The almost magic beans

Most of us are familiar with the little guys we call beans. But bean, like the word vegetable, is a very general concept. It is used to refer to seeds of many different plants. Some people might think of green beans when they hear the word and others might think pinto beans, garbanzo or any other of the immense varieties of beans. That’s why I will focus on the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) on this post.

The almost magic beans

Although beans have been cultivated in many parts of the world for thousands of years, many of the most popular varieties that we eat today are native to Mesoamerica and the Andes. Beans (along with squash and corn) played a very important part in the agriculture and nutrition of pre-Colombian societies. Even today, beans are essential to the balanced diet of most Latin American countries. This is not a surprise given their nutritional value and their low cost.

Each half-cup serving of beans provides:

  • 6 to seven grams of protein
  • only 100 to 120 calories
  • an average of 25 grams of carbohydrates per serving. The carbohydrates in cooked beans are mainly starch, a complex carbohydrate, and less than 1% of simple sugars, mostly Sucrose
  • about 25-30% of the Daily Value of dietary fiber. About 75% of the fiber is insoluble which may reduce the risk of colon cancer. The remaining 25% of the fiber is soluble fiber which may reduce blood cholesterol.
  • less than 0.5 grams of mostly polyunsaturated fat and no cholesterol. Pinto bean lipid is 84% polyunsaturated fatty acids. Most of this fatty acid is linoleic acid.
  • provides 36% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of 400 micrograms of folacin and 11% of the RDI for thiamin.
  • contains large amounts of iron, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, calcium, and zinc.

Other benefits of eating beans are:

  • They provide a complimentary protein profile when beans and grains are served together in dishes like beans and rice, or tortillas and refried beans, .
  • They produce a moderate increase in blood glucose and insulin levels which may be helpful in the metabolic control of diabetes.
  • The slower release of glucose and the increased satiety from beans may also to enhance the effectiveness of weight-reducing diets.

Some tips about beans:

  • Soak beans for at least 2 hours before cooking to reduce cooking time.
  • Discarding the soaking and cooking water helps remove oligosaccharides and reduces flatulence. Hot soaking removes about 50% of these sugars. Extended soaking removes more, but reduces vitamins and minerals.
  • Adding epazote to beans enhances flavor and helps to reduce flatulence as well.

But how do you eat beans? Beans are one of my favorite foods for their versatility. If you are looking to reduce your meat intake (we all should do this to improve our health, fight global warming and help eradicate hunger. Read about it here) you can cook with beans and other protein rich legumes. You can serve them as a side dish, in salads, combined with rice or other grains and vegetables to make a main dish. The best part is not their price, only a fraction of what you’d spend in meat, but their flavor.

Beans are one of the most convincing proofs that you can eat healthy and delicious inexpensively. With food like this the future looks less grim now, doesn’t it?

The almost magic beans

Sources for this post:


  • I am trying to eat more beans since they are cheap and nutritious, but I never ate them much growing up. Thanks for highlighting their benefits.

  • I think beans are the wonder food of all time. They’re so versatile and they go with all other things vegetarian and vegan, so we can help the Earth, our health and the economy by eating beans! Yay!

  • I make alot of salads with beans but would love to learn more about how to build more things with them. Nice tutorial Ben and it’s important that we live with less flatulence :)

  • Nice post, Ben! We love beans around here!

  • Ben, I totally agree with the having beans as a staple in your diet. Being Mexican, I obviously grew up with pinto beans in all its’ glorious and various ways of preparation. Borracho, refried, soup, with chorizo, as an extender, you name it. Beans, like rice, are an inexpensive yet nutritious means of creating a healthy and filling meal. With the rising cost of food these days, we need to go back to basics. Thanks for sharing.

  • […] Beans! Ben at What’s Cooking? explains why they’re so good. I’m going to try and eat more of them since they’re so healthy and less expensive than meat. […]

  • Hey there Ben, thanks for visiting my site. Yes, after 12 hours the brisket just simply falls apart, it’s so tender. Your article on beans. What can I say. I grew up on all kinds of dishes prepared with pinto beans. It’s an absolute staple in our house. I also wrote an article on the pinto bean being a nutritious and inexpensive addition to any meal. The cost of food today makes it almost impossible not to be creative with your meal planning. Thank God we have “our roots” to fall back on. Beans and rice…hey that’s nice. Borracho beans, refried beans, beans with chorizo, and the list goes on and on. Thanks for sharing Ben.

  • I not had a bean I didn’t like yet. When I was growning up, bean probably did mean green bean to me. Today and for many years bean is generic unless a specific bean is named. I really do love them.

  • […] I will definetly make these again and am looking forward to eating the leftovers for lunch. If you like to know more bean tips and facts, Ben from What’s cooking? wrote a nice piece on the ‘almost magic beans‘. […]

  • I eat all kinds of beans in all kinds of ways. The black bean waffles I made recently was probably one of my most interesting uses of beans. Love the photos here!

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