Healthiest Beans: 23 Beans Ranked by Nutrient Density

Food and Nutrition

1 October 2018 • Brian

Healthiest Beans: 23 Beans Ranked by Nutrient Density

Food and Nutrition

1 October 2018 • Brian

Beans come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, but what are the healthiest beans to eat?

Before we get into our rankings of the healthiest beans, it’s useful to see what makes beans so healthy.

The Health Benefits of Beans

Many epidemiological studies have shown that eating beans is correlated with many markers of good health and lower rates of obesity and chronic diseases.

According to Harvard Health,

“A study reported in the June 2007 Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that eating one-half cup of cooked pinto beans a day for eight weeks lowered total cholesterol by almost 10% in a small group of Mesa, Ariz., residents. An earlier study from Costa Rica found that people who ate a serving of beans a day, usually black beans, were nearly 40% less likely to have had heart attacks as those who rarely ate beans.”

And in the Blue Zones, where the population has a disproportionately high rate of active, healthy centenarians, beans are a dietary staple. In fact, Blue Zone residents eat around 1 cup of beans every day. The Blue Zones identifies a study that found:

“for every 20g intake of legumes (beans, peas, etc.), the risk of death fell by 6 percent.”

Why are Beans Healthy?

The most nutritious beans have a wide variety (and high density) of nutrients important for a balanced diet.

Things like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals are found in beans, often in high amounts. This is important, because deficiencies in these micronutrients can lead to poor health.

See the Average Micronutrient Intake of Americans.

The healthiest beans have a wide variety of these nutrients.

Beans are Nutrient-Dense

The healthiest beans are nutrient-dense. The healthiest beans are nutrient-dense.

The healthiest beans have a high density of these nutrients. What does this mean?

It’s important to look at the nutrient density of foods when comparing them, because this method will allow us to compare, well, “apples to apples” on a per-calorie basis.

Ideally we all should be consuming a moderate amount of calories. If you consume more calories than you expend throughout the day, you’ll gain weight. So, eating a reasonable amount of calories is an important first step in a healthy diet.

But within the calories you eat, you want to make sure these other essential nutrients are coming along for the ride!

This is also important for nutrients you might want to eat less of.

For example, sugar.

100 grams of blackberries have around 4.9 grams of sugar, whereas 100 grams of mung beans have around 6.6 grams of sugar.

So it _seems _ like mung beans are more sugar-dense, right?

But on a per-calorie basis, the _density _ of sugar in blackberries vs. mung beans tells a very different story.

100 grams of blackberries comes in at around 43 calories. That means, 4.9 grams of sugar represents roughly 45% of all of the calories found in blackberries.

Meanwhile, 100 grams of mung beans has around 347 calories. The sugar content of mung beans represents around 7.6% of the calories from mung beans.

So even though mung beans look like they have more sugar on a _per-weight _ basis, you’d need around 807 grams of blackberries to give you the same amount of calories.

Suddenly, on an equal per-calorie basis, blackberries would have nearly 40 grams of sugar.

We do still recommend blackberries! They are one of these healthiest fruits out there. See for yourself on our ranking of the healthiest fruits!

The World Health Organization recommends that fewer than 10% of your calories come from sugar (ideally, less than 5%).

On a calorie-based comparison, mung beans are much less sugar-dense than blackberries.

The Healthiest Beans have a Heart Healthy Macronutrient Profile

Micronutrients are important for a well-balanced diet. But it’s also good to keep your macronutrients in check, too.

Learn How to Track Your Macronutrients

Your intake of dietary fats, carbohydrates, and proteins are important to keep within recommended balanced ratios.

Also important is the composition of these macronutrients.

For example, the American Heart Association suggests that less than 10% of your calories come from saturated fats.

The most nutritious beans in our ranking are very low in saturated fats.

But fat is a critical and necessary component of your diet. Some fat is important. And unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated fats in particular) show heart healthy properties.

All beans are very low in fats, generally. But among these 23 beans, the beans with the best fat quality score were winged beans and garbanzo beans.

Beans are also excellent sources of protein. As you’ll see later, beans all contain high concentrations of protein. But our protein ranking will show you which ones top our list of high protein beans.

Beans are Excellent Sources of Fiber

Fiber is a very important dietary component that we often don’t get enough of in our diets.

Learn more about fiber intake, and see how much we eat on average!

Fiber is important for everything from heart health and gut health to weight-loss and insulin regulation.

The healthiest beans in our rankings are fiber-dense. A few beans high in fiber on a per-weight basis include winged beans, hyacinth beans, and French beans, while a few beans high in fiber on a per-calorie basis include kidney beans and hyacinth beans.

The Most Nutritious Beans are Rich with Phytochemicals and Antioxidants

Whole foods are advocated among nutritionists in large part due to their vast array of various nutrients packaged together in one piece. The synergies from this natural combination of nutrients often add up to a nutritious profile greater than the sum of their parts.

For example, the high sugar content of fruits is much less of a health issue because their high fiber content helps regulate our body’s insulin response.

And fat-soluble vitamins are better absorbed when consumed with some amount of dietary fat.

Another benefit along these lines are phytochemicals - a term that embodies the molecules present in plant-based foods that often serve a nutrition and biochemical purpose but are not as well characterized by nutrition science.

For example, beans are high in isoflavones and other polyphenols that exhibit antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties.

The Healthiest Beans Have High Concentrations of Many Nutrients

To rank high our list of the healthiest beans, it takes more than just a high density of one or two nutrients.

And not only does a wide variety of nutrients rank beans higher on the list, but having high concentrations on a per-calorie basis that go towards meeting your dietary reference intake (DRI) values for the day improve their ranking.

However, consuming many of these nutrients in excess of quantities that should provide enough nutrition to thwart both clinical and sub-clinical deficiencies won’t provide much added benefit.

Therefore, the healthiest beans in our ranking have a high density of nutrients, but also a breadth of nutrients. They provide a more complete and well-balanced source of more nutrition than the others.

French beans are the healthiest beans. French beans are the healthiest beans.

Taking all of this into consideration, the French bean ranks #1 on our list of the healthiest beans!

French beans are dense with many essential nutrients. In fact, they meet your DRI for all of the minerals on our list! They also are high in all of the B-vitamins except for vitamin B12 (which is only present in animal-derived products). They also contain important phytochemicals, they are low calorie and dense with fiber, and they have a heart healthy fat profile.

Without further adieu, here is a snapshot of our ranking of the healthiest beans from best to worst, or feel free to view our interactive charts!

What are the Healthiest Beans?

The healthiest beans, ranked by nutrient density. The healthiest beans, ranked by nutrient density.

High Protein Beans

Beans and peas are unique foods. Because beans are so high in protein, they are considered by the USDA to be part of the Protein Food Group as well as the vegetable food group.

As calculated using the protein digestibility corrected amino acid score, the top five high protein beans include winged beans, fava beans, royal red kidney beans, mungo beans, and California red kidney beans.

And although these led our leader-board, all 23 beans on our list are high protein beans containing well within the dietary reference intake range on a per-calorie basis.

Winged beans are high in protein. Winged beans are high in protein.

See a snapshot of the most protein-dense beans, ranked, below. Or see our interactive chart, here.

The most protein-dense beans, ranked. The most protein-dense beans, ranked.

High Fiber, Low Calorie Beans (Best Beans for Weight Loss)

Beans are highly nutritious in large part due to their high fiber content. Fiber is important for health for many reasons. High fiber diets can improve heart health, improve gut health, improve immunity, help stabilize cardiometabolic abnormalities…

But fiber is also great for those looking to lose weight.

Studies have shown that diets heavy in beans can be part of a weight loss plan due in large part to their high fiber content.

Fiber can help with weight loss primarily because it leads to increased satiety. In other words, fiber helps reduce your appetite by making you feel fuller, for longer.

The best beans for weight loss, therefore, have two things in common:

  1. They are low-calorie beans, and
  2. They are high fiber-density beans

This combo will help you keep calories down, while also helping to keep you fuller, longer.

Royal red kidney beans are the best beans for weight loss. Royal red kidney beans are the best beans for weight loss.

According to this ranking, the best beans for weight loss are royal red kidney beans! Other good beans for weight loss are hyacinth beans, fava beans, cranberry (roman) beans, and other general kidney bean varieties.

See a snapshot of our analysis for the best beans for weight loss, below. Or see the interactive chart, here.

The best beans for weight loss. The best beans for weight loss.

Low Sodium Beans

When buying beans from the store, it is important to look at any packaging to inspect the sodium content of your beans. Salt is often added to help preserve them.

And while some sodium in diet is certainly okay (even necessary), too much sodium has been linked to an increased risk of hypertension - an affliction possessed by nearly half of all Americans.

High blood pressure can increase your risk for stroke and heart attack, so it’s best to follow the advice of the American Heart Association and the USDA and keep sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day.

Black beans are the best beans for lowering blood pressure. Black beans are the best beans for lowering blood pressure.

Beans for Good Blood Pressure

With that in mind, beans are again a fantastic choice. They are all generally low in sodium.

But black beans top the list of the best beans for hypertension not only because they are low in sodium, but also because they are high in potassium.

Potassium is hypotensive. That means, it behaves in an opposite way to that of sodium with respect to vascular blood pressure.

Therefore, a great way to look at a food’s quality with respect to lowering blood pressure is that of the potassium-to-sodium ratio.

The potassium-to-sodium ratio divides the amount of potassium per calorie by the amount of sodium per calorie.

Although the adzuki bean is lowest in sodium per calorie, the black bean has the best potassium-to-sodium ratio.

See a snapshot of beans ranked by the potassium-to-sodium ratio and sodium density, below. Or use the interactive chart, here!

High Potassium, Low Sodium Beans

Best beans for lowering blood pressure, ranked by the potassium-to-sodium ratio. Best beans for lowering blood pressure, ranked by the potassium-to-sodium ratio.

In Conclusion

The French bean tops our list of the healthiest beans. But also high on the list are yellow beans, great northern beans, and navy beans.

And many of the most nutritious beans rank high on our other rankings:

  • Micronutrient Density
    • Great northern beans had the highest mineral density.
    • Mung beans had the highest vitamin density.
  • High Protein Beans
    • Winged beans had the highest concentration of quality protein.
  • Best Beans for Weight Loss
    • Royal red kidney beans had the best weight loss combination of being low in calories and high in fiber - great for leaving you satisfied with less.
  • Low Sodium Beans
    • Adzuki beans were lowest in sodium.
    • Black beans have the highest potassium-to-sodium ratio.

So there you have it!

Remember that all beans are excellent, nutritious additions to any well-balanced diet. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

Plus, they’re delicious! Each has a unique flavor worth enjoying. Not to mention, they are versatile and typically very affordable.

Where does your favorite land on the list!

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