Bean nutrition: you probably know that beans are nutritious. But you may have wondered whether it's healthier to use canned, cooked beans or to buy dry beans to cook yourself.
Dry Beans and Cooked Beans
In most ways nutritionally, beans are beans, whether they are dry or cooked. Beans are quite healthy; they're an excellent source of protein and fiber. They're high in carbohydrates (therefore increasing your energy level), and also high in the B vitamins and iron. They're low in fat. Nutritionally, you'd be hard pressed to improve on beans.
Many consumers prefer cooked beans because they're convenient. Cooked beans do contain all the nutritional benefits we've already discussed, and they are relatively inexpensive. Additionally, cans of cooked beans have a shelf life of about 5 years.
Dry Bean Benefits
Despite the benefits of cooked beans, dry beans emerge as the winner nutritionally. Here's why:
- Lower sodium: Dry beans, purchased in bags, contain no sodium. By contrast, canned beans are quite high in sodium (1/2 cup of canned beans contain about 20% of your daily sodium requirement). If you're watching your sodium intake level for blood pressure concerns or other health reasons, stick with dry beans.
- More natural: Canned beans can last several years in their cooked state, thus, they have added preservatives. By contrast, when you use dry beans that you cook yourself, you can know exactly what ingredients you've added and how the beans have been prepared. Dry beans are purchased and cooked in a more natural and controlled state.
- Bisphenol A (BPA): This is a chemical found in the plastic white lining of most cans of food. It has become controversial lately because studies have shown that it may mimic the hormone estrogen and may contribute to certain cancers, insulin resistance and birth defects. If you would like to avoid this exposure, stick with dry beans.
Other Dry Bean Benefits
Dry beans have benefits beyond those that are health related. Dry beans are much cheaper per serving than canned beans.
Those who are environmentally conscious will appreciate the fact that dry beans use less packaging than cooked beans, thereby contributing less waste to landfills. They also take up less storage space in your pantry than bulky cans.
Cooks may appreciate the flexibility in cooking their own dry beans. While canned beans may occasionally seem too firm or too mushy, you can control the firmness of beans that you cook yourself.
Dry, uncooked beans keep a long time - most likely 10 years or more in a dark, dry environment.
Cooking Dry Beans
The only downside to dry beans is the time factor. You will need to soak the beans (typically overnight) for several hours. Then, they will need to cook an hour or more to reach an appropriate firmness for use in recipes or for eating. However, if you plan ahead, soaking and cooking times can be incorporated into your day. It's worth a bit of extra time in order to gain the nutritional benefits that dry beans offer.