All the Reasons Why You Should Eat More Beans—Plus Unique Varieties to Try
While I've always been on #TeamBean, I've been cooking them more frequently at home for the past year or so. One reason is that my husband keeps wanting to go vegan (for both health and sustainability reasons) but can't quite bring himself to fully make the switch, so I've been making largely plant-based meals for dinner as a sort-of compromise.
Beans, peas and lentils (aka pulses) have become the focus of three or four meals a week. Falafel (one of our 10-year-old's favorites), spicy cauliflower and refried bean tacos, and soups like Lemony Lentil Soup with Chard are some of the meals my family loves.
If you need some convincing on why you should make eating more beans a priority, did you know that it's one of the best things we can do for better overall health? You'll up your fiber intake (most of us don't eat enough), which can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, promote healthy digestion and slash your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and other chronic diseases. Beans also provide antioxidants and micronutrients, such as zinc, B vitamins, iron, manganese and phosphorus.
And it's almost impossible to oversell the sustainability of pulses. Growing these edible seeds of the legume family—including beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas—can actually help reduce greenhouse gases because the deep-rooted plants are extremely efficient at pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it underground. Pulse plants also draw nitrogen out of the air (called nitrogen "fixing") and use it as a natural fertilizer, which means that they need little to none of the chemical kind to thrive.
If Americans swapped plant proteins for 25% of their beef, pork and poultry, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 82 million metric tons annually—the equivalent of taking 17.8 million cars off the road for a year.
And growing beans requires less water than animal-protein production does. Their average global "water footprint"—a full-supply-chain assessment of a product's water use and pollution—is 32% smaller than that of the same weight of pork and 74% smaller than that of beef. As our world gets drier and hotter, that's good news for farmers.
Plus, pulses are inexpensive, have long shelf lives, are packed with fiber and come in various colors, shapes, sizes and textures—there are literally hundreds of varieties of beans grown throughout the world, yet often only a handful are sold in grocery stores.
Smothered Black Soybean BurgersThese flavor-packed burgers get tang from kimchi, umami from soy or fish sauce and heat from gochugaru. Topped with caramelized onions and slaw, they're super-satisfying.
Black Bean–Stuffed Chiles RellenosThese stuffed, battered and lightly fried chiles are a bit of a project, but worth it! If you have any left over, you can maintain their crispness by reheating over medium heat in a nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, carefully turning occasionally. Look for queso Oaxaca in the specialty cheese section—it's a superb melting cheese.
Herb Marinated BeansIf you're an avid meal prepper, consider adding these marinated beans to your weekly routine. They're very versatile: try a spoonful on a salad, tuck some into a wrap or warm them up to spoon over a grain bowl. It's worth letting the beans marinate for at least 24 hours to infuse them with deeper flavor. The olive oil will solidify in the refrigerator—just let the beans stand at room temp for an hour and stir before serving.
Cheesy Marinara BeansThis ooey-gooey dish has baked-pasta vibes but features protein-packed beans instead of noodles. Look for dried corona beans, a larger, creamy white bean, at natural-foods stores or online. Cannellini are a good substitute. Serve with a green salad and toasted baguette.
Lemony Lentil & Chard SoupThis satisfying lemony bowlful was inspired by the lentil soup served at the now-closed Lebanese restaurant La Shish in West Bloomfield, Michigan. It keeps well but will thicken, so you may want to thin it with a bit of water or broth when reheating. Serve with warm whole-wheat pita.
Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chickpea BlondiesChickpea blondies? Hear us out! Not only do these legume-based treats have a delightful fudgy texture, they have twice as much fiber and three times as much protein as a blondie made with flour.
Companies to Buy Beans From
If you're a pulse pro but want to explore a wider variety of beans, lentils and more, here are our go-to companies that sell unique ones.
Zürsun Idaho Heirloom Beans
Grown mostly on small family farms throughout Idaho's Snake River Canyon, Zürsun's heritage beans and lentils come in a wide range of options, including burgundy-mottled Christmas lima beans and snowcap beans, an earthy type that holds up to bold flavors.
These beans are produced by Louisiana-based L.H. Hayward and Company— which dates back to the 1920s. You'll find an assortment of options like lady cream peas, a sweet and creamy cowpea, along with pink beans and field peas. Available in stores throughout the South and online.
Based in Napa, California, Rancho Gordo sells beans grown in the U.S. and on small farms in Mexico through the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project (a collaborative effort with Mexican growers). They carry offerings like Santa Maria pinquito, corona and domingo rojo beans.
Unique Bean Varieties to Try
Find yourself without the exact type of bean a recipe calls for—or just want to try something new? No problem. That's the beauty of this versatile ingredient. Follow our guide for what to swap in, based on flavor, texture and how they're typically used.