When it comes to eating legumes — such as beans and lentils — nothing beats canned for convenience.
There’s no getting around the fact that preparing beans requires several steps of preparation and can be quite time-consuming.
For those of you with limited time to prepare meals, you may be wondering if eating canned legumes is as healthy as cooking them yourself.
Are dried or canned beans healthier?
Beans are a good plant-based source of nutrition.
Beans are typically high in folate, potassium, phosphorus, and manganese.
Beans also contain a decent amount of protein, at least relative to other types of plants, and have a high amount of fiber, which may improve some people’s digestion.
It’s also important to take into consideration the fact that beans also contain anti-nutrients like phytic acid, which blocks absorption of nutrients in the body.
Furthermore, plant-based protein, like that found in beans, has an incomplete amino acid profile, making it inferior to the type of protein found in animal products.
And finally, while fiber may be of benefit to some people, other types of people see improvement in their digestion when removing fiber.
So the question of whether a food is universally healthy for everyone is a complicated one that requires consideration of nuance and context.
But when considering dried vs. canned beans, you do not need to worry that the health benefits you are looking for will be lost if you opt for the canned version.
Dried and canned beans contain the same amount of nutrition; canned beans are simply beans that have been harvested, blanched, cooked at high heat, and then stored in cans with water and, depending on the product, salt or other additives.
It is these other additives that you would do well to watch out for.
The purest and simplest options for canned beans have no other additives other than water and salt (added salt, of course, would affect the sodium content of the beans, especially if you consume the liquid from the can).
If you see ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, sugar, or corn starch or a similar thickener, this would add unnecessary calories to the final product.
Below are a few example of the ingredients of different products that you may see when shopping for canned beans:
|Nature’s Greatest Foods, Organic Canned Black Beans||Prepared Organic Black Beans, Water, Sea Salt|
|Bush’s Best, Pinto Beans||Prepared Pinto Beans, Water, Salt, Calcium Disodium EDTA (for color retention)|
|Van Camp’s, Original Baked Beans||Prepared White Bean (water, white beans), Water, Sugar, Brown Sugar, less than 2% of: Salt, Molasses, Modified Corn Starch, Distilled Vinegar, Caramel Color, Tapioca Starch, Yeast Extract, Natural Flavor, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder|
What are the healthiest ways to cook dry beans?
If you opt for the stovetop method, you may first choose to soak your beans.
Soaking the beans helps to reduce phytic acid content, as well as lectin content, which may make the beans easier on your digestion and help your body absorb more of the nutrients present in the beans.
If you choose to soak your beans, simply submerge them in cold water for 4-14 hours, and cook the beans in fresh water.
If you choose the slow cooker method, you may still want to soak your beans in advance of cooking, as cooking at lower heats does not typically deactivate lectins as well as cooking at higher temperatures.
Pressure cooking — for example, using an Instant Pot — is also a good method of cooking beans from scratch.
Since pressure cooking uses higher temperatures, this method likely deactivates the lectins and phytic acid to a greater degree than slow cooking.
Is the liquid in canned beans bad for you?
Incidentally, you will find many people who recommend rinsing canned beans for a different reason — to avoid excess sodium.
This is because salt is often added to the liquid inside the cans as a preservative and flavor enhancer.
I would disagree with the idea that low-sodium diets are healthiest.
In fact, the typical sodium recommendations are set at the lowest possible level to maintain life, and the amount needed to actually achieve optimum health is probably significantly higher than the RDA.
According to James DiNicolantonio, author of The Salt Fix, the amount of sodium needed for optimal health is probably more in the range of 3000 to 6000 milligrams per day (or even higher, especially if you eat a diet low in processed foods and/or low in carbs, have an active lifestyle, or live in an extreme climate).
In conclusion, avoiding the liquid in canned beans may be a good idea to try out if you have problems with excess gas or bloating after eating beans.
But I would not recommend avoiding the liquid in canned beans purely because of their sodium content, as actively seeking out a low-sodium diet is simply not healthy for most people.
Do canned beans have to be drained and rinsed?
There are some dishes you may make with canned beans that would benefit from using the starchy, salty liquid inside the can — for example, adding it to soup would help to thicken it.
On the other hand, there are other dishes you may make that don’t need extra liquid — for example, a bean and pasta salad.
From a taste perspective, whether or not you use the liquid from the can depends on if you need the extra liquid, starch, or salt.
From a health perspective, you may consider discarding the liquid or using only a portion of it in your dish in order to reduce the amount of starch or sodium in the meal.
If you are looking to lose weight, limiting starch is usually a good idea.
If the overall sodium content of your meal is already high, reducing the amount of sodium in your beans may also be a good idea (although, you should keep in mind that for most people, cutting out sodium altogether is not optimal for health).
Does rinsing canned beans reduce nutrients?
Draining canned beans reduces sodium by over a third, while rinsing the beans after draining can reduce sodium by up to 41%.
Many people do not think of sodium as a nutrient, but it is actually a mineral that is essential to life.
As an example, most ancient civilizations were founded around salt deposits and rivers with mineral-rich water.
While people eating a modern SAD (Standard American Diet) likely get plenty of sodium due to the plethora of processed food, people who are more health-conscious and eat more whole foods likely require more sodium.
According to SFGate, it’s possible that certain water-soluble vitamins (including vitamin C and the B vitamins) could be slightly reduced by rinsing canned beans.
There is a study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology that reports that the vitamin C content of canned green beans was reduced by 10% when draining and rinsing the beans.
Ultimately, it depends on the composition of your meal, your health goals, and your desired flavor profile as to whether or not you should drain and rinse canned beans.