The Health Benefits of Beans, the Black Sheep of Superfoods

Beans are packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Discover how one of the healthiest legumes can boost your health in surprising ways.

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By Staff Writer
Caitlin Snethlage
Edited by Caitlin Snethlage

Updated April 16, 2024.

A variety of beans, peas, and lentils on a table.

While trendy "superfoods" often dominate discussions about healthy eating, a readily available and affordable food group deserves greater recognition for its exceptional nutritional value: legumes, commonly known as beans.

Beans offer a concentrated source of essential nutrients, including protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. So, let's explore the potential health benefits associated with incorporating them into a balanced diet.

Key takeaways

  • Beans are a superfood high in antioxidants. They have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and immune-boosting effects.
  • The fiber in beans helps to alleviate blood sugar spikes and keep you fuller longer. This effect can help with weight loss and prevent insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • High dietary fiber from beans is also heart healthy and helps to promote the bacteria in the gut that ward off invader germs.
  • Folate in beans reduces fatigue, muscle soreness, and oxidative damage. Athletes can include it in their diet to recover faster. Studies also suggest that it can help prevent the incidence of neural tube defects in infants by up to 70%. [2]

Which beans are the healthiest to eat?

There are various types of beans. Each one offers a unique flavor and texture, but some are better than others. According to Healthline, the top five most nutritious are [2]:

  1. garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  2. lentils
  3. peas
  4. kidney beans
  5. black beans

Note: These varieties are the highest in fiber, folate, and protein. They're also the most effective at alleviating post-meal spikes in blood sugar. [3]

How are beans a superfood?

Legumes include all plants that produce pods with seeds, and beans are just one of the common types. They're packed with nutrients. From one cup—or 172 grams—you can get [4]:

  • Calories: 227
  • Protein: 15 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Carbs: 41 grams
  • Fiber: 15 grams

There are a couple of reasons why beans can be a powerful addition to your diet, even if you're not ready to give up meat entirely:

A replacement protein source

If you're looking to diversify the sources of your protein intake, you can combine meat and beans on your plate. A half-cup serving has roughly 7 grams, about the same as an ounce of meat.

Additionally, beans offer a satisfying dose of lysine and arginine, essential amino acids associated with complete proteins found in meat. Bean combinations can provide a protein profile similar to meat.

Beans are heart-healthy

Eating high-fiber foods like beans is associated with a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. [5] They slow the movement of food through your gut, help you feel fuller, and control blood sugar spikes. [6]

Diets that include legumes like beans are also linked to lower body weight, waist circumference, and fat. They also help you better react to insulin. [6–8]

They prevent folate deficiency

Folate is a water-soluble vitamin B that the body needs to produce red blood cells. Without them, there's less oxygen delivered to the muscles, leading to fatigue and slower recovery after a workout.

Note: Folate deficiency is linked to fatal health outcomes like neural tube defects in newborns. [9] Women should focus on adequate intake during pregnancy, as studies suggest that it can reduce the risks of this genetic condition by up to 70% [10]

» Understand your hunger to improve your relationship with food

The connection between beans, sore muscles, and cancer

Beans are high in polyphenols. Studies show this class of antioxidants may help mitigate high blood pressure and assist the immune system through their antibacterial effects. [11]

These legumes also reduce inflammation and cell damage caused by oxidative stress from smoking or poor diet. They can also help improve sore muscles. [12]

The same effects are linked to their anti-oxidant properties. One study found that rats fed black or navy beans had up to 75% reduced risk of developing colon cancer. [13]

Note: While InsideTracker can't predict precisely how your body will respond to beans, it can track many of the beneficial nutrients they contain. Monitoring these biomarkers gives you insights into how you react to a diet that includes more of these legumes.

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Why do beans cause gas?

Because humans can't digest it, most fiber types are fermented by the bacteria in our gut—making it a prebiotic, which helps to:

  • Improve the growth of good gut bacteria
  • Prevent the growth of harmful bacteria
  • Strengthen the gut barrier—preventing things like leaky gut syndrome
  • Boost the immune system [14]

Diets high in fiber contribute to gas, bloating, and flatulence. The substance becomes gel as it passes through the digestive tract. Then, the bacteria in the gut ferment it, causing an unpleasant effect. [15]

When increasing your fiber intake, it's best to do so slowly. This will help your digestive system get used to it, reducing gas and bloating.
Diagram describing the benefits of beans.

» Check out the best foods to support brain health and cognition

How to incorporate beans into your diet

  • Black bean and corn tacos: Mash black beans with a bit of olive oil, lime juice, chili powder, cumin, and smoked paprika for a vibrant taco filling. Add corn kernels for a bit of sweetness and texture.
  • Black bean and quinoa burgers: Combine mashed black beans, cooked quinoa, chopped red onion, breadcrumbs, an egg—for binding—and a sprinkle of your favorite burger seasoning. Grill or pan-fry for a satisfying and protein-rich veggie burger.

» Find out if fast food is really that bad for you

Beans: Your new favorite kitchen hero

Beans deserve their superfood status thanks to their impressive nutritional profile. They're loaded with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, contributing to various health benefits. Aim to incorporate them into your diet multiple times a week, alongside a balanced diet and regular exercise.

While beans are one of the healthiest dietary choices for everyone, optimizing your biomarkers goes beyond a one-size-fits-all approach. Using extensive blood testing, InsideTracker reveals your folate levels and other health markers to give you personalized insight into your health.

Disclaimer: InsideTracker doesn't diagnose or treat medical conditions. Consult your physician if you have any health concerns.


[1] M. Viswanathan, R. P. Urrutia, K. Hudson, J. C. Middleton, and L. Kahwati, “Folic acid supplementation to prevent neural tube defects,” JAMA, vol. 330, no. 5, p. 460, Aug. 2023, doi: 10.1001/jama.2023.9864. Available:

[2] L. S. M. Ld Rdn, “9 healthy beans and legumes you should try,” Healthline, Jun. 30, 2023. Available:

[3] A. Reynolds, A. P. Akerman, and J. Mann, “Dietary fibre and whole grains in diabetes management: Systematic review and meta-analyses,” PLoS Medicine, vol. 17, no. 3, p. e1003053, Mar. 2020, doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003053. Available:

[4] “FoodData Central.” Available:

[5] A. Mullins and B. H. Arjmandi, “Health benefits of Plant-Based Nutrition: Focus on beans in cardiometabolic diseases,” Nutrients, vol. 13, no. 2, p. 519, Feb. 2021, doi: 10.3390/nu13020519. Available:

[6] J. M. Rippe and T. J. Angelopoulos, “Relationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding,” Nutrients, vol. 8, no. 11, p. 697, Nov. 2016, doi: 10.3390/nu8110697. Available:

[7] “The effect of dietary fiber and other factors on insulin response: role in obesity,” PubMed, Jul. 01, 1985. Available:

[8] E. Viguiliouk, S. B. Mejía, C. W. C. Kendall, and J. L. Sievenpiper, “Can pulses play a role in improving cardiometabolic health? Evidence from systematic reviews and meta‐analyses,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 1392, no. 1, pp. 43–57, Mar. 2017, doi: 10.1111/nyas.13312. Available:

[9] A. Kondo, O. Katoh, and H. Ozawa, “Neural tube defects: Prevalence, etiology and prevention,” International Journal of Urology, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 49–57, Dec. 2008, doi: 10.1111/j.1442-2042.2008.02163.x. Available:

[10] M. Viswanathan, R. P. Urrutia, K. Hudson, J. C. Middleton, and L. Kahwati, “Folic acid supplementation to prevent neural tube defects,” JAMA, vol. 330, no. 5, p. 460, Aug. 2023, doi: 10.1001/jama.2023.9864. Available:

[11] B. Xu and S. K. C. Chang, “Reduction of antiproliferative capacities, cell-based antioxidant capacities and phytochemical contents of common beans and soybeans upon thermal processing,” Food Chemistry, vol. 129, no. 3, pp. 974–981, Dec. 2011, doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2011.05.057. Available:

[12] J. B. Kreher and J. B. Schwartz, “Overtraining syndrome,” Sports Health, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 128–138, Jan. 2012, doi: 10.1177/1941738111434406. Available:

[13] L. Hangen and M. R. Bennink, “Consumption of Black Beans and Navy Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) Reduced Azoxymethane-Induced Colon Cancer in Rats,” Nutrition and Cancer, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 60–65, Sep. 2002, doi: 10.1207/s15327914nc441_8. Available:

[14] J. L. Slavin, “Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and health benefits,” Nutrients, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 1417–1435, Apr. 2013, doi: 10.3390/nu5041417. Available:

[15] S. Eswaran, J. G. Muir, and W. D. Chey, “Fiber and functional gastrointestinal disorders,” ˜the œAmerican Journal of Gastroenterology, vol. 108, no. 5, pp. 718–727, May 2013, doi: 10.1038/ajg.2013.63. Available: