Beans, the Vegetable with More
Many people are surprised to learn that beans and other legumes are actually classified as vegetables. Research shows that less than half of Americans correctly identified beans as a vegetable. Not many other foods provide such a nutrient-rich package, and despite differences in shapes, sizes, colors, textures and flavors, beans are surprisingly similar in nutrient composition. Beans are good to excellent sources of eight important nutrients:
- Folate: Helps the body form red blood cells; may reduce the risk of birth defects.
- Fiber: May reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers; helps maintain a healthy intestinal tract.
- Manganese: Needed for building bone and for metabolism of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
- Protein: Essential for growth and maintenance of bones and muscle.
- Magnesium: Needed for building bone and releasing energy from muscle.
- Copper: Key for iron absorption and efficient use of oxygen.
- Iron: Needed to carry oxygen in the blood.
- Potassium: Aids in maintaining healthy blood pressure.
Most Americans need to triple the amount of legumes they eat, such as beans, to meet the 3 cups per week recommended by the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (half a cup of cooked beans is considered a serving).
Beans hold an important place in MyPyramid. They fit into two groups because they have a nutrient profile similar to other foods in both groups. Because they are a good source of protein and iron, beans are listed in the Meat & Beans Group. Even better, unlike some other foods in this group, beans provide a low-fat, saturated fat-free, and cholesterol-free source of protein. And, because beans are a plant-based food that provides fiber, folate, potassium and antioxidants, they also are listed in the Vegetable Group.