The Most Popular Types of Beans — and All Their Health Benefits

There's much more to beans than fiber. Get the lowdown on all the different types of beans' health benefits and delicious ways to add a helping to your plate.

Aside from the stuffed-to-the-brim burrito you make when you’re feeling extra ravenous on a Taco Tuesday and the chana masala you order at the local Indian restaurant, beans might not be a staple in your day-to-day diet.

Considering beans’ health benefits, affordability, and versatility, though, you’ll definitely want to make them one. ICYDK, beans fall under the legume umbrella. A legume is a plant in the Fabaceae family that grows in pods. A pulse is the edible seed that grows inside those pods. Within the pulse family are beans, lentils, and peas.

But TBH, the titles aren’t something you should be too concerned about, says says Alex Caspero, M.A., R.D., a registered dietitian and plant-based chef. “I don’t think it matters whether you add more lentils or black beans to your diet — I think they’re both great,” she says. “I think sometimes semantics make things more confusing when we should be celebrating and eating more of these foods in general.”

The reason: All types of beans offer important macronutrients and micronutrients, and they'll only cost you a buck or two per pound — much less than other healthy foods (think: fresh fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meat, “better-for-you” snacks, etc.), says Caspero. “When you get down to the basics of what a healthy cornerstone diet can look like, beans are very inexpensive and there’s really not a lot of barriers for most people to eat more of them, which can’t be said the same for other healthy things out there.” And on that note...

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The Health Benefits of Beans

They’re a perfect package of filling macronutrients.

If you’re trying to quell your afternoon hanger, a helping of beans might just be the easiest way to get the job done. “Fiber and protein are two things we talk so much about when it comes to satiation and fullness, and beans are sort of perfectly packaged together with both of those nutrients,” says Caspero. A half-cup serving of black beans, for instance, packs 7.5 grams of protein and 7.5 grams of fiber, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. (

Aside from keeping your stomach from growling, fiber helps reduce cholesterol levels and keeps your blood sugar from spiking, explains Caspero. Plus, the protein helps maintain, repair, and build muscle, says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N, a dietitian and Shape Brain Trust member.

Beans boast essential nutrients for vegetarian and plant-based eaters.

If you cut back on your meat consumption or nix animal products from your diet entirely, you might struggle to get enough iron (a mineral used to make proteins in red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body). While there is iron in plant foods, the specific type they contain isn’t absorbed as well as the kind found in animal products, according to the National Institutes of Health. That means meat-free eaters need to consume nearly twice as much plant-based iron to get their fill, according to the NIH. Luckily, most types of beans can help you do just that. A half-cup serving of white beans, for example, contains 3.2 milligrams of iron (nearly 18 percent of the RDA, or 9 percent of the RDA for vegetarians), according to the USDA. (BTW, eating your beans with foods that contain vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, and peppers, can boost iron absorption too, according to the NIH.)

This same situation applies to zinc, a mineral that supports your immune system and is found in large amounts in seafood and meat. The nutrient isn’t absorbed as well when it's consumed with phytates — compounds found in some whole-grain breads, cereals, and legumes that bind to the mineral, per the NIH. As a result, some vegetarians need to eat 50 percent more of the RDA of zinc than non-vegetarians. Luckily, many types of beans are loaded with zinc, including white beans, which offer more than 1 milligram of zinc (nearly 13 percent of the RDA, or 8 percent of the RDA for some meat-free eaters) per half cup, according to the USDA.

They’re a good source of antioxidants.

Citrus and berries are probably the first to come to mind when you think about antioxidant-rich foods, but beans also contain polyphenols, antioxidants that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, says Caspero. By fighting off this damage, polyphenols may reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and neurological diseases, according to research published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.

Beans contain folate, an important nutrient for women.

You might not think about your dietary sources of folate throughout the day, but it’s an important nutrient to score enough of. Folate — a type of B vitamin — plays an essential role in the creation of blood cells, and more significantly, helps prevent neural tube defects in infants, according to the NIH. Since the neural tube develops within the first few weeks of pregnancy — when a person might not yet realize they’re pregnant — it’s important for women in their child-bearing years to ensure they get their daily fill of 400 micrograms, says Caspero. (One study found that the average woman didn't know she was pregnant until she was 5.5 weeks along — but these defects typically develop in the first month of pregnancy, which is why preparation is key.) Even if you're on birth control or have no intention of getting pregnant, folate is still important for healthy cell growth and function. Luckily, many types of beans can help you hit your quota; half a cup of pinto beans, for example, contains nearly 35 percent of the recommended daily allowance, according to the USDA.

They're rich in potassium.

Bananas aren’t the only plant food that can fend off muscle cramps while you workout. Potassium — which is needed to properly contract muscles and transmit nerves — is abundant in beans, with a half-cup serving of white beans offering 482 milligrams — nearly 19 percent of the RDA, according to the USDA. Another reason to score enough potassium: It plays a crucial role in balancing the sodium you consume. “If you have too much sodium, that’s when you’ll get things like increased blood pressure and water retention,” explains Caspero. “Having high potassium in the diet is going to really help counteract some of those effects and provide fluid balance, so then you’ll see things like reduced blood pressure and reduced water retention.” Since having high blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack and stroke, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, you’ll definitely want to add a helping of any type of bean to your plate.

Beans contain phosphorus.

Turns out, many types of beans have a quality in common with milk — they both help keep your bones and teeth strong and healthy, thanks to the plant food's phosphorus content. The mineral also plays an essential role in DNA and RNA production, says Caspero. To score this health benefit of beans, munch on a half-cup serving of kidney beans, which provides 122 milligrams of phosphorus (or 17 percent of the RDA), according to the USDA.

How to Use Popular Types of Beans — Plus, Their Nutrition Facts

Okay, you know these bite-sized plant foods pack a ton of health perks, but which types of beans should you add to your plate?

Using Canned Beans vs. Dried Beans

There isn’t much nutritional difference between the canned and dried varieties. The canned ones may contain added sodium, but you can significantly reduce the amount by giving them a quick rinse with cold water, explains Caspero. Or you can stock up on no-sodium-added canned beans if you’re still concerned, she adds. To make dried types of beans edible, dump them in a pot, cover them with water by at least three inches, season to taste, and simmer until they’re nice and creamy, which can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. (

Once your beans are ready to go from pot to plate, aim to give yourself half of a cup, which is about one serving, says Gans. If that sounds like a lot to fork down in one sitting, feel free to spread it out throughout the day, says Caspero. And if you've always avoided beans and are now thinking of increasing your intake, Caspero suggests you do so gradually. “If you’re new to eating beans and you feel like they give you gas, that’s because they contain oligosaccharide, which is a carbohydrate that can be harder to digest,” she explains. “I recommend slowly introducing more beans into the diet, and that allows your body to start producing more of those enzymes that you’ll need in order to digest the food.” (If you're suffering from a bout of gas or stomach pain, these tips will help you deal.)

Early on in your bean-eating journey, your pantry might not be stocked with every single variety on the grocery store shelf, so if you only have kidney beans but your recipe calls for pinto, don’t sweat it. “Some beans have a bit more distinct taste and do better in certain dishes,” says Caspero. “But they’re usually very interchangeable.”

To start adding all types of beans to your plate *and* score each bean's health benefits, steal these nutritionist-approved meal ideas.

Black Beans

Chewy on the outside and creamy on the inside, black beans are typically incorporated into Central American, South American, and Caribbean dishes, according to the Northarvest Bean Growers Association. Caspero suggests mixing a can with some taco seasoning and salsa to create a burrito filling; combining a helping with rice, avocado, and sautéed bell peppers to concoct a DIY burrito bowl; or adding a serving into an egg scramble for breakfast.

Gans, however, gives her black beans an Italian treatment. “I reduce the ground beef in my Bolognese sauce and add in black beans,” she says. “I mix that in with a red sauce, pasta, peas, and some sautéed garlic and onion.” If you’re feeling even more creative, mash up some black beans with olive oil, smear it on a thick slice of toast, and top it with avocado, poached eggs, pepper, and hot sauce, she suggests.

Black beans nutrition facts per half-cup: 166.5 calories; 7.6g protein; 20.4g carbs; 7.5g fiber; 1.8mg iron; 120mg phosphorus; 305mg potassium; 122mcg folate; 0.96mg zinc (from the USDA)

Kidney Beans

In addition to their large, kidney-like shape, these beans have a firm, meaty texture that’s ideal for soups and stews. Caspero likes to incorporate them into gumbo, chili, minestrone soup, and a red beans and rice dish with bell peppers, onions, and a bit of vegan sausage.

Kidney beans nutrition facts per half-cup: 163 calories; 7.5g protein; 19.6g carbs; 6.4g fiber; 2.5mg iron; 122mg phosphorus; 347mg potassium; 106.5mcg folate; 0.93mg zinc (from the USDA)

Garbanzo Beans

Hummus is great and all, but if you have a hankering for something a bit more creative, use some hearty garbanzo beans to make a plant-based “chicken” salad. Just mash the chickpeas, with mayo and veggies, and you’ve got a satisfying sandwich filling, says Caspero.

Chickpeas are also super easy to drop on top of a salad, says Gans. Her favorite: Baby gem lettuce topped with red onion, grape tomatoes, tuna, and chickpeas and drizzled in a blend of white balsamic vinegar, oil, and fresh lemon juice.

Garbanzo beans nutrition facts per half-cup: 194 calories; 7.6g protein; 23.6g carbs; 6.6g fiber; 2.5mg iron; 144.5mg phosphorus; 250mg potassium; 140.6mcg folate; 1.32mg zinc (from the USDA)

White Beans

While there are technically a few different types of white beans — including Great Northern, navy, and cannellini — they’re all pretty similar in terms of nutrition and texture, says Caspero. Since they all have a super creamy texture, they’re perfect for incorporating into your morning fruit smoothie, hummus, or soup to make it even more velvety, she adds.

Once again, Gans prefers to give her beans an Italian twist. “One of my favorite things is to sauté garlic and oil, then throw in some spinach, cannellini beans, a little of the aquafaba (the water your beans were canned or cooked in), and a little pasta water — the starchiness of those liquids really helps the oil stick to the pasta,” she says. Don’t forget to top it all off with Parmesan cheese.

White beans nutrition facts per half-cup: 173 calories; 8.4g protein; 21.6g carbs; 5.5g fiber; 3.2mg iron; 97mg phosphorus; 482mg potassium; 66.5mcg folate; 1.2mg zinc (from the USDA)

Pinto Beans

You’ve probably noshed on pinto beans in most of the burritos you’ve consumed throughout your life, but they’re just as delicious outside of a tortilla. The speckled beans can also be used in chilis, soups, and baked dishes like Caspero’s vegetarian enchilada casserole.

Pinto beans nutrition facts per half-cup: 176.5 calories; 7.8g protein; 22.6g carbs; 7.8g fiber; 1.8mg iron; 126.5mg phosphorus; 374.5mg potassium; 140.5mcg folate; 0.84mg zinc (from the USDA)

Soybeans

If you’re looking to swap your usual tofu and tempeh for something different — yet just as nutritious — try edamame. These bright green, immature soybeans have mild, pea-like flavor and firm texture, so they work well in stir fries, protein-packed salmon cakes, and jalapeño-infused salads. For an easy snack, defrost a bag of frozen, fully cooked edamame pods overnight, pop the entire thing in your mouth, and rip out the beans with your teeth, says Caspero.

Soybeans nutrition facts per half-cup: 188 calories; 16.6g protein; 14.2g carbs; 5.4g fiber; 4.5mg iron; 248.5mg phosphorus; 795mg potassium; 211mcg folate; 1.3mg zinc (from the USDA)

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