Black beans are a delicious, healthy way to add plant power to your diet. Here we break down the nutrition, health benefits and pros and cons of eating black beans.
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Black beans are a versatile plant-based protein and can add flavor, texture, color, and nutrients to savory and sweet dishes alike. Also known as beans, legumes, or pulses, there are hundreds of different beans available today. Out of all of them, black beans are the fifth most popular dry bean in the United States, according to the US Dry Bean Council.

Keep reading to find out the nutrition, health benefits, downsides, and ways to enjoy black beans in your favorite dishes.

What Are Black Beans?

Black beans—sometimes called black turtle beans or frijoles negros (which translates to black beans in Spanish)—are a staple food for many diverse cultural backgrounds. The oval-shaped beans are naturally gluten-free and play a large role in vegan and vegetarian lifestyles as an alternative plant-based protein source.

You can find black beans in dried, canned, and pureed forms on grocery shelves, and in many products made with black beans, including black bean pasta and black bean chips. Products made with black beans will likely be higher in protein, fiber and iron compared to other products without beans.

Are Black Beans Good for You?

The nutrition profile of black beans is impressive. Black beans are naturally gluten-free and vegan and high in both protein and fiber. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and have been linked to reductions in disease risk, according to a 2022 review in Nutrients.

Black Bean Nutrition

Here are the nutrition numbers for a 1/2 cup of cooked black beans, per the USDA.

  • Calories: 120
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Carbohydrate: 21 grams
  • Fiber: 6 grams
  • Calcium: 40 milligrams (3% daily value)
  • Iron: 3 milligrams (17% DV)
  • Sodium: 430 milligrams (19% DV)
  • Cholesterol: 0 grams
slow cooked black beans with collard greens and orange slices shot overhead in bowl

Health Benefits of Black Beans

Gut Health

Black beans have a unique dietary fiber called resistant starch. According to a 2020 review in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, resistant starches do not break down in the small intestine, so they enter the colon in their whole form. This process causes fermentation by gut microbiota, making the gut healthier by producing short-chain fatty acids, which in return, reduces systemic inflammation, according to a 2022 review in Nutrients. Good gut health is vital for overall health.

Blood Sugar and Diabetes

It's good to know that even though black beans have carbohydrates, they can still be included in a diabetes-friendly diet because they have a low glycemic index. Foods with a low glycemic index can help keep blood sugar in a healthy range.

According to a 2017 randomized controlled trial published in Appetite, black beans can significantly reduce post-meal insulin levels, which is favorable for healthy blood sugar levels. And a 2020 review in Nutrients found that regularly eating legumes for at least six weeks had favorable effects on glycemic (blood sugar) control for people with type 2 diabetes.

Heart Health

In addition to being free of saturated fat and cholesterol, the dietary fiber in black beans can positively impact heart health by helping to lower cholesterol, according to a 2019 review in Nutrients.

Black beans may also have an immediate positive reaction on blood vessels in the body. In a small 2021 randomized controlled trial in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, researchers looked at several markers of blood vessel health and found that after eating black beans, participants' blood pressures were lower due to the blood vessels being more relaxed.

Lower Cancer Risk

There aren't any magic anti-cancer foods, but black beans may help reduce your risk of certain types of cancer. For example, a 2022 review in the European Journal of Nutrition suggests that the type of fiber found in legumes is associated with a lower risk of colon cancer.

Eating beans has also been associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. In a 2021 review in Nutrition and Cancer, researchers found that participants with the highest intake of legumes had a 46% lower risk of breast cancer compared to those with the lowest intake of legumes.

Weight Loss

Fiber-rich black beans can help curb your appetite by helping you stay full for longer. Filling fiber foods like black beans can help with weight loss or maintaining weight by reducing how many calories you eat.

A 2020 cross-sectional study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism suggests that beans can contribute to lower body fat and waist circumference. Researchers state that in addition to satiety, beans are also low in dietary fat, score low on the glycemic index, are high in dietary fiber and plant protein and they improve the gut microbiome—all factors that influence weight.

Cardiovascular and Neurodegenerative Diseases

Black beans contain polyphenols which function as antioxidants. Flavonoids are a type of polyphenol in black beans. Specifically, anthocyanins are a kind of flavonoid responsible for the color of black beans.

According to a 2020 review in Molecules, foods high in anthocyanins, including black beans, are associated with reduced risk for chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. This review also states that anthocyanins have positive effects on the gut microbiota.

Potential Downsides to Eating Black Beans

Sodium in Canned Beans

Cooking with canned beans is quick and convenient, but many canned bean products have sodium added to help preserve them. For this reason, choose reduced- or low-sodium canned black beans. You can also drain and rinse your canned beans before use, which will remove some of the sodium.

Cooking dry black beans will increase your prep time, but it's less expensive and allows you to control the salt. You can reduce the cooking time by soaking the black beans overnight or by using the Instant Pot to cook them.

Gas

Beans have long had the nickname "the musical fruit" for being the culprit behind gassiness and stomach discomfort.

Though not everyone experiences gas from eating beans, some people will pass them up to prevent abdominal discomfort and flatulence. If you're looking to reap the many benefits beans have to offer, but want to avoid the potential negative consequences, try regularly incorporating them into your diet in very small amounts—like 1/8 cup to start—and gradually increase the amount as tolerated.

How to Eat Black Beans

loaded black bean dip in a white bowl served with tortilla chips

Black beans are versatile and there are many delicious ways to enjoy them. You can eat them at all times of the day as a main or side dish. You can enjoy a cheesy black bean egg burrito for breakfast, black bean tacos at lunch, and black bean burgers for dinner (maybe just not all on the same day!).

To slowly increase your intake of black beans, try sprinkling them on a salad or into a chocolate smoothie. And if you're upping your bean and fiber intake, go slow and drink plenty of water.

The Bottom Line

Black beans are a gluten-free, high protein and fiber food with a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that you need. The versatility of black beans allows them to be enjoyed any time of day. Black beans can enhance your health by helping with your gut health and blood sugar control, and reducing cancer, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease risk. Don't miss out on the nutrition and lifelong health benefits black beans can provide.