Along with lentils and peas, beans belong to the legume class of vegetables, a food category of more than 13,000 species that ranks as the world’s second-most important source of calories and protein, after grains.
You probably know that beans are nutritious. But you may have wondered whether it’s healthier to use canned, cooked beans or to buy dry beans to cook yourself.
In most ways nutritionally, beans are beans, whether they are dry or cooked. Beans are quite healthy. They’re an excellent source of protein and fiber. They’re high in carbohydrates (therefore increasing your energy level), and also high in the B vitamins and iron. They’re low in fat.
Nutritionally, you’d be hard pressed to improve on beans. Many consumers prefer cooked beans because they’re convenient. Cooked beans do contain all the nutritional benefits we’ve already discussed, and they are relatively inexpensive. Additionally, cans of cooked beans have a shelf life of about 5 years.
Despite the benefits of cooked beans, dry beans emerge as the winner nutritionally. Here’s why:
• Lower sodium: Dry beans, purchased in bags, contain no sodium. By contrast, canned beans are quite high in sodium (1/2 cup of canned beans contain about 20 percent of your daily sodium requirement). If you’re watching your sodium intake level for blood pressure concerns or other health reasons, stick with dry beans.
• More natural: Canned beans can last several years in their cooked state, thus, they have added preservatives. By contrast, when you use dry beans that you cook yourself, you can know exactly what ingredients you’ve added and how the beans have been prepared. Dry beans are purchased and cooked in a more natural and controlled state.
• Bisphenol A (BPA): This is a chemical found in the plastic white lining of most cans of food. It has become controversial lately because studies have shown that it may mimic the hormone estrogen and may contribute to certain cancers, insulin resistance and birth defects. If you would like to avoid this exposure, stick with dry beans.
Dry beans have benefits beyond those that are health related. Dry beans are much cheaper per serving than canned beans. Cooks may appreciate the flexibility in cooking their own dry beans.
While canned beans may occasionally seem too firm or too mushy, you can control the firmness of beans that you cook yourself. Dry, uncooked beans keep a long time — most likely 10 years or more in a dark, dry environment.
With the exception of black-eyed peas, all dried beans must be soaked before they’re cooked. Soaking and cooking times vary by bean type, with most needing six to eight hours of soaking and one to two hours of cooking.
Many bean varieties, including kidney beans, naturally contain toxic compounds that are destroyed with proper preparation — soaked beans must be brought to a boil for at least 10 minutes of their lengthy cooking time. Slow-cooked beans that have not been brought to a boil can retain their toxicity and cause food poisoning.
I’m enjoying my Thanksgiving ham bone today with some dry beans that I presoaked and added my ham bone to simmer all day. Then I will enjoy them with some homemade cornbread and a glass of wine. Cheers!
Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.