We reach for whole grains to get our fiber fix, protein to keep us full, and veggies to ward off disease. But why are we overlooking beans? They might not be the sexiest of vegetables, but beans are more versatile and nutritious than you’d think. Not only do they pack more fiber than many grains, cereals, and pastas, but they also come with additional perks. They’re high in protein, low in fat, and full of other important micro-nutrients such as zinc and iron.
#1 They May Help You Live Longer.
A study that tracked the dietary habits of elderly people across four countries found that eating just 20 grams of legumes (basically any plant that grows fruit inside a pod, including beans) may reduce one’s risk of death by 7 to 8 percent—and no other food group even comes close. Legumes may also help with brain function as we age, which means they can help increase the quality of those extra years as well.
#2 They Help Ward Off Disease.
Beans might not help you avoid the black plague or the flu, but they have been linked to the prevention of certain chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Which means something as simple as adding a can of beans — all varieties found to play a role in disease prevention and treatment.
#3 They Pulverize Bad Cholesterol.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to undo the damage of every post-happy-hour-mozzarella-sticks binge? Pulses (a fancy name for beans, chickpeas, lentils, and dry peas) significantly lower LDL—low-density lipoprotein, otherwise known as the “bad” cholesterol.
#4 They Can Help You Lose Weight.
Eating pulses on the regular has been linked to weight loss and weight management, and some studies show they’re a key ingredient in successful weight-loss plans. They not only add more protein and fiber to whatever sweet treat you’re whipping up, but they also rank low on the glycemic index so can help curb blood-sugar spikes.
#5 They Battle Sun Damage.
Sunscreen isn’t the only skin saver on your side. Eating beans can actually help fight the effects of UV rays. Research points to fewer wrinkles in the skin of elderly subjects who ate a lot of legumes. Legumes are also high in zinc, which is known to heal scars and prevent sun damage and other signs of aging. Half a cup of kidney beans contains almost a whole day’s amount of zinc, so eat up if you’re spending a lot of time in the sun.
#6 They’re Good For The Environment.
Chowing down on beans instead of meat can drastically reduce your carbon footprint—one report says that subbing them in place of beef would allow the U.S. to reach 46 to 74 percent of its greenhouse gas reduction goals by 2020. And they don’t just help the air. Most plants need a nitrogen fertilizer to thrive—but not beans. Legumes basically make their own fertilizer by storing nitrogen in their roots, which not only helps them grow big and strong but also benefits other crops that are rotated in the soil after them.