Incorporating healthy beans & lentils from the legume family into a plant based lifestyle can be a game-changer. Not only are they delicious and versatile, but they also offer a myriad of health benefits. In this topic of the week, we will explore the importance of healthy beans for a plant based lifestyle and delve into each of the top beans, including the nutritional powerhouse known as lentils. 

The Power of Beans:

Healthy beans are a cornerstone of plant based diets, providing essential nutrients and playing a crucial role in maintaining overall health:

  • They are packed with nutrients, complex carbohydrates, folate, iron, magnesium, and potassium. These nutrients contribute to improved heart health, better digestion, regulated blood sugar levels, and increased energy levels. 
  • They are a high source of protein ranging from 12-18 grams per cup which supports muscle growth and repair.
  • The high fiber content in beans promotes healthy digestion and aids in maintaining a healthy weight. Fiber helps regulate bowel movements, reduces the risk of constipation, and supports a thriving gut microbiome.

In short beans and lentils can effectively replace animal-based protein sources and provide a sustainable alternative for those adopting a plant based lifestyle.

The Potential Drawbacks of Beans:

While beans and lentils offer numerous health benefits and are widely enjoyed by many, there are several reasons why some individuals may not gravitate toward them. These reasons include:

  • Taste and Texture Preferences: Beans and lentils have a distinct taste and texture that may not appeal to everyone. Some people find them to be bland, earthy, or have a grainy texture, which can deter their enjoyment. A lack of familiarity or a previous negative experience with an improperly cooked bean or an unfamiliar seasoning may give some reluctance to try something new.
  • Digestive Issues: Legumes, including beans and lentils, contain complex carbohydrates and fibers that can be difficult for some individuals to digest. This can lead to bloating, gas, and discomfort. Some people may have a sensitivity or intolerance to the specific carbohydrates found in beans, such as oligosaccharides, which can contribute to digestive issues.  Starting with smaller portions of beans to allow the digestive system to adjust can be helpful.
  • Unraveling the “Lectin” Controversy:  Amidst the buzz surrounding beans, headlines have raised concerns about the presence of “lectins” and their potential harm when consuming these legumes. Lectins are a natural defense mechanism found in plants, serving to safeguard them from pests and predators. These headlines fail to provide crucial information: the real concern lies in consuming large quantities of RAW lectins, which may have adverse effects on health. The good news is that soaking, cooking, or opting for canned beans significantly reduces the amount of lectins, rendering any potential risks extremely low. After all, we don’t consume raw beans in our regular diets! The Mayo Clinic has a great ARTICLE ON LECTINS worth a quick read.

The Most Common Healthy Beans & Lentils:

For those trying to segway to a plant based lifestyle, we highly recommend stocking up on a variety of beans and lentils in your pantry. Here are the basic and most adaptable beans we suggest as part of our section on plant based STAPLES & ESSENTIALS.

Kidney/Cannellini Beans: Kidney beans are known for their vibrant red color and creamy texture. Cannellini beans, (known as white kidney beans) are similarly creamy and used in a variety of Italian dishes.  Both types are versatile beans used in chili, salads, soups, and stews. They are an excellent source of plant based protein, dietary fiber, iron, and folate.

Black Beans: Black beans are a popular choice due to their rich, earthy flavor and soft texture. They are an exceptional source of antioxidants, which help combat free radicals in the body. Black beans are also high in fiber, folate, and magnesium. They are a staple in many Hispanic dishes and a wonderful compliment to any sweet potato dish.

Chickpeas: Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are incredibly versatile and feature a slightly nutty flavor. They are a staple in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. Chickpeas are rich in protein, dietary fiber, iron, and vitamin B-6.

Lentils: Lentils are small, lens-shaped legumes that come in various colors, including green, brown, and red. They are highly nutritious and offer numerous health benefits. Lentils are often referred to as “pulses,” which are a subgroup of legumes. While beans and lentils belong to the same family, lentils are not technically classified as beans just commonly associated for their similarity. Here are the most common lentils:

  • Green Lentils: These hold their shape well when cooked and have a slightly nutty flavor. They are great for salads and side dishes.
  • Brown Lentils: The most common type and have a mild earthy flavor. They are versatile and work well in soups, stews, and curries.
  • Red Lentils: These cook quickly and have a softer texture. They are often used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines for dishes like dals and lentil soups or can be used as a protein-packed sauce for spaghetti.

General Preparation & Cooking:

Preparing beans and lentils is a straightforward process.  You can choose dried which takes more time but is extremely budget-friendly. Or you can choose the slightly more expensive but extremely convenient option of canned.

To prepare dried, simply sort and rinse the dried beans, then soak them overnight to reduce cooking time. After soaking, drain and rinse them again. Place the beans or lentils in a pot and cover them with fresh water or broth. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook them uncovered for the recommended time, usually around 1-2 hours for beans and 15-30 minutes for lentils, or until they are tender.  You can greatly reduce the cooking time if you have access to a pressure cooker, which is a very useful tool in any plant based kitchen.  To prepare canned, simply open and drain the can and you are ready to go for any recipe or salad topper protein.

As you can see, healthy beans and lentils are an invaluable addition to a plant based lifestyle. Their nutritional composition, versatility, and various health benefits make them a staple in any kitchen. By incorporating beans into your meals, you can enhance your overall well-being while enjoying a wide range of flavorful dishes. So, go ahead, explore the world of beans, and unlock the potential of a plant based lifestyle.