Beans are part of the "legume" family, along with lentils, split peas, and soybeans. They are packed with nutrients, and enough protein that they make a great meat substitute. 1/2 cup of cooked beans contains about 110-125 calories, 7-9 grams of protein, and 5-8 grams of fiber. They are also low in fat, and a good source of folate, iron, and potassium. Look for low-sodium canned varieties, or start with dry beans.

Types of Beans

Beans come in dozens of colors, shapes, and sizes. Here are some of the most common varieties:

  • Black — these small black beans have a strong flavor, and pair well with spicy foods and intense flavors. They are very popular in Latin American cuisine.
  • Cannellini — these are large, white Italian beans, known for their smooth texture. Commonly used in minestrone soup or salads, they also puree well for dips or sauces.
  • Garbanzo — also known as "chickpeas," these round beans are the key ingredient in hummus, and also tasty on salads and in soups.
  • Red Kidney — these dark red beans can be used in many types of dishes, particularly chili or bean salads. *Dry and undercooked red beans contain toxins. Make sure to soak, discard the water, and then boil for at least 10 minutes. Do not use a slow cooker with dry red kidney beans.
  • Navy — these small white beans can be used for soups, chili, or even salads, but the most popular use is baked beans.
  • Pinto — these are speckled beige and brown when dry, and cook to a pinkish brown color. They are most often used in refried beans, and are also good in chili and soups.
  • Soybean — these round yellow dry beans are full of nutrients and high quality protein, and can be used in soups, salads, and chili, as well as to make tofu, tempeh, soy nuts and soymilk.