If you pay attention to food and nutrition trends, you’ve likely noticed that over the last several years more people are opting for vegan or vegetarian diets. Lifestyle surveys confirm this upsurge in people who are cutting back on meat. And even if they’re not making a drastic change to eat entirely animal- or meat-free, more Americans are trying to incorporate Meatless Mondays into their repertoires. We’ve witnessed this with our own clients, who either are trying to avoid the saturated fat in many types of meat, get healthier, cut calories, go a little greener or avoid eating once-living creatures.
Legumes (a.k.a. beans) are packed with protein, so they’re great alternatives to animal options, plus they are hearty, fiber- and nutrient-rich, cholesterol-free and inexpensive. You can add beans to almost anything for an extra protein boost—they’re great in soups, salads, pasta and side dishes.
If you’re not a bean connoisseur but want to do a little experimenting with the mighty bean in your diet, read on—we break it down for you below, in alphabetical order. In case you’re new in the bean world—you can enjoy them dried or canned. The best way to prepare dried beans is to soak them to rehydrate before cooking.
Texture and Flavor: small, reddish brown; nutty and sweet
How to Eat Them: commonly used in soups; often enjoyed boiled with sugar and mashed into a sweet, red bean paste that is used as a filling in many popular Asian desserts, including ice cream; most popular in Japanese cuisine; a staple of the macrobiotic diet along with lentils and chickpeas; try making chili using adzuki beans rather than pinto or kidney
Nutritional Benefits: excellent source of fiber and folate; also potassium, iron, magnesium calcium and phosphorus; high-protein and low-fat
Texture and Flavor: mild and sweet flavor and soft velvety texture; small ovals with deep black skin
How to Eat Them: commonly used in soups, stews, sauces and rice dishes; great in Mexican and Southwestern dishes with salsa; for a fast meal toss in a whole-grain tortilla with lettuce, tomato, salsa, a slice of avocado and low-fat cheese; also good for making into a veggie burger
Nutritional Benefits: an excellent source of folate; as well as fiber and iron
Texture and Flavor: small, plump and spotted; earthy distinctive flavor and creamy texture; swell when they are cooked
How to Eat Them: commonly associated with Southern food and often cooked with bacon; also the perfect addition to many healthy recipes, such as dips and salads; used in casseroles and fritters—if used with collards, there's no need for loads of ham or salted pork—use a small amount of bacon or turkey bacon for smoky flavor. Consider skipping the bacon and using vegetable broth for a great vegetarian dish.
Nutritional Benefits: an excellent source of fiber and folate; as well as iron, zinc and potassium
Texture and Flavor: creamy and delicate flavor; large and rosy beige in color
How to Eat Them: most commonly used in Italian dishes, soups, pastas and salads; puree with low-sodium broth for a great, healthy, low-fat creamy sauce in creamed spinach or pastas; add to classic Italian minestrone; stew with sage, garlic and tomatoes for a winter casserole; great combined with canned tuna, minced red onion, capers, a splash of olive oil, fresh lemon juice and finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Nutritional Benefits: low in fat, high in protein, high in fiber and B vitamins
Texture and Flavor: beige to pale yellow in color; large, round, firm and nutty flavor
How to Eat Them: commonly used in casseroles, hummus, curries and minestrone soup; can sprinkle with spices and herbs and eat as a snack; roasted chickpeas are an increasingly popular snack; chickpea flour is becoming more common as people are looking for gluten- free flour and baking alternatives
Nutritional Benefits: excellent source of folate, fiber and iron
Texture and Flavor: reddish skin and white interior; kidney shaped
How to Eat Them: commonly used in soups, salads, chili and side dishes; mix with other beans for a bean salad; use kidney beans in place of ground beef in tacos to cut fat and calories and boost fiber; great when used in healthy varieties of nachos and bean dips and in burritos
Nutritional Benefits: protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron and antioxidants
Texture and Flavor: small green, brown or red legumes; round and flat shape
How to Eat Them: commonly used in soups, stews, salads and side dishes; combine with other veggies such as green bell peppers to make a salad; also great for making burgers and as a meat substitute in meatloaf, tacos, sloppy Joe’s, etc.
Nutritional Benefits: good source of fiber, folate, iron and phosphorus
Texture and Flavor: light brown and speckled bean; earthy texture and smooth taste with a powdery texture
How to Eat Them: works best in dips and stews; ideal for refried beans; good in rice, chili, burritos, soups and stews; mix with rice for a high-protein snack
Nutritional Benefits: large amounts of fiber and protein; good source of folate, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium and B vitamins
Texture and Flavor: medium, oval yellow bean; bland flavor and firm texture; when they are picked before ripening, the green pods are known as edamame
How to Eat Them: edamame is commonly used as a snack or garnish for salads; the mature soybean tastes great in soups and stews; try an edamame hummus, spiced edamame beans or soybean succotash with corn
Nutritional Benefits: good source of calcium, iron, folate, fiber and phosphorus; high in protein, low in carbohydrates