Beans don't inspire passion. Or poems. Beans aren't sexy. Perhaps it's that gassy reputation. There's that whole "hill of beans" saying, too - as though beans shouldn't merit much thought. And yet, beans deserve our respect, consideration, and to be on our plates!

A flower sprouts from a pea plant. A pod soon follows, and nestled inside - beans. Inside those beans you'll find nutritional benefits much bigger than the beans themselves.

Beans spill over with fibre. A cup of most types of beans would fulfill nearly half of the average person's daily recommended intake for fibre. Black and pinto style beans, both so popular in Mexican cuisine, contain even more than others. We need fibre to keep us regular, but we need it to help reduce our levels of "bad" cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar levels, and to give us that good full feeling. Fibre also takes much of the guilt for the gas we get after eating beans, thanks to the stinky bacteria the intestines use to digest it.

If you're full of beans, you're full of folate, too. Folate is a B vitamin (B9), which you may also know by the name folic acid. Most beans boast high levels of folate, especially black, pinto, mung, and adzuki beans. When you get enough folate from the foods you eat, you may protect your cardiovascular health and help your body digest proteins (which beans also happen to contain a lot of!). Women who are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant need adequate folate for proper fetal development.

Beans offer big protein but little fat. Most of us need about 50 g to 65 g of protein each day. If we eat meat to meet our protein quota, we risk consuming too much fat. Beans offer a lower-fat alternative, with most types barely tipping the scale with a gram or so per cup. The one exception is the soybean. One cup of soybeans contains about 12 g of unsaturated fat (the better-for-you fat that may help lower your cholesterol when consumed in place of saturated and trans fats) and a whopping 57% of our daily protein needs - all that for fewer than 300 calories. So, even the "fattiest" beans aren't so bad!

Beans give you an iron energy boost. Our ideal iron intake depends on many factors, including sex and age, but usually ranges from 8 mg to 18 mg per day. Iron helps move oxygen through our blood, and when we're low on iron, we're low on energy. Chow on one cup of most types of beans, and you'll have eaten about one-fifth of the iron you'll need all day.

Beans top berries in antioxidant battle. We often hear about blueberries being tops when it comes to antioxidants. But would you believe that darker-coloured beans like Mexican red beans, red kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans contain antioxidants on par with the best berries of the bunch?

If you're hesitant to feast on beans for fear of flatulence, take heed. You may get less gas if you:

  • opt for canned beans instead of dried beans
  • soak dried beans in different water than the water you will use to cook them
  • take a digestive-supportive supplement like Beano® just before eating beans

(See below for chart of different types of beans, or click here for the PDF.)

Used in red bean paste popular in Asian cuisine
calories: 294
fat: 0 g
fibre: 17 g
protein: 17 g
folate: 70% DV*
iron: 26% DV

Rich flavour, velvety texture
calories: 227
fat: 1 g
fibre: 15 g
protein: 15 g
folate: 64% DV
iron: 20% DV

Pale green; also called broad beans, Windsor beans, English beans
calories: 187
fat: 1 g
fibre: 9 g
protein: 13 g
folate: 44% DV
iron: 14% DV

Also called red beans; white ones called cannellini beans
calories: 225
fat: 1 g
fibre: 11 g
protein: 15 g
folate: 58% DV
iron: 22% DV

Sometimes called butter beans for its buttery texture
calories: 216
fat: 1 g
fibre: 13 g
protein: 15 g
folate: 39% DV
iron: 25% DV

Main source of bean sprouts
calories: 212
fat: 1 g
fibre: 15 g
protein: 14 g
folate: 80% DV
iron: 16% DV

Also called Yankee beans, great Northern beans
calories: 255
fat: 1 g
fibre: 19 g
protein: 15 g
folate: 64% DV
iron: 24% DV

Named for its painted appearance; pink background dappled with beige spots
calories: 245
fat: 1 g
fibre: 15 g
protein: 15 g
folate: 74% DV
iron: 20% DV

Green pod beans with mildly nutty taste, also called edamame
calories: 298
fat: 15 g
fibre: 10 g
protein: 29 g
folate: 23% DV
iron: 49% DV

*Percent Daily Value (%DV) is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily calorie needs may be higher or lower, so your actual daily values may be different.

Amy Toffelmire