Among all groups of food commonly eaten worldwide, no group has a more health-supportive mix of protein-plus-fiber than legumes. Included here, of course, is the amazing protein-plus-fiber content of black beans. From a single, one-cup serving of black beans you get nearly 15 grams of fiber (well over half of the Daily Value and the same amount consumed by the average U.S. adult in one entire day of eating) and 15 grams of protein (nearly one third of the Daily Value and equivalent to the amount in 2 ounces of a meat like chicken or a fish like salmon).
Nutritional Facts of Black Beans
The modest black beans have the highest levels of antioxidants amongst all the common beans tested and they are at par with the antioxidant-rich cranberry. Their dark color is a result of the powerful flavonoids, anthocyanins, which are found in nutritional superstars, like red cabbage, blueberries, cranberries, and red beets. The benefits of black beans come from a few different components, including protein, fiber, antioxidants and micronutrients.
Black beans are high in protein, so they are an especially good choice for vegetarians and others with diets low in protein. Even people who eat meat can benefit from the protein in black beans. Unlike animal products, black beans contain only trace amounts of saturated fat and no cholesterol. Black beans and rice are ideal because when they are paired, they provide all of the essential amino acids that you need. These amino acids are used to repair and replace the amino acids in your organs as they are broken down over time.
Eating black beans can boost your iron intake because these legumes contain 3.6 milligrams of iron per cup. Maintaining healthy iron levels is essential for preventing iron-deficiency anemia. Black beans are also a good source of calcium, with 46 milligrams per cup, and of potassium, with 611 milligrams per cup. Calcium is essential for building and maintaining bones, and potassium helps regulate your blood pressure and heart rate. Other micronutrients in black beans include magnesium, folate, zinc and phosphorus.
Black beans are high in fiber, containing 15 grams in a cup of cooked beans. Black beans contain both insoluble fiber, which helps improve digestive-tract functioning and prevents constipation, and soluble fiber, which lowers cholesterol and blood-glucose levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, women need 21 to 25 grams of fiber daily and men need 30 to 38 grams for optimal health.
A study published in the December 31, 2003 issue of the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” found that black beans have more antioxidant activity than other types of beans. The level of antioxidants in black beans is about the same as the levels found in apples, grapes and cranberries. Antioxidants neutralize cell-damaging free radicals and may help lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. However, the actual effects of antioxidants in the human body are still under study.
Health Benefits of Black Beans
1. Digestive Health Benefits
Unlike dietary sugar, which can move very quickly through the digestive tract and out of the digestive tract into the bloodstream, or dietary fat, which can move very slowly through the digestive tract and out of the digestive tract into the lymphatic system or bloodstream, both protein and fiber can move through the digestive tract at a moderate pace. In terms of digestion, both protein and fiber help to “steady” digestive processes.
Movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine (called “gastric emptying”) and movement of food through the small intestine and the large intestine can occur at a more desirable pace when foods are rich in protein and fiber. This steadying of the digestive process helps lessen the burden on any one part of the digestive tract. This allows food to move along in a way that supports optimal chemical balances and populations of micro-organisms.
The idea of digestive tract support from black beans may sound surprising. Many people think about black beans (and beans in general) as problem-causing foods in the digestive tract, perhaps largely because of gas production. But recent research has shown that black beans actually provide special support in the lower large intestine (colon) where gas is often produced.
The indigestible fraction (IF) in black beans has recently been shown to be larger than the IF in either lentils or chickpeas. It is the perfect mix of substances for allowing bacteria in the colon to produce butyric acid. Cells lining the inside of the colon can use this butyric acid to fuel their many activities and keep the lower digestive tract functioning properly. By delivering a greater amount of IF to the colon, black beans are able to help support this lower part of our digestive tract.
2. Blood Sugar Regulation
Unlike dietary sugar, or fat, both protein and fiber can move at a moderate pace. By steadying rate of movement through the digestive tract, protein and fiber help steady the breakdown of food into component parts, including simple sugars. This better-regulated breakdown of food helps to prevent extremes with respect to simple sugar uptake from the digestive tract.
Too much simple sugar uptake all at once can result in an unwanted blood sugar spike. Too little simple sugar uptake can result in an unwanted blood sugar drop. Either extreme can work to destabilize blood sugar balance. The 15 fiber grams and 15 protein grams in one cup of black beans help prevent both extremes – excessive simple sugar release from the digestive tract, and also insufficient simple sugar release.
With respect to prevention of type 2 diabetes, researchers have become especially interested in some of the alpha-amylase inhibitory effects of black beans. Naturally occurring compounds in this legume slow down the activity of alpha-amylase enzymes. Since these enzymes are important for breaking down starch into sugar, their slowing down can result in less sugar release from food starches.
3. Cancer Prevention
Given the impressive array of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in black beans, we have not been surprised to see numerous studies connecting black bean intake with reduced risk of certain cancers, especially colon cancer. Chronic excessive oxidative stress and chronic excessive inflammatory are both risk factors for the development of many cancer types. By increasing the body’s supply of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, black beans may be able to help lower cancer risk.
Most of the studies we’ve seen have been studies on laboratory animals, or laboratory studies on different cancer cell types. (In other words, we have yet to see large-scale human studies showing decreased risk of cancer following increased intake of black beans.) But these preliminary animal and laboratory studies have been relatively consistent in their findings and have shown black beans to inhibit the development of certain cancers and especially colon cancer.
Breast cancer and liver cancer are two additional cancer types that have been studied in animals with respect to black bean intake, although the evidence here is not as strong as evidence in the area of colon cancer.
4. Nervous System Health
Folate, or vitamin B6, is particularly abundant in black beans. The nervous system relies on folate to produce the amino acids it needs to function. For pregnant women a deficiency in folate can cause the improper development of the fetus’s brain and spinal cord. The high iron content of black beans is also particularly beneficial to pregnant women.
5. Cardiovascular Benefits
Much of the original research on bean intake and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease focused on the outstanding soluble fiber content of beans. One cup of black beans provides over 4 grams of soluble fiber, and this is precisely the type of fiber that researchers have found especially helpful in lower blood cholesterol levels. Decreased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and myocardial infarct (MI, or heart attack) have both been associated with increased intake of soluble fiber from food.
In particular, they have been associated with increased intake of soluble fiber from legumes. So it is anything but surprising to see black beans included in the list of legumes that provide us with cardiovascular benefits.
6. Sulfites and Sexual Dysfunction
Studies have shown that black beans are extremely high in molybdenum, a rare mineral not found frequently in foods. Molybdenum is important for a number of reasons, primarily because it can break down and detoxify sulfites. Sulfites are acidic compounds found in wines, dried fruits, and some vegetables, and many people are very sensitive to their effects, which include headaches and disorientation. The molybdenum found in black beans counteracts these effects, neutralizing the negative effects so people can enjoy those foods again. Molybdenum also helps in cell energy production and development of nervous system.
Also, molybdenum has been shown to reduce impotence and erectile dysfunction in older men when regularly consumed in the diet. This rare vitamin has regularly been linked to increased energy and interest in sexual activity in older men.
7. Pre-Natal Health Benefits
Another benefit of folate, which is found in such high levels within black beans, is its role in protecting infants in the womb. The folate levels in a woman’s body are integral to the normal and healthy development of the fetus in utero, particularly in the brain and spinal cord. By adding healthy amounts of black beans, and therefore folate, into your diet, you can protect your baby while it is still in the womb.
8. Weight Loss Benefits
Packed with complete protein and containing almost no fat, beans lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease and rid the body of unwanted toxins. They are also a good source of complex carbohydrates, the good healthy type which you need to be fit and strong!
9. Energy Boosting
In addition to providing slow-burning complex carbohydrates, Black beans can increase your energy by helping to replenish your iron stores. A cup of black beans contains 20.1% of the recommended daily intake of iron.
10. Building and Repairing Muscles
Black beans are loaded with amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. This is the reason why they are staples in the diets of vegetarians. Protein is necessary for muscle building, repair and maintenance. What’s so good about black beans is, unlike other protein sources like meat, they contain very little amounts of fat and absolutely no cholesterol.
11. Beauty Benefits of Black Beans
Apart from providing protection against diseases, the free radical fighting properties of anthocyanins and other flavonoids present in black turtle beans can deliver beauty benefits by preventing signs of premature aging of the skin induced by an overdose of sunlight. When your skin is exposed to ultraviolet light, it produces enzymes called metalloproteinases which help repair sun-damaged collagen fibers.
That said, not all metalloproteinases are beneficial; some of them break down collagen and elastin, which can eventually cause wrinkles. Free radicals are known to stimulate the production of these harmful metalloproteinases.
In addition to providing antioxidants that can help keep wrinkles at bay, black beans provide lots of protein as well as zinc and copper which are among the best nutrients for fighting wrinkles.
How to Select and Store Black Beans
Both dried and canned black beans are available throughout the year. Dried beans are generally available in prepackaged containers as well as in bulk bins.
- Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the black beans are covered and that the store has a good product turnover to ensure the beans’ maximal freshness.
- Whether purchasing black beans in bulk or in packaged containers, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture or insect damage and that they are whole and not cracked.
Canned black beans can be found in most markets. Unlike canned vegetables, which have lost much of their nutritional value, there is little difference in the nutritional value of canned black beans and those you cook yourself.
Store dried black beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place where they will keep up to 12 months. If you purchase black beans at different times, store them separately since they may feature varying stages of dryness and therefore will require different cooking times. Cooked black beans will keep fresh in the refrigerator for about three days if placed in a covered container.
The Healthiest Way of Cooking Black Beans
To cook the beans, you can either cook them on the stovetop or use a pressure cooker.
- For the stovetop method, add three cups of fresh water or broth for each cup of dried beans.
- The liquid should be about one to two inches above the top of the beans.
- Bring the beans to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, partially covering the pot. If any foam develops, you can skim it off during the simmering process.
Black beans generally take about one and one-half hours to become tender using this method. They can also be cooked in a pressure cooker where they take about one-half hour to prepare.
Regardless of cooking method, do not add any seasonings that are salty or acidic until after the beans have been cooked since adding them earlier will make the beans tough and greatly increase the cooking time.
If you are running short on time, you can always use canned beans in your recipes. If the black beans have been packaged with salt or other additives, simply rinse them after opening the can to remove these unnecessary additions. Canned beans need to only be heated briefly for hot recipes while they can be used as is for salads or prepared cold dishes like black bean salad.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas
- Include black beans with your other favorite toppings next time you make a stuffed baked potato.
- Black bean soup or chili is certain to warm you up on cold winter days or anytime of the year you want to enjoy its nurturing essence.
- For a “mucho bueno” twist on traditional burritos, use black beans in place of refried pinto beans.
- Blend cooked black beans with tomatoes, onions and your favorite spices to create a delicious bean soup.
- For a simple yet delicious lunch or dinner entrée, serve a Cuban inspired meal of black beans and rice.
- In a serving bowl, layer black beans, guacamole, chopped tomatoes, diced onions and cilantro to make a delicious layered dip.