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Worth a Hill of Beans: Nutrition Powerhouses on Your Plate

 varities of beansIf you want to add color, flavor and nutrition to your meals, and not empty your wallet – read on. We spill the beans on an inexpensive, cancer-protective, global dietary staple much underused in the United States.

If you're like many Americans, you likely only eat beans in chili, as baked beans or in "Tex-Mex" dishes such as burritos or enchiladas. But go beyond those dishes and you can find dozens of dry bean varieties that add color, nutrition and great flavor to every course in your meal.

Cooking with Beans: Convenient and Cost Effective

Dry beans are one of the most economical sources of protein, whether you purchase canned or uncooked. Canned beans are great to have on hand. Add chickpeas to a fresh garden salad or stir-fry black beans with colorful vegetables and brown rice for a quick meal. One serving of canned beans costs a mere 25 cents. Buy them in bags, cook them yourself and you'll pay about one-half the price.

Bean Facts

Americans eat, on average, 7.5 lbs (45 cups cooked) of dry beans each year. Pinto beans are the most popular at 3.29 lbs., followed by navy, black, garbanzo (chickpea), great northern and kidney beans. Garbanzos – used in hummus and other Middle Eastern and Indian dishes – are the fastest growing in popularity in the United States.

Cooking dry beans:

  1. Clean. Place in pie plate and remove any leaves, small stones or damaged beans. Then rinse the beans under cold running water.
  2. Soak. Cover beans with water. Then soak using one of these methods:
    • Quick method: Bring to a boil for two minutes, then turn off heat, cover pot and soak for at least one hour before cooking.
    • Cold soak: Let soak overnight (8-12 hours).
  3. Cook. After soaking, drain and discard water. Add fresh water and cook on the stove for 1-2 hours or until soft. You can also cook in a slow cooker for 6-8 hours. For fastest cooking, a pressure cooker can do the job in 15-30 minutes.

If you plan to add foods high in acid like lemon juice, vinegar or tomatoes or tomato products, wait until after beans are cooked. These high acid foods can prevent beans from becoming tender during cooking. You can add herbs and spices or onion any time while beans are cooking.

Watch our video on cooking beans.

Leaf detail

AICR's expert report and continuous updates
have found that foods containing dietary fiber
lower risk for colorectal cancer.

The Musical Fruit

Beans contain carbohydrates that we're unable to break down during digestion. However, microbes in the colon break down these complex sugars and produce gas in the process. While this well-known gas producing effect keeps some people from eating beans, you can lessen the effect. Proper soaking, discarding and replacing the water, cooking at low heat for longer times and draining off the cooking water will remove much of the indigestible carbohydrate.

Just as with increasing any high fiber food, it may help to add beans to your diet gradually, and you'll probably find that some beans don't affect you as much as others.

Low-cost, high-fiber and nutrient-rich, these nutrition powerhouses are worth making a part of your diet. Visit our Foods that Fight Cancer section on Dry Beans, Peas and Lentils for information on research, practical tips and recipes.

Published on September 10, 2012

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