Nutrition Hotline

By Suzanne Havala Hobbs, DrPH, MS, RD

This issue’s Nutrition Hotline discusses the advantages of adding black beans to your diet and offers you some enjoyable recipe suggestions as well.

QUESTION: “Do you have any suggestions for cooking with black beans? I’ve heard they are good for my health. Are other beans equally beneficial?”

ANSWER: If you’re looking for something new to make for dinner—something different, delicious, healthful, and inexpensive—black beans are a very good choice.

Researchers in the U.S. and Canada reported last year that dried beans—especially darkly-pigmented varieties—are a rich source of antioxidants commonly associated with other deeply colored fruits and vegetables. The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and by the Michigan Bean Commission, found that black beans in particular have high concentrations of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant associated with reduced rates of coronary artery disease, cancer, and aging.

Other beans, including red, brown, yellow, and white beans, are also good sources of flavonoids. But black beans top the list with more than 10 times the antioxidant level per serving available from oranges and about the same amount found in grapes, apples, and cranberries.

Dry beans were used in the study. Cooking (or canning) will cause some nutrients to be lost in the water, but the overall flavonoid content of cooked black beans is still high.

And black beans have other attributes going for them, too. They’re high in protein, dietary fiber, folate, iron, and calcium. They have no cholesterol and nearly zero saturated fat. They’re also versatile. And they taste great.

If you’re looking for recipes, try ethnic cookbooks. Black beans are used all over the world. Some good examples:

  • Cuban black beans and steamed rice. One of my favorites. Very simple, a good quick dinner idea. Serve with plantains.

  • Black bean soup. I like to serve it topped with a Tablespoon of minced white onion, along with a sourdough roll and tossed green salad.

  • Black bean burrito. At home, I make my own rendition of the Flying Mayan Burrito, a favorite from the Flying Burrito Restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC. Wrap a flour tortilla around seasoned black beans, mashed sweet potato, rice, and avocado, and top with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, and salsa. Add a dollop of plain soy yogurt in lieu of sour cream.

  • Bean dip. Black beans make a mean dip for tortilla chips and vegetable sticks. You can use a thicker version to top nachos or fill tacos. Salsa is the ingredient that controls the heat—mild, medium, or picante.

  • Black bean chili. Mix black beans with others for a colorful “many bean” chili (I usually toss in a handful of corn) or use nothing but black beans. Serve it in big mugs with a breadstick or over steamed brown rice.

  • Black bean salad. A chilled salad made with rinsed, canned beans, minced celery, green peppers, green onions, chopped cucumbers and tomatoes—and cilantro, if you like it—and tossed with a vinaigrette dressing.

  • Black bean hummus. Different than dip because it’s made with tahini—a Middle Eastern paste made from ground sesame seeds. It is similar to the kind of hummus made with garbanzo beans but made with black beans instead. Serve it drizzled with olive oil and fresh lemon juice with toasted pita points for a snack or appetizer.

You can prepare black beans the old-fashioned way by soaking, then cooking them. However, it’s quicker to use canned beans. You’ll trade some nutrients for convenience and add some salt as well. But if the convenience of canned beans makes you more likely to use them regularly, by all means do it.

And while you’re at it, you may want to make more than you need for one meal. Leftover black beans make great lunches for school or work.