Black beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), also known as black turtle beans, are a member of the legume family. The legumes we eat are the seeds of the legume plants, which include a variety of beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts. Similar to grains, legumes store large amounts of energy in the form of carbohydrates (1).
Beans are one of the earliest farmed plants. The first cultivated beans were seen roughly 4,000 years ago, known to be grown by indigenous peoples in Europe, and North and South America. They have been found everywhere from the tombs of the Egyptian kings to the caves of Peru, and are believed to be a staple food of early peoples (2).
Rich with vitamins and minerals, this “magical fruit” has much to offer in the ways of health and dietary lifestyle. Adding beans to your diet has proven to have several benefits, from having more energy and regularity to potentially preventing common diseases and health conditions (3).
1. Black Beans Are a Great Source of Protein
Protein is essential to our body’s function and growth. It is involved with cellular and muscular health, as well as aids in the production and functioning of enzymes. With a balanced diet, rich in protein, you will have a strong immune system, healthy hair, and proper fluid balance in your body. Responsible for the formation, regulation, repair, and protection of the body, protein is a necessity in our diets.
Your daily food consumption should contain adequate amounts of protein, as your body does not store it. Without proper protein intake, you are at risk of fluid retention and shrinkage of muscular tissue. In extreme cases, you can develop protein energy malnutrition (PEM), a body-depletion disorder, the number one cause of death in children in third-world countries.
While animal protein is very important (offering amino acids not available in plant-based proteins), beans have been shown to have overall benefits as a replacement for meat as they are low in calories and lack saturated fats (4). However, there is no definitive proof that they can be a complete replacement, and it is still recommended you have some other form of animal-based protein (meat, fish, eggs, or dairy) to balance your diet and ensure you are receiving all of the proper nutrients (5).
Bottom Line: Beans are an excellent source of protein that you can add to your diet without adding calories or saturated fats, with one cup yielding up to 30% of your daily recommended intake.
2. Black Beans Provide Sufficient Amounts of Potassium
Our bodies are full of electrolytes, substances responsible for the electrical processes necessary for life. Along with calcium and magnesium, potassium is an essential electrolyte for a healthy body.
Potassium, the third most abundant mineral in the human body, is responsible for keeping your organs in good, working order. With proper potassium intake, you will experience increased muscle strength and nervous system, and regulated metabolism, as well as possible relief from stress and anxiety.
Low potassium levels are usually only discovered when your doctor takes a blood test due to an already existing illness. A deficiency in potassium (hypokalemia) can lead to problems such as fatigue and muscle cramps. More serious symptoms may include arrhythmia, mostly found in people with underlying heart issues.
Bananas are well-known for being the go-to to remedy for low-potassium related symptoms, but there are many other foods that can be beneficial for receiving adequate amounts of potassium. Beans have been shown to be a good source of potassium, with a half cup giving you 15% of your daily recommended intake (3400 mg) (6).
Bottom Line: To avoid the aches and pains of a potassium deficiency, you can simply add a small portion of beans to your daily food intake.
3. Black Beans Are a Good Source of Folate
A natural form of vitamin B9, folate (often also referred to as folic acid, the synthetic form of folate found in processed foods and supplements) is essential for cell and DNA production and growth. As with most B-vitamins, folate is water-soluble and, therefore, is not stored by the body. Because of this, it is essential that your daily intake includes a sufficient amount of vitamin B9.
A deficiency in folate can lead to megaloblastic anemia, a condition in which the bone marrow produces larger than average red blood cells (megaloblasts), and can have side effects such as weakness, lack of mental clarity, and shortness of breath (7). Insufficient amounts of folic acid can also lead to potential birth defects in unborn children.
Known for being high in folate content, offering about 64% of your recommended daily intake in one cup, black beans are a great dietary addition for everyone to ensure you are receiving the required amount of folate per day (8).
Bottom Line: Black beans are a great source of folate, which can aid in the proper growth of DNA and cells in adults and unborn babies.
4. Black Beans Can Prevent Birth Defects
A pregnant woman who consumes a diet rich in folic acid can help prevent certain birth defects. By getting 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid before, or early into, pregnancy, it has been shown that the risk of neural tube defects (a birth defect in which the brain and spinal cord are not fully developed) in infants can be reduced by up to 70% (9).
Neural tube defects can include spina bifida (incomplete closure of the spinal cord and column), anencephaly (underdevelopment of the brain), and encephalocele (brain tissue protrudes out of an abnormal opening in the skull to the skin). These defects typically develop within the first 28 days of pregnancy, most of the time before a woman even knows she is pregnant (10).
While most pre-natal vitamins have a high concentration of folic acid, adding black beans to your diet can also be beneficial as they can offer over half of your daily recommended intake with just one cup. It is recommended not to intake more than 1,000 mcg of folic acid per day as it can mask a deficiency in vitamin B12. However, the only way to receive too much is through man-made products and processed foods, as the level of folate in natural foods is lower and it is uncommon to receive too much from them alone (11).
Bottom Line: By adding black beans to your plate daily, you can increase your folic acid intake and help prevent common and life-threatening birth defects.
5. Black Beans Can Reverse Iron-Deficient Anemia
Iron carries oxygen to the body’s blood cells to aid in their production. It is a key component in the body’s circulatory system. It also aids in the function of muscles (supplying oxygen for muscle contraction) and the brain (increasing brain development, as the brain uses about 20% of the available blood oxygen).
Amongst all nutritional deficiencies, iron deficient anemia is the most common, affecting over 30% of the world’s population (12). Slight deficiencies can sometimes go unnoticed, but the more deficient you are the more symptoms become present. These can include fatigue and weakness, headache and dizziness, cold extremities, and, in extreme cases, cravings for things such as ice and dirt (13).
Vegans and vegetarians receive a lot of scrutiny for their diet choices that many deem as “unhealthy” or “lacking.” Besides protein, a nutrient they are thought not to get enough of is iron. However, just as black beans can provide a great source of protein, they are also high in iron, with 172 grams per cup.
Bottom Line: To keep you from being part of the iron deficient statistic, add some black beans to your diet, with one cup yielding up to 20% of your daily recommended intake.
6. Black Beans Are High in Fiber
Fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Both are essential for a healthy digestive system. Soluble fiber, made of carbohydrates, breaks down with water into a gel-like substance that can lower your cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Insoluble fiber, made of plant cells, does not break down and aids in the movement of material through your digestive tract, working as a laxative (14).
A lack of fiber can cause issues with your digestive system, being a major cause of obesity in the United States. Ingesting fiber helps you to feel more full, and if you aren’t getting enough you can tend to overeat which can lead to weight gain. There are also cardiovascular risks associated with a lack of fiber, including heart attack and stroke. The risk of major heart issues can be reduced by 30-40% by adding more fiber to your diet.
Fiber can only be found in plant-based foods, and black beans are a great choice as they include both soluble and insoluble fiber. Vegetarians tend to have high fiber intake, which may explain how they are slimmer than most meat-eaters (15).
Bottom Line: Whether you are an herbivore or a carnivore, adding beans to your diet is a great way to increase your fiber intake, with one cup yielding up to 60% of your recommended daily intake.
7. Black Beans Aid the Digestive System
Digestive issues, such as constipation, affect everyone at some point in their lives. While it is not considered a serious health concern, it is a nuisance, and you tend to feel much better when your digestive system is on track. If you have gone longer than 3 days without a bowel movement, chances are you are constipated, and the longer you continue like this, the more difficult it is to pass, and you will grow increasingly uncomfortable.
With their high fiber content, black beans can aid in cleaning out your digestive tract. Over time, with the regular addition of beans to your diet, you can relieve constipation issues as the fiber absorbs the water in your stool.
While it’s true that some beans can cause gastric distress, black beans are smaller and easier to digest. With that being said, there are certain precautions you can take to avoid bloating as a result of bean consumption. By soaking your beans and thoroughly chewing them, therefore exposing them to more of your saliva, you can remove a good portion of the indigestible oligosaccharides, which can be responsible for flatulence and bloating (16).
Bottom Line: Adding black beans to your diet can help with your overall digestive health by relieving constipation and helping you feel full longer.
8. Black Beans Can Ease Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disorder that affects, but is not limited to, your joints. It occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your tissues, causing painful swelling and eventually can lead to bone erosion and joint deformity. Very common, and believed to be the result of genetics, RA affects over 1.3 million Americans, about 75% of which are women (17).
While it cannot be said that eating certain foods can help arthritis specifically, it has been found that there is a link between a high-fiber diet and a reduction in inflammation. Studies have shown that adding more fiber to your daily intake can reduce the amount of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, in your bloodstream, which can be linked to rheumatoid arthritis (18).
Black beans are known to be high in fiber and phytonutrients, and they are inexpensive to add to your diet. Adding about a half-cup of beans, twice a week, to your diet can reduce the level of CRP and inflammation in your body, which may help with common arthritis symptoms (19).
Bottom Line: You can potentially reduce your risk of inflammation and arthritis symptoms by adding more fiber to your diet, and a high concentration of it can be found in beans.
9. Black Beans Are Full of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are a relatively new discovery, coming into public attention in the 1990’s. It began to be understood that free radicals were potentially responsible for the damage to many of the body’s functions and systems. This damage could potentially lead to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and cancer (20).
Free radicals are produced constantly in the body, as a response to environmental toxins and energy production. They are incomplete molecules, missing electrons that are responsible for biological oxidation. They are known to attack other molecules in order to “complete” them. They steal electrons from proteins in your body which can negatively affect your DNA, by breaking open or altering its structure, and cells. This leaves your cells prone to oxidative damage, which can cause them to become brittle, and eventually fall apart and die. (21).
Antioxidants have been found to be able to prevent the effect that free radicals have on the body. They help to “oxidize” these molecules by donating electrons and breaking the free radical chain without becoming free radicals themselves.
Amongst the dried bean varieties available on the market, black beans are at the top for the level of antioxidants found in their skin, particularly anthocyanin, which is responsible for its dark color. One study showed that the level of anthocyanins in a 100 g serving of black beans provided about 10 times the amount found in a similar serving of oranges (22).
Bottom Line: While it is not known exactly how many beans need to be eaten in order to attain maximum health benefits, it is shown that adding black beans to your diet can reduce your risk of many diseases cause by free radicals.
10. Black Beans Can Potentially Prevent Common Cancers
It can easily be said that the fear of cancer runs rampant among the general public. With so many variations and the inability to pinpoint the exact cause, we are always looking for ways to potentially keep ourselves healthy and cancer-free.
There have been studies that have shown that beans have certain qualities that may help prevent certain cancers. What exactly is responsible for this is still unknown, but it is believed that it may be the phytochemicals of black beans, including flavonoids and tannins, because of their anticancer properties (23).
Beans have been shown to play a part in significantly lowering the risk for colon cancer, the third most common cancer in the U.S. The resistant starch in beans is used by good bacteria to protect the colon cells (24). In one particular study, it was shown that there was a 50% lower colon cancer risk in those who ate beans at least twice a week (25).
Bottom Line: By increasing your intake of beans you can potentially reduce the risk of developing common cancers.
11. Black Beans Can Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
Molybdenum, an element found in certain foods, helps the development of the nervous system. Black beans, in one cup, can provide up to 172% of your daily recommended intake. With their molybdenum content and the antioxidants they offer, black beans can help prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
More than 5 million Americans are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is estimated to triple by the year 2050 (26). While there are many factors that contribute to the likelihood of someone developing the disease, there are some things that can be done to prevent it, including diet.
The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, developed by Martha Clare Morris, PhD, has been shown to help slow the rate of cognitive decline. Participants who closely followed the diet found that they had the mental clarity of a person 7.5 years younger (27). With beans being a part of this diet, it is recommended to add them to your diet to lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Bottom Line: Rich in antioxidants and molybdenum, black beans are a great addition to your diet to improve your overall brain health and possibly lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.
12. Black Beans Are Rich in Omega-3’s
Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as essential fatty acids, are not created by the body but are essential for human health. There are 3 types of Omega-3 fatty acids: DHA (docosahexaeonic acid) and EPA (eicosapetaenoic acid), both of which are most commonly found in fish such as salmon, and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which is plant-based (28). All three are necessary for a healthy brain and heart.
Black beans have been found to deliver about 180 mg of ALA per cup (29). By increasing your ALA intake, you can prevent and treat many heart conditions, including atherosclerosis, the hardening of blood vessels. It is also used to treat lupus, diabetes, and Crohn’s disease, amongst other health conditions (30).
Bottom Line: While beans don’t deliver the same amount of ALA that seeds and nuts do (31), there are still a great addition to your diet to ensure you are receiving these essential nutrients.
13. Black Beans Are a Choice Food for Diabetics
As of 2012, about 9.3% of the American population had diabetes, and the number has only increased, with 1.4 million people diagnosed every year (32). It takes more lives than AIDS and breast cancer combined, and is the leading cause of blindness, amputations, and kidney and heart failure.
Anyone can fall victim to the disease (type 1 – usually referred to as “juvenile,” where the body attacks the pancreas for unknown reasons), but most cases that are seen are type 2, also known as “adult-onset,” and is usually the result of obesity and a sedentary lifestyle (33).
Being low on the glycemic index, The American Diabetes Association recommends adding beans to your diet (34). They can help to regulate blood sugar, as they cause a gradual rise in blood sugar levels rather than a sudden spike, and, unlike meat, they don’t contain saturated fats.
With beans being considered a starch exchange with a high protein content (35), it is important you pay attention to serving size and what you pair it with on your plate to ensure you are still receiving a well-balanced diet.
Bottom Line: Beans are a great addition to the diabetic’s plate as they can be considered a two-for-one, being high in fiber and protein as well as low on the glycemic index.
14. Black Beans can Lower Your Cholesterol
High-cholesterol affects over 30% of adults in the United States alone. While about a third of them have it under control, less than half are seeking treatment for it (36). It can simply be the result of your age, gender, or an unfortunate family history, your lifestyle is most likely the cause. By eating a diet high in saturated fats and not exercising, therefore leaving you overweight, you greatly increase your risk of high cholesterol (37).
There are no visible symptoms of high-cholesterol, and only a blood test can determine your levels and if you are at risk. Unchecked, high-cholesterol can lead to issues such as heart attack or stroke (38).
If your doctor has told you that you need to decrease your cholesterol count, the good news is that it can be done by changing your diet. Beans have been shown to be one of the best foods to add to your diet if you are trying to lower your cholesterol. Studies show that by adding 3 cups of beans to your intake per week, about a half cup per day, can reduce your cholesterol by about 8%, as they are cholesterol and trans-fat free (39).
Bottom Line: By increasing your activity level and changing your diet, including black beans in your daily intake, you can lower your cholesterol and decrease your risk of related issues.
15. Black Beans Can Reverse the Effects of Heart Disease
Adding beans to your diet, with their high protein and fiber content, can help prevent and reverse the effects of heart disease (40). A diet high in dietary fiber such as black beans and other legumes, can reduce the risk of cardiac arrest and stroke (41).
If you are at risk for high blood pressure, or other cardiovascular issues, it is highly recommended that you use dried beans if you are looking to add them to your diet, as canned beans tend to be higher in sodium with can raise your blood pressure (42). If you do choose to buy canned beans, as they are quicker and easier to prepare, opt for a low-sodium option and be sure to drain and rinse them well.
Bottom Line: Adding dried beans to your diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease by balancing your cholesterol levels and adding protein and fiber to your diet.
How Do You Cook Black Beans?
Black beans can either come canned or dried and bagged, although most health professionals will recommend dried as canned beans tend to be higher in sodium (not to mention that dried beans are more cost efficient). If you do opt for canned beans for ease and simplicity, be sure to choose a lower sodium option and drain and rinse them well before using them.
Using dried beans takes a bit more time, as they need to soak before they can be cooked. There are two methods for soaking beans: hot soaking (which can remove some of the gas causing agents) or overnight soaking (which is easiest if you are planning ahead). After the beans have been soaked, you can simply boil them and use them as you wish (43).
Put it Into Practice! – Recipes with Black Beans
With all the health benefits offered by black beans, why not try to incorporate them into your diet? Give these easy, delicious recipes a try. If you are experiencing or at risk of diabetes or heart disease, you can easily make necessary ingredient substitutions, such as decreasing the amount of sugar or salt.
1. Black Bean Salsa (by, The Blond Cook)
Let’s spice things up by adding a Mexican flair to a healthy snack with this salsa recipe.
All you need is a can of corn (drained), a can of black beans (drained and rinsed), chopped red onion, Roma tomatoes (chopped), jalapeños (chopped), fresh cilantro, lime juice, cumin, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Combine everything together in a bowl and serve with your favorite tortilla chips.
2. Black Bean Hummus (by, Chef in Training)
What better way to add protein to your afternoon snack than with hummus, and this black bean hummus is sure to satisfy.
Combine a can of black beans (drained and rinsed), two tablespoons of olive oil, two tablespoons of lemon juice, a tablespoon of white wine vinegar, about two cloves of garlic (minced), and salt, cumin, onion powder, and chili powder in a blender.
Blend until smooth and serve with your favorite crackers, chips, or veggies.
3. Cuban Black Beans with Cilantro and Lime (by, Little Spice Jar)
Black beans are great as a side dish, either by themselves or over rice, and this recipe is sure to add that extra flavor punch you’re looking for while giving you little work to do.
Heat a tablespoon of oil over medium heat in a stockpot or Dutch oven, and sauté red onion and jalapeño (both diced) until they become translucent. Add 4-5 cloves of garlic (minced) and allow to cook for about 30 seconds, until they are incorporated but not burnt.
Add two cans of black beans, that have been drained and rinsed, a cup of warm water, and a teaspoon each of salt and cumin, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated. You should be left with the consistency of a thick broth. Remove from heat, and add enough fresh cilantro and lime juice as your taste prefers.
4. Copy-Cat Panera Black Bean Soup (by, Mavis Butterfield)
Those familiar with Panera Bread restaurants may be disappointed that they took their black bean soup off the menu, but fret not; here is a copy-cat recipe guaranteed to satisfy your longing.
Boil one-and-a-half cups of water, and combine a yellow onion, two minced garlic cloves, two finely chopped stalks of celery, a quarter of a red bell pepper (chopped), two chicken bouillon cubes, and (previously boiled) water in a large pot. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Add half of a can of black beans, salt, and cumin, and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes. Using a blender, slightly puree the soup, then return to the pot. Add an additional can and a half of black beans and continue to cook.
In a separate bowl, mix equal parts cornstarch and water (about one-and-a-half tablespoons), and add the mixture and lemon juice to the soup. Continue to cook until your preferred thickness is achieved.
Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream and chopped green onion.
5. Spicy Kale-Quinoa Black Bean Salad (by, The Glowing Fridge)
Looking for a way to add more vitamins and protein to your lunch? Try this nutrient-packed salad.
Cook the quinoa: In a medium-size pot, bring two cups of water and a cup of quinoa to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy.
Prepare the salad: Combine kale and red onion. Add a can of black beans (drained and rinsed) and a cup of corn.
Mix the dressing: Mix fresh cilantro, a clove of garlic, equal parts lime juice, water, and hot sauce, a teaspoon of maple syrup, and cumin, salt, and pepper to taste.
Combine everything together, and you have yourself a healthy, and delicious, salad to take to the office or enjoy at home.
6. Black Bean Breakfast Burrito (by, Leelalicious)
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so let’s amp it up with this great burrito recipe.
Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Cook a diced onion and a grated red potato until they are soft and golden brown. Add a can of drained black beans, a half-cup of your favorite salsa, and chili powder, continuing to cook and slightly mashing the beans. After it is heated through, set aside.
Scramble eggs and add it to the bean mixture. Divide amongst four whole-grain tortillas and top with shredded cheese, fresh cilantro, avocado, sour cream, and extra salsa.
Wrap it up and enjoy!
7. Black Bean Burger (by, The Pioneer Woman)
Fans of Food Network’s The Pioneer Woman will love her black bean burger recipe.
Drain two cans of seasoned black beans (but do not rinse), and in a large bowl mash them with a fork until they are mostly reduced to pulp (leaving small pieces of bean throughout). Add a cup of seasoned breadcrumbs, grated white onion, an egg, chili powder, salt and pepper, and hot sauce. Stir until everything is incorporated and set aside for 5 minutes.
Heat a tablespoon each of oil and butter in a pan over medium-low heat. Form the bean mixture into patties and place them in the pan. Cook them on one side for about 5 minutes then flip, topping them with cheese and allowing them to cook for another 5 minutes (or completely through).
Grill the buns in a separate pan and fix it up as you please.
8. No-Flour Black Bean Brownies (by, Chocolate Covered Katie)
Black beans for dessert? Fool your friends; super moist and fudgy, these brownies taste like the real thing!
Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease your pan. In a food processor (or blender if you don’t have one), combine all ingredients: a can of black beans (drained and rinsed well), two tablespoons of cocoa powder, a half-cup of quick oats, a quarter-teaspoon of salt, a third-cup of sweetening syrup (maple syrup, agave, or honey), two tablespoons of sugar, a quarter-cup of oil (coconut or vegetable), two teaspoons of vanilla extract, and a half-teaspoon of baking powder. Blend until completely smooth.
Mix in the desired amount of chocolate chips and pour into the pan.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, then let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. If you feel they need to be firmer, you can place them in the fridge overnight and they will be just as good the next day.