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 & lentils for a plant-based lifestyle and delve into each of the top beans & lentils, including the nutritional powerhouse known as lentils.

The Power of Beans & Lentils

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

  • Nutrient-Rich: Beans & lentils are packed with nutrients, including complex carbohydrates, folate, iron, magnesium, and potassium. These nutrients contribute to improved heart health, better digestion, regulated blood sugar levels, and increased energy levels.
  • High Protein: They are a high source of protein, ranging from 12-18 grams per cup, which supports muscle growth and repair.
  • Fiber Content: The high fiber content in beans & lentils 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 cause 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! We recommend reading this article by The Mayo Clinic “WHAT ARE DIETARY LECTINS AND SHOULD YOU AVOID EATING THEM?

The Most Common Healthy Beans & Lentils

Rinse and Sort Beans

For those trying to segue into 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:

  • 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 complement 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 due to 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.

  • Dried: To prepare dried beans, simply sort and rinse the 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.
  • Canned: To prepare canned beans, simply open and drain the can, and you are ready to go for any recipe or as a salad topper for added protein.

How to Get More Healthy Beans & Lentils in Your Diet

Incorporating more beans into your diet can be simple and enjoyable with these practical tips:

  • Salads: Add beans to your salads for an extra boost of protein and fiber. Black beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans work particularly well.
  • Soups and Stews: Beans are a fantastic addition to soups and stews, adding texture and heartiness. Lentils, black beans, and cannellini beans are excellent choices. Try this HEARTY LENTIL SOUP or this SLOW COOKER 15-BEAN SOUP for some ways to pack in those lentils and beans.
  • Snacks: Roasted chickpeas make a delicious and crunchy snack. Simply toss them in olive oil and your favorite spices, then bake until crispy.
  • Main Dishes: Incorporate beans into your main dishes, such as bean burritos, lentil-based pasta sauces, black bean burgers, or this VEGGIE CHICKPEA TIKKA MASALA.
  • Breakfast: Try adding beans to your breakfast routine. A breakfast burrito with black beans, scrambled tofu, and veggies is a nutritious and filling start to your day.
  • Side Dishes: Serve beans as a side dish. Baked beans, REFRIED BEANS, or a simple bean salad can complement many meals.

As you can see, healthy beans & 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.