Eating healthy costs a lot of money, as anyone walking the aisles of Whole Foods (WFM) will quickly realize. The issue with fresh produce that’s been grown right and is nutritious is that it takes a lot more resources, which drives up the cost over time. Our economy has geared itself towards using things like sugar and fat to produce cheap sources of calories.
However, that’s not necessarily 100% true. With a little know-how, there are some very nutritious and hearty meals that can be had for cheap. So, with today being National Bean Day, I thought we might take a look at one of those perfect intersections of what’s healthy, filling, cheap, and, yes, delicious: the bean.
Protein Pro Tip
When it comes to healthy eating, getting plenty of protein is key. Protein makes you feelfull, frequently leading people to eat less in a sitting and then go longer before feeling hungry again. However, the best source of protein, traditionally, is meat, which can be relatively expensive.
Beans, however, are an excellent source of protein, carrying anywhere from 15-25 grams of protein per cup of cooked beans. Now, that doesn’t quite compare to most meats, with chicken containing about 40-45 grams of protein per cup and beef 30-35 grams, but beans offer a lot more advantages as well.
However, on cost, beans still look pretty good.
For comparison’s sake, let’s consider canned black beans, which can usually be had for about $1-$1.50 a can. At 15.5 ounces per can, that’s about $0.05 per gram of protein for a can of black beans. That’s about the same as a steak, which is about $0.06 per gram of protein, and not much better than chicken, which is as low as $0.01 per gram of protein.
Buy Dried Beans for Maximum Value
That equation changes significantly though, when you consider dried beans. While certainly requiring a little more know-how to prepare, dried beans generally produce three times their weight in cooked beans. However, the cost of one pound of dry beans is usually about the same as a can of cooked beans despite the fact that a pound of dry beans will yield about four times as much cooked beans.
That also means that the cost per gram of protein for dried beans is on par with even chicken and eggs, the cheapest sources of protein.
That situation can be improved even further by buying in bulk. Dry beans, when properly sealed in an airtight container, can last almost indefinitely in storage. Where chicken likely needs to be eaten within a week of purchase, or maybe a month if it’s been frozen, getting a good deal on beans by buying them in bulk can pay dividends for months.
And don’t let cooking dry beans intimidate you. It does take longer, but very little of that process requires any great skill or technique. Soak the beans overnight prior to use, then simply cook at a simmer for a few hours until they’re soft. In fact, for anyone who owns a crockpot, beans can make for a pretty easy meal to juggle with work and family. Soak them overnight, then in the morning, put them in the crockpot with water and turn it on to low. That evening, you and your family can return home to a cheap, protein-rich meal ready and waiting.
Nutrition a Major Factor as Well
Of course, were the only thing to consider the simple cost of consuming protein, dry beans wouldn’t quite rate all that highly when compared to cheap, low-quality chicken. However, when you start to look at the complete nutritional profile, beans really start to shine.
Without going into too much detail, suffices to say that beans contain an array of antioxidants, minerals, and phytonutrients. Instead of a relatively costly array of different fresh vegetables, they’re contained in beans that will run you about $0.50 per cooked pound.
Of all of these other benefits, maybe the most notable is the high levels of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Fiber is great for you. It helps moderate blood sugar levels, lower blood cholesterol, and improves the health of your all-important gut bacteria. What’s more, like protein, it digests at a rate that will mean you feel more full for longer after eating beans, potentially helping reduce the total number of calories you consume in a day.
Combine with Rice for a Complete Protein
Finally, stepping outside of just beans, beans and rice is about as solid and nutritious a meal you can find. When combined, beans and rice form a complete protein, or a source of protein that includes all nine different amino acids. This makes it easier to for the body to digest, metabolize, and process the protein. Use brown rice and you also have an excellent source of fiber and a wide variety of other nutrients not found in white rice.
Rice is also dirt cheap, about $0.40 to $0.50 a pound, meaning that a meal of beans and rice hits on all cylinders. Use dry beans and rice and it’s extremely low cost. With brown rice, it’s about as healthy a meal as you’ll come across. It’s easy to mix and match a few vegetables and different types of beans for variety. Most of all, it’s a hearty, filling meal that won’t leave you hungry for more.
Celebrate National Bean Day with…Well, Beans
So, today, on National Bean Day, maybe it’s time to really stop and appreciate just how valuable this humble legume really is. If you’re someone who is constantly finding themselves struggling to get by, or someone always looking for a good way to lose weight, or, like most of us, both, look no further than beans.
Perhaps it’s time to rethink that old rhyme…
“Beans, beans, the economical legume. The more you eat, the healthier your body and bank account are.”
Okay, it’s not as catchy, but it does reflect maybe the most important reality about beans.
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