Beans are the cornerstone of every diet that has been shown to support healthy longevity. Whether in Costa Rica, Okinawa or Sardinia, people who live long well eat beans every day.
US dietary guidelines recommend that we consume about a half cup of beans, chickpeas, split peas or lentils per day. Unfortunately, 96% of Americans don’t get even this minimum amount. Which is a true missed opportunity for building health.
Beans count both as a protein and a vegetable, so they’re a two for one in terms of overall nutrition, as well as being excellent sources of fiber, folate, and essential minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and copper.
Beans are also inexpensive. A serving of dried beans costs anywhere between 10 and 40 cents. Canned beans can cost about three times more, but the trade-off is that you have to cook dried beans first – for hours. And if you’re like me, cooking beans for hours is completely unrealistic, making canned beans worth – literally – every penny.
No doubt canned beans are convenient, but are they as nutritious as home-cooked? And, if you do use canned, should you drain and rinse them, or not?
Certainly, whenever I see a recipe that involves canned beans, the instructions say to drain and rinse them. But does that mean we are draining and rinsing away some of the nutrients in the process? Those long-lived people mostly cook completely from scratch and never touch a can. Is their secret simply getting more nutrients out of the food they eat?
According to a detailed analysis, ounce for ounce, volume for volume, home-cooked beans are significantly more nutritious than their undrained, canned versions. However, once you drain canned beans, they look virtually identical to their home cooked cousins – except for the sodium. Home-cooked beans are basically sodium free, while canned are typically in the 300 mg per serving range.
Good news? Draining and rinsing the canned beans can get rid of about half the sodium. Bad news? It’s at the expense of rinsing away some of the nutrition.
So what should you do? Look for no-added salt canned beans and drain them before using. But avoid rinsing them - regardless of recipe instructions.
And try to have beans – in some form – regularly. Hummus is a constant presence in my fridge for easy snacks or even lunch. I always throw on beans at a salad bar and look for soups made with beans, like that ubiquitous Minestrone. In colder seasons, I make chili and other bean stews like chana masala. I might not eat beans every single day, but I easily average a half cup.
Beans. It’s what’s for dinner.
An important note: “No-added salt” is different than “reduced salt/sodium”. “No added salt” means just that – no sodium was added during the processing of the food and the sodium in the product is naturally occurring (and typically very low). “Reduced sodium” means that the product contains 25% less sodium than its original version. This is actually a pretty meaningless call out, because if you started with high sodium content, taking 25% of it away still leaves you with a high sodium food.