Credit: Thinkstock Dry beans, peas, and lentils are an economical option for adding protein and nutrients to your diet. For instance, a 1-pound package costs an average of $0.15 per serving for dry beans and between $0.35 to $0.50 per serving, depending on brand, for canned beans.
And there are a ton of varieties, too: Dried beans, peas, and lentils include kidney beans, navy beans, chickpeas, Great Northern beans, black-eyed peas, split peas, and lima beans.
Dry beans, peas, and lentils are highly nutritious. They:
- Contain almost no fat. Fat content depends on what is added during preparation
- Provide both soluble and insoluble fiber
- Contain almost twice the protein of whole grains and all nine essential amino acids
- Are low in sodium. If prepared without added salt, they contain almost no sodium. Canned options are higher in sodium. Select “low sodium” or “no added salt” options. Draining and rinsing canned beans, peas and lentils reduces sodium content by 41 percent
- Are a plant source of iron. Plant iron sources are a little harder for the body to absorb. To boost iron absorption, combine with foods containing vitamin C
- Are rich source of magnesium, zinc, and potassium
- Are gluten-free
Dry beans, peas, and lentils provide important health benefits, including:
- Beans are high in fiber, increasing digestion time and feelings of satiety to promote weight loss
- They have a high fiber content combined with a low glycemic index, which promotes improved blood glucose levels
- Diets containing beans are connected to a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol
- Fiber, folate, and low saturated fat content of beans is beneficial for heart health
- High bean intake may be linked to reduced cancer risk
- High fiber content reduces constipation
How to add more dry beans, peas, and lentils to your daily diet
Unfortunately, dry beans, peas, and lentils can come with an undesirable side effect: gas. You can prevent this problem by rinsing and draining canned options during preparation. When preparing dry varieties, rinse after soaking and prepare in fresh water. Add to your diet gradually. Start with a small serving once a week, increase to twice a week, and follow the same pattern until you consume daily or almost daily. Also increase your water intake.
Dry beans, peas, and lentils are considered a vegetable and a protein, and can be utilized as either food group when preparing meals. Note: They cannot be counted in both groups at the same time. Whether or not they count as a protein or a vegetable depends on your daily intake of protein. If you require 50 grams of protein daily, dry beans, peas, and legumes will count towards your protein food group until protein needs are met. After protein needs are met they can count towards your recommended vegetable intake for the day. A one-fourth cup serving counts as 1 ounce of protein and a ½ cup serving counts as a ½ cup of vegetables. A ½ cup serving provides approximately 120 calories nutrient-rich calories.
Beans are often easiest to increase in the diet by adding to other dishes. Here are some ideas:
- Sandwich spreads (i.e., hummus)
You can store dry beans in a well-sealed container for up to one year. Leftover beans remain good refrigerated for three to four days. You may also freeze cooked beans.
Increasing your intake of dry beans, peas, and lentils is just one step toward lowering cholesterol. For further guidance, access the free e-course How to Lower Cholesterol in 8 Simple Steps.
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Lisa Nelson is a dietitian/nutritionist with a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol and heart disease. She guides clients to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels through practical diet and lifestyle changes. Learn more and sign up to receive How to Make Heart Healthy Changes into Lifelong Habits at http://lisanelsonrd.com.