Beans are one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. No matter which variety you choose, they’re packed with fiber, protein and a slew of vitamins and minerals, earning them the unofficial title of superfood.
However, dried beans can be time-consuming to prepare. It’s sometimes tough to remember to soak them overnight or before you leave in the morning, and not everyone has time to wait an hour or more for them to simmer before dinnertime.
Despite what you may think about canned foods, nutritionists say canned beans are a time-saving alternative that’s typically just as healthy, if you look out for a couple of key things.
“Canned beans are pre-cooked, cutting down preparation time significantly,” explained Beata Rydyger, a Los Angeles-based registered nutritionist. “This convenience makes it easier to incorporate nutrient-rich beans into meals.” After all — if you’re not eating them, you’re not getting any of the nutrients.
Whether you’re choosing chickpeas, black beans or pintos, nutritionists shared a few things to know about the health of canned beans compared to dried beans ― and what to look for when buying canned beans.
How Healthy Are Beans?
Beans are rich in fiber, something most people don’t get enough of. Half a cup of cooked black, pinto or kidney beans contains around 7 grams of fiber, while other varieties have about 3 to 5 grams per serving.
Eating a few servings of beans a day can help you reach your recommended daily fiber intake of 21 to 25 grams for women and 30 to 38 grams for men.
“The high fiber and nutrient content of beans help to keep blood sugar in check, lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, and help with weight management due to the filling protein and fiber that beans contain,” said Katherine Basbaum, a registered dietitian at MyFitnessPal.
The soluble fiber in beans is also good for your digestive system. However, if you struggle with digesting this type of fiber, eating too many beans could cause gas and bloating.
Beans are high in essential vitamins and minerals, including iron, potassium and magnesium, explained Vanessa Rissetto, a registered dietitian nutritionist.
They’re also a low-fat source of plant-based protein, which means they have a lower carbon footprint than animal proteins, according to the American Council on Science and Health.
Beans contain the amino acid leucine, which Basbaum said triggers muscle-protein synthesis. Eating beans for pre- and post-workout meals will give you an energy boost, thanks to their complex carbs, and the protein will help build and repair your muscles.
While the specific nutrient profile varies depending on the type of bean, Rissetto said they’re all comparable health-wise.
Why Some Diets Tell You To Avoid Beans
Certain foods, referred to as FODMAPs (or fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) can interfere with gut health and cause digestive distress in people with irritable bowel syndrome or other GI conditions. Beans are one of these foods, and people on a low-FODMAP diet are encouraged to avoid them.
Beans are also discouraged on keto diets because they’re too high in carbs.
Other diets, like Whole30 and paleo, dissuade people from eating beans. It’s because of the idea that beans contain “anti-nutrients,” which may block the absorption of minerals like calcium and magnesium, Basbaum said. However, soaking and cooking beans have been shown to reduce the effects of anti-nutrients. And unless you have deficiencies, the anti-nutrients are unlikely to outweigh the benefits.
“The significant health benefits of beans are likely to outweigh concerns over their anti-nutrient content and in most cases should be considered a positive contributor to a healthy eating plan,” Basbaum said.
Still, some people who are at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiency conditions, like osteoporosis or anemia, should pay attention to their anti-nutrient intake.
Are Canned Beans Just As Healthy As Dried Beans?
Canned beans are generally equally nutritious as dried beans, Rydyger said. “They retain most of their nutrients, but there might be slight nutrient loss due to processing,” she said.
Some canned bean products have added salt, whereas dried beans typically have no salt, she added.
“The overall nutritional differences (between canned and dried beans) are often quite minimal, and it’s more important to get the benefits of beans by preparing what’s convenient for you,” Basbaum said.
What To Look For When Buying Canned Beans
Canned beans are minimally processed and can contain sodium, potentially up to about 500 milligrams, Rissetto said. “Those conscious of their sodium intake should be mindful of this.”
High salt intake is linked to increased blood pressure and risk of stroke, kidney disease and heart conditions, Basbaum noted.
When shopping for canned beans, check the nutrition label. Look for products with few added ingredients and those labeled “low sodium” or “no salt added,” Rydyger said.
You can also drain and rinse canned beans to reduce the sodium content, she said.
The Best Ways To Eat Canned Beans
Beans are a versatile pantry staple that can be added to soups, salads, tacos and pasta, or enjoyed on their own. “They all have different textures and flavor profiles so it’s nice to have options,” Basbaum said.
She said she usually has several different kinds of beans on hand, both no-salt-added canned beans and dried ones. “Sometimes the convenience of canned can’t be beaten and other times, if time allows, there’s nothing better than fresh homemade beans,” she said.
Canned beans are inexpensive, like dried beans, and they offer an easy way to increase your intake of fiber, plant-based protein and other nutrients.
“Incorporating more complex carbohydrates (unrefined and nutrient-rich carbohydrates) and plant-based protein into the diet is one of the best things you can do for your health and beans provide an abundance of both,” Basbaum said.