The USDA’s Dietary Guideline recommends that we eat 3 to 3-1/2 cups of dried beans or peas per week. The Food Guide defines dry beans and peas as the mature forms of legumes such as kidney beans, pinto beans, lima beans, navy beans, soybeans, Great Northern white beans, black-eyed peas, and lentils. These foods, along with poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds are part of the Meat and Beans Group of the Food Pyramid.
The Meat and Beans Group group provides vital nutrients for the maintenance of your body. Dry beans and peas are one of the best forms of nutrition available to humans. They contain antioxidents that help protect us from the effects of aging and diseases. “Diets including beans may reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers,” according to a dietary guidance statement made by The American Dry Bean Board. Dry beans refer to those that are packaged in sealed bags and also those pre-cooked in cans. Canned beans are just as nutrition but higher in sodium.
Legumes are a rich source of plant protein. It is wise to consume foods like cooked dry beans, which are lower in saturated fat (1 g or less per serving) and cholesterol (20 mg or less per serving). Dry beans are an excellent source of fiber and provide important vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and potassium. They are a good source of folate, a B vitamin. Folate can help lower homocysteine, an amino acid that may be associated with increased heart disease risk.
Rich in complex carbohydrates, dry beans and peas are great foods for dieters. They have a very low glycemic index resulting in a slow release of glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream, giving you energy for a longer period.
They digest slowly; the fiber helps you feel satisfied between meals. In the digestive tract, the soluble fiber traps cholesterol-filled bile and removes it from the body before it is absorbed. According to health research, eating legumes may provide more protection against mortality than any other food group.
Studies suggest that Hispanic women have half the risk of breast cancer, perhaps because beans are eaten daily in most Hispanic households. They consume as many as 7 1/2 servings per week.
Combinations of legumes, grains, nuts and seeds can provide high-quality plant proteins. Legumes and grains work well together as well as legumes or grains with nuts and seeds.
Soybeans are unique among beans because they contain all the essential amino acids need to make a complete protein, like meat. Tofu, soy milk, tempeh (from fermented soybeans) and soy flour are made from soybeans.
Peanuts are also a member of the legume family and a good source of protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and folate.
Most nuts are rich in potassium. Almonds are particularly nutritious; 100 g contains around 16 g protein. Walnuts and flax are an excellent source of essential fatty acids. Sunflower seeds, almonds and hazelnuts are a good source of vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect vitamin A and essential fatty acids from cell oxidation. Nuts can become rancid quickly; store in the freezer if not eaten.
Watch your intake of the sodium found in canned foods and salted nuts. High-sodium, low-potassium diets can lead to high blood pressure, strokes and heart disease. Drain and rinse canned beans just before use, to remove about half the sodium.
Nuts ‘roasted’ commercially are often deep-fried and heavily salted. Buy plain, unsalted nuts and toast them at home, adding your own seasonings. Dry-roasted nuts that are not cooked in oil are a good choice. Low-salt versions are available.
Here are some dishes that will put legumes, grains, nuts and seeds in your diet.
Corn tortilla and beans
Black beans and rice
Peanut butter sandwich
Red beans and rice
Succotash (lima beans)
Boston baked beans
Refried beans (pinto beans)
Chili (red kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans)
Minestrone (chickpea or garbanzo)
Hummus (chickpea or garbanzo, sesame paste)
Stir-fried tofu with rice
Soup made with lentils or split peas
Salads with red kidney beans or garbanzo beans/nuts
Pesto (pine nuts or walnuts) over pasta
Toasted almonds or cashews in stir fry dishes
Ground pecan meal in breads, pancakes and cakes
African groundnut stew (peanuts)