Many public health organizations recommend beans and legumes as a key food group for helping prevent disease and for optimizing health. We fully agree with this special treatment of beans and legumes based on their well-documented health benefits. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommend 1.5 cups of legumes per week within a non-vegetarian diet, and 3.0 cups per week within a vegetarian diet. Because our approach to healthy eating at WHFoods places especially strong emphasis on vegetable intake, and because we tend to avoid large portions of meat in our meal plans, our chose this higher level of legume intake (3 cups per week) as our WHFoods recommended amount. To see how easily this amount can be incorporated into a delicious and easy-to-follow meal plan, take a look at our World's Healthiest Foods Meal Plan! We feature three of our World's Healthiest Foods - black beans, navy beans, and lentils - in our World's Healthiest Foods Meal Plan Recipes.
While black beans are a fantastic option for helping you to meet your weekly bean and legume goals, other nutrient-rich foods in this beans and legumes group include dried peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas) kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, soybeans, tempeh, and tofu. We recommend enjoyment of a variety of Beans & Legumes each week for optimal nourishment.
Among all groups of food commonly eaten worldwide, no group has a more health-supportive mix of protein-plus-fiber than legumes. Black beans are no exception. From a single, one-cup serving of black beans you get nearly 15 grams of fiber and over 15 grams of protein. Moreover, black beans rank in our Top 10 foods for fiber and our Top 25 foods for protein. A single one-cup serving of this legume will provide you with 60% of our WHFoods recommended fiber intake and 30% of our WHFoods recommended protein intake. Legumes are the only food group that can provide you with such a strong fiber-protein combination.
Both fiber and protein can help regulate the passage of food through our digestive tract and can help steady the flow of digestion. This steadied digestive flow can result in benefits for regulation of blood sugar and overall digestive tract health. However, as we will see in the upcoming paragraphs of this Health Benefits section, both the fiber and the protein in black beans have special qualities not present in all fibers or all proteins and these special qualities add even greater potential to the unique health benefits provided by black bean proteins and black bean fibers.
It's not only the impressive total amount of fiber in black beans (about 15 grams in a one cup serving) or the total amount of black bean protein (also close to 15 grams per one cup serving) that provides us with health benefits. It's also the specific type of fiber and protein that we get from this legume that has excited health researchers. On the fiber front, scientists have determined that black beans are a valuable source of resistant starch. The one-cup serving of black beans on our website provide about 41 grams of total carbs, and about 15 of these grams are classified as fiber. If these 15 grams of fiber are subtracted from the total carb amount, we still end up with a lot of carbs—about 26 grams—and included in these 26 grams is a large amount of starch. Ordinarily, this high starch content would raise the glycemic index value for a food and make them a food of concern in terms of their blood sugar and insulin impact. However, in the case of black beans, these concerns are not raised because a large amount of the starch in black beans fits into a category called "resistant starch." Like this name suggestions, much of the starch in black beans is not broken down in our upper digestive tract because it "resists" digestion. In the absence of this starch breakdown, we don't get an increase in simple sugars (the breakdown products of starch) and so our blood sugar level isn't hit with an unwanted degree of increase. Similarly, our insulin response can also stay moderate. It's the resistant starch content of black beans that provides them with a value of "low" on the glycemic index.
In addition to these upper digestive tract benefits, we also get black bean benefits in our lower digestive tract. When the resistant starch in black beans finally reaches our large intestine, it gets broken down by bacteria and provides an increased fuel supply for the cells of our large intestine in the form of short chain fatty acids, or SCFAs. The great likelihood is for these combined digestive tract benefits to eventually translate in reduced risk of colorectal cancer in individual who regularly consume black beans and other legumes.
On the protein front, recent studies show black beans to contain unique peptide components (small sequences of amino acids that are used to form proteins) that further improve regulation of blood sugar and insulin levels. Most of these unique peptides consist of 5-6 amino acids, and they act to inhibit the production of glucose transport molecules like GLUT-2. By interfering with GLUT-2 production, these black bean peptides can help lower glucose absorption from the digestive tract and thereby help steady blood sugar levels.
Many people assume that black beans are nowhere close to vegetables and fruits in terms of their phytonutrient content. But there are areas in which black beans supply us with important amounts of phytonutrients. Myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol are among the flavonoids provided by this legume, along with phenolic acids like hydroxycinnamic acid, ferulic acid, sinapic acid, and chlorogenic acid. Saponins like soyasaponin and phaseoside I are also included among the black bean phytonutrients. (Saponins are a subgroup in the larger phytonutrient category known as triperpenoids.) The outer surface of blacks beans—called their "seed coat"—is the most concentrated location for many of these phytonutrients. Particularly important in the seed coat of black beans are its anthocyanins. This flavonoid subgroup is largely responsible for the deep black color that is so striking in this legume. The chart below shows how some of the key anthocyanins in black beans compare in quantity to key anthocyanins found in other anthocyanin-rich foods.
|Anthocyanin||Blueberries||Red Cabbage||Red Onions||Black Beans|
As you can see in the above chart, the total quantity of anthocyanins in black beans is not as high as the total quantity in blueberries or red cabbage, yet it is still substantial and includes a variety of different anthocyanins.
The key take-away here is to think about black beans as a food that provides us with valuable phytonutrient support, including the anthocyanin support that we typically associate with fruits and vegetables.
For beans and legumes as a whole (including all types of dried beans and dried peas), research shows potential health benefits in two key areas: (1) cardiovascular diseases, and (2) blood sugar problems, including type 2 diabetes. Reduced risk of all of the following cardiovascular diseases has been associated with overall bean and legume intake: coronary heart disease, ischemic heart disease, hypercholesterolemia, and atherosclerosis. And in addition to type 2 diabetes, better glucose tolerance and improved insulin sensitivity have both been connected to bean and legume intake. Specifically, for black beans, we have also seen several studies showing improvement in multiple lab indicators for metabolic syndrome, including lab values related to blood fat levels and blood sugar levels.
The relationship between black bean intake and risk of cancer is not as well documented as the other chronic disease relationships described above. In animal and lab studies, black bean extracts have been associated with decreased inflammation in the colon and lower risk of colitis, and studies point in the direction of the possibility of reduced colon cancer risk following routine intake of black beans. Also, worth noting in the context of colon cancer prevention are the general anti-inflammatory properties of black bean flours in animal studies. Mice fed this form of black beans have shown increased levels of anti-inflammatory messaging molecules in their blood including interleukin 10 (IL-10) as well as decreased levels of pro-inflammatory messaging molecules including interleukins 6, 9, and 17a (IL-6, IL-9, and IL-17a) as well as interferon gamma (IFN-gamma). These anti-inflammatory effects may turn out to be important for management of cancer risk, since the development of certain cancers may start out with underlying conditions of chronic inflammation and chronic oxidative stress. Still, it is important to remember that large-scale human studies in this cancer area have yet to be undertaken with a specific focus on black beans.
The American Heart Association estimates that approximately one-third of all U.S. adults have a set of chronic disease risk factors called Metabolic Syndrome. These risk factors include high blood sugar, high blood pressure, low blood levels of protective HDL cholesterol, high blood levels of triglycerides, and excess body fat around the waist. When taken as a group, this set of conditions associates with increases in our risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and several types of heart disease. In a recent study on a very small group of adults previously diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome, researchers found that daily inclusion of soup that had been reconstituted from dried black beans helped steady blood sugar and insulin levels. Specifically, insulin secretion following consumption of black bean soup was decreased in comparison with a matched non-bean soup, as was blood sugar elevation. In addition, antioxidant capacity in the bloodstream was found to increase following consumption of black bean soup. Once again, this very small scale study cannot provide us with conclusive evidence about the role of black bean consumption for improved management of Metabolic Syndrome, but the results seem to be pointing in the direction of potential benefits.
We owe a major debt to the genus/species of plant known as Phaseolus vulgaris since this single genus/species provides us with a wide variety of both dried and fresh beans—including, of course black beans. Other dried beans belonging to this single genus/species include navy beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans. In the fresh bean category, green beans of many types—including snap beans, string beans, bush beans, and pole beans—are universally known as Phaseolus vulgaris. In other words, we end up with a remarkable degree of variety here among beans that are as closely related as foods can be.
Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of black beans is their rich black color. As mentioned earlier in this profile, anthocyanins in the seed coat of black beans combine with their mineral content and other components to create this dramatic black color. You'll often hear black beans being referred to as either "turtle beans" or "black turtle beans" since their dark surface can be shiny and reminiscent of a shell. Midnight Black, Gold Vault Black, Cherokee Trail of Tears, Eclipse Black, Condor Black, Zorro Black, and Zenith Black are varieties of black beans that you are likely to find in seed stores and in commercial black bean products.
Black beans are commercially available in a wide variety of forms, including not only canned and dried, but also as flakes, flour, and even pre-made pasta noodles. Dried black beans typically need to be presoaked, drained, and the cooked prior to consumption. (For full details, please see our "Tips for Preparing and Cooking" section.) Canned black beans come fully cooked, and this greater level of convenience has led many readers to ask us whether they will be giving up too many health benefits by choosing black beans in canned form. The one detailed study that we have seen in this area showed overall lower nutrient levels in canned versus dried-and-cooked black beans. However, these lower levels were not so dramatically different as to rule out canned black beans as a healthy way to bring black beans into your meal plan.
We would add two additional comments in this context. First, we view the difference between fresh versus canned fruits/vegetables as different from the difference between dried versus canned beans. In the case of fruits and vegetables, we are talking about a large jump between fresh and canned. In the case of beans, we are talking about a much smaller step since both types of beans have gone through the drying and cooking process. In other words, we don't have anything corresponding to "fresh" in the case of dried versus canned beans.
Second, we do not consider the canning of black beans to be a highly invasive process. Canned black beans are typically sorted, graded, and cleaned just like dried black beans, and prior to being cooked inside of their sealed can, they are hydrated, blanched for 3-8 minutes in water heated to 180-199°F (82-93°C), cooled, and then placed in their can together with a brine or other type of liquid. Low salt and no salt versions of canned black beans have either low-salt or salt-free liquids added to the can prior to cooking; we would recommend the "no added salt" versions of canned black beans to anyone who has decided to go with the canned version but wants or needs to avoid added salt. Calcium (for example, in the form of calcium chloride) may sometimes be added to canned black beans to help preserve their firmness, and sodium bicarbonate may sometimes be added to decrease acidity and improve water absorption by the black beans when they are cooked. As a general rule, these added ingredients would not be likely to cause problems for most individuals, but their presence in canned black beans could also be substantially reduced by thorough rinsing. In most parts of the U.S., it is not difficult to find organic canned black beans that have been cooked without the addition of salt, calcium chloride, or sodium bicarbonate. Sometimes you may find "no added salt" organic black beans canned together with a sea vegetable like kombu. A common type of method for cooking black beans in this can would have involved about 45 minutes of cooking at approximately 240°F (116°C).
When all of these details about canned black beans are considered as a whole, they point to a relatively low level of processing and creation of a very reasonable alternative to home-cooked dried black beans, even though the canning process may moderately lower multiple nutrient levels.
Black beans are native to North, South, and Central America. Their origins have been traced to many locations in Mexico, as well as Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In South America, the origin of black beans has been traced to the present-day countries of Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. Of course, black bean cultivation is no longer limited to North, South, and Central America. Today, black beans are cultivated and enjoyed worldwide in many different types of cuisines.
For two reasons, statistics on black bean production can be difficult to evaluate. First, many organizations that monitor dried bean production combine all dried beans into a single category and do not specifically track the production of black beans versus other varieties. Second, dried beans are often combined together with dried peas and dried lentils and monitored as "pulses"—one large overarching category for all of these foods combined. However, the overall statistics on dried beans and pulses suggest that China, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico are key producers of black beans, followed by the United States. When all pulses are considered, the country of India would need to be added to this list. About 24 million metric tons of dried beans are produced each year on a worldwide basis.
U.S. consumers average approximately 1.4 ounces of total beans-plus-legumes per week, or less than 1/5 cup. As mentioned earlier in this profile, most public health recommendations suggest a large increase in this average amount, to at least 1.5 cups per week.
Within the United States, North Dakota, Michigan, Nebraska, Minnesota, Idaho, Colorado, California, and Washington are the major commercial dry bean-producing states.
Both dried and canned black beans are available throughout the year. Dried beans are generally available in prepackaged containers as well as in bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the black beans are covered and that the store has a good product turnover to ensure the beans' maximal freshness. Whether purchasing black beans in bulk or in packaged containers, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture or insect damage and that they are whole and not cracked.
As described earlier in the Description section of this profile, both home-cooked dried black beans and precooked canned black beans can play a health-supportive role in your meal plan. If you decide to go the dried and home-cooked route, we recommend that you store dried black beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place where they will keep up to 12 months. If you purchase black beans at different times, store them separately since they may feature varying stages of dryness and therefore will require different cooking times. Cooked black beans will keep fresh in the refrigerator for about three days if placed in a covered container.
Black Beans, cooked
|folate||256.28 mcg||64||5.1||very good|
|fiber||14.96 g||53||4.2||very good|
|vitamin B1||0.42 mg||35||2.8||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%