Are Black Beans Healthy? Here's What a Dietitian Says
Black beans are a versatile plant-based protein that adds flavor, texture, color, and lots of nutrients to savory and sweet dishes alike. You may know them as beans, legumes, or pulses. Hundreds of different beans are available today, and black beans are the fifth most popular pulse in the United States.
You may be wondering if black beans are healthy? Absolutely. Legumes are a highly nutritious food known to have many health benefits in reducing chronic disease risks.
Keep reading to find out the nutrition, health benefits, downsides, and ways to enjoy black beans in your life.
What Are Black Beans?
Black beans sometimes called black turtle beans, or frijoles negros (which literally means 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. In the last few decades, there have been increases in products made with black beans. You may find black bean pasta, black bean chips, and black bean flour at the store and they 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.
There are many vitamins and minerals present in black beans, including calcium and iron. Black beans also have zinc, magnesium, folate, copper, manganese, and B vitamins and their health benefits are widely noted in research.
Black Bean Nutrition
Here is the nutrition numbers from the USDA for a 1/2 cup of cooked black beans.
Calcium: 40mg (4% daily value)
Iron: 3mg (15% daily value)
Sodium: 430mg (18% daily value)
Health Benefits of Black Beans
Good for Gut Health
Black beans have a unique dietary fiber called resistant starch. 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. Good gut health is vital for overall health. (Here's a list of the best and worst foods to eat for gut health.)
Good for Blood Sugar and Diabetes
It's good to know that even though black beans have carbohydrates, unlike other proteins like chicken or fish, they can still be included in a diabetes-friendly diet and are likely beneficial. Black beans can be a great food for people with diabetes. Beans have a low glycemic index, which can help keep blood sugar in a healthy range.
Good for Heart Health
The dietary fiber in black beans can positively impact heart health by helping to lower cholesterol.
Black beans are an excellent source of plant-based protein. You might wonder why it's important to include some plant-based protein. Some plant-based protein sources, like black beans, are also free of saturated fat and cholesterol.
May Lower Cancer Risk
There aren't any magic anti-cancer foods, but black beans may help reduce your risk of certain types of cancer. One study found a 26% reduced risk of colon cancer in men with increases of 10 grams of fiber eaten daily. One cup of black beans is all it takes to add an extra 12 grams of fiber to your day. Eating beans has also been associated with lower risk of breast cancer.
Helps with 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. Here's more on why fiber is beneficial for weight loss.
Source of Antioxidants
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. It's part of why black beans may be beneficial for heart health and reduced cancer risk.
Anthocyanins may also help lower blood sugar elevation after eating, which can help individuals with diabetes.
Are there downsides to eating Black Beans?
Sodium in Canned Beans
Cooking with canned beans is quick and convenient but, many canned black bean products have sodium to help preserve them. You can choose low-sodium or lower salt canned black beans.
You can also drain and rinse your can of black beans before use. Another way to monitor your sodium intake is by preparing dry black beans by soaking them before boiling. This will increase your cooking time, but it's less expensive and allows you to control the salt.
For a long-time, beans have 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 the musical toots. If you're looking to reap the many benefits beans have to offer, you can reduce your risk of gas by eating them more often. In most healthy individuals, the digestive tract adapts to gas changes.
To avoid gas from eating beans:
Always soak dry beans before cooking
Eat small amounts of beans at a time and include them in your meals often
How to Eat Black Beans
There are so many delicious ways to enjoy black beans. You can eat them all times of the day as a main or side dish. You can enjoy a cheesy black bean egg burrito for breakfast, a black bean avocado and corn salad at lunch, and black bean burgers at dinnertime. We also love this Loaded Black Bean Dip. To slowly increase your intake of black beans, you can 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.
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, blood sugar control, cancer risk and even weight loss. Don't miss out on the nutrition and lifelong health benefits black beans can provide.