contains a mix of beans, protein-packed seitan (wheat meat) and mushrooms, making it especially meaty and flavorful. It’s also quick and easy make.

It’s perfect served on a chilly day with a green salad and freshly baked cornbread. Note: If for a gluten-free option, swap out the seitan for diced tempeh.

Get the recipe from Emily Honeycutt at Deliciously Green.

8. Easy Lentil Meatballs 

Get the Benefits of Beans with These Easy Lentil Meatballs

These savory little morsels are easy to make and are so versatile. You can add them to spaghetti or sandwiches!

This recipe calls for cooking in an oiled cast iron skillet, but for those wanting to avoid oil, it’s easy to make them oil-free in a non-stick pan or bake them on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Get the recipe from the Minimalist Baker.

9. Crispy Baked Falafel 

Get the Benefits of Beans with This Crispy Baked Falafel

These traditional middle eastern chickpea patties are the original veggie burgers! Traditionally made from ground chickpeas and seasoned with cumin, cilantro, parsley, and garlic, they are full of flavor.

Most falafels are deep fried, but it’s easy to bake these mini burgers at home. This recipe calls for cooking in a cast iron pan, then baking, but you can also make them oil-free and bake directly on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Simply follow Mark Bittman’s directions, omitting the oil.

Served drizzled with tahini sauce and wrapped in whole wheat lavash or pita bread along with cucumber, lettuce, and tomato, falafel is real international comfort food.

Get the recipe from Kate at Cookie + Kate.

10. Miso Tofu Shish Kebobs 

Get the Benefits of Beans with These Miso Tofu Shish Kebobs

Throw some tofu on the bahbie. These colorful kebobs are a great way to enjoy beans and prove you don’t need meat to enjoy savory, meaty texture and tons of flavor at your next cookout.

Serve with the accompanying spiralized salad for the perfect healthy summertime meal.

Get the recipe from Jessica Meyers Altman at Garden Fresh Foodie.

11. Socca Pizza

Get the Benefits of Beans with This Socca Pizza

The crust of this gorgeous, healthy pizza is made from chickpea flour. It’s naturally both gluten-free and vegan and is as easy to make as pancakes.

Just whisk together chickpea flour, water, a little olive oil, and salt and allow to stand for at least 15 minutes or up to overnight to thicken. Then pour into a nonstick or cast-iron skillet and cook until the crust is golden. Flip the entire socca over or finish cooking in the oven for 10 minutes, then top with your favorite toppings.

This recipe contains olive oil, but for those wishing to avoid added oils, it works with the oil omitted.

Get the recipe from by Liz Moody. (Photo by Alison Wu)

12. Black Bean Brownies 

Get the Benefits of Beans with These Black Bean Brownies

Beans in brownies? You bet! Sweets provide a fun opportunity to replace less healthy ingredients with protein and fiber-rich plant foods. You’ll find many variations of the now-classic black bean brownies online. This version omits eggs, butter, and white flour in favor of whole grain flour, pure maple syrup, and black beans.

Get all the benefits of beans in this moist, chocolatey treat that’s a fat-free, cholesterol-free version of the classic. These brownies are not appropriate for those wishing to avoid all added sweeteners but are a great option when you need a conventional-tasting dessert to take to a party or special event.

Get the recipe from Emily Honeycutt at Deliciously Green.

In Closing

Beans and legumes are healthy, delicious, and affordable. They work in all kinds of recipes – from soups and salads to burgers and sandwiches to filets, nuggets, and tacos – and even desserts!

There are so many exciting ways to prepare them and get all the benefits of beans. For even more recipe ideas, check out Bean by Bean, with More than 175 Recipes for Fresh Beans, Dried Beans, Cool Beans, Hot Beans, Savory Beans, Even Sweet Beans – by Crescent Dragonwagon; or The Great Vegan Bean Book: More than 100 Delicious Plant-Based Dishes Packed with the Kindest Protein in Town! – by Kathy Hester and Renee Comet.

We hope we’ve given you a few new ideas to incorporate more beans and legumes into your healthy diet and lifestyle.

Tell us in the comments:

  • What are your favorite ways to prepare beans and legumes?

  • What do you think about the health benefits of beans?