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Gates Foundation: The Story of Food

Let's get one thing straight here: Beans may get a bad rap, but they're fantastic.

It's not uncommon to hear people say negative things about beans. "They don't give you enough protein! They're gross! They make you fart!" But don't let those naysayers get to you. There are two big things these folks are missing.

This kid is not excited about his beans. Don't be like this kid. Image via iStock.


The first is that the word "bean" doesn't refer to a single food so much as an entire category. A "bean" is simply a large seed from the plant family Fabaceae. "Beans" don't just include black beans or green beans, but also lentils, soybeans, chickpeas, and even peanuts. Yes, peanuts are beans!

The second thing to remember about beans is that they're criticalto global food security, especially in the face of climate change. As our global population continues to expand, it's so important to have a supply of crops that can survive a variety of growing conditions.

A farmer in El Salvador holds beans. Image via Marvin Recinos/AFP/Getty Images.

With those things in mind, let's get to it.

What's all the bean fuss about? Here are 16 reasons why beans are great:

1. Beans are inexpensive.

A can of black beans at most grocery stores in the U.S. will cost you less than a dollar. Even if you're pretty hungry, that's two servings at 50 cents each, tops. Still out of your budget? Opt for dry beans — they're even cheaper.

2. They're high in fiber.

A single cup of boiled lima beans has 13.2 grams of fiber. If you're an adult woman, that's more than half your recommended daily fiber.

3. And they're low in fat.

We all need some fat in our diet to stay healthy, but scientists generally agree that foods naturally low in fat are good for you.

Beans make burritos excellent. Image via iStock.

4. Beans don't require much water to grow.

The production of one gram of bean protein uses about five gallons of water. In contrast, one gram of a starch protein (like rice) uses eight gallons of water, and one gram of beef protein uses 40 gallons of water. This can help farmers preserve water and can protect crops during a drought. Speaking of droughts...

5. Beans can be drought-resistant.

Scientists have recently developed strains of beans that mature faster and use even less water than typical bean crops (qualities that make them more resistant to drought). These strains are already in use in Uganda.

6. They can be heat-resistant, too.

20 years ago, a scientist in Colombia cross-bred the common bean with the tepary bean, which is much more tolerant of heat. Most common beans don't do well in temperatures that stay above 66 degrees, but the heat-resistant hybrid beans thrive. This means that as global temperatures rise, areas where beans can still grow won't shrink as drastically — in fact, bean-viable areas could even expand.

Green bean harvest. Image via iStock.

7. Beans are versatile.

Refried beans, hummus, lentil dumplings, bean burgers, bean brownies, chili, fudge, salsa, lentil soup, samosas, lentil sprouts, doughnuts, bean dip ... you get the idea.

8. And they're delicious.

Don't like hummus or green beans? See above. There's a type of bean dish out there for everyone.

9. Beans are high in iron.

A cup of boiled lentils has about 6.6 mg of iron — about a third of the recommended daily intake for an adult woman. Iron transports oxygen around the body.

10. They're good for your heart.

Remember all that fiber beans have? And all that fat they don't have? Scientists say these qualities help reduce cholesterol and lower your risk of heart disease.

Beans and rice — a classic. Image via iStock.

11. And they're good for your digestion.

Another benefit to high-fiber foods: They "move you" and can help relieve constipation. Hey, that's not a bad thing!

12. Beans are even the subject of rhymes.

Beans, beans, they're good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you fart. The more you fart, the better you feel. So eat your beans with every meal!

13. They are high in zinc.

A single serving (2 tablespoons) of store-bought hummus has 0.55 mg of zinc. Come on, who doesn't love hummus? That's almost 7% of the daily recommended zinc for an adult woman. 7% from a couple spoonfuls of hummus!

Soybeans growing in Germany. Image via Daniel Roland/AFP/Getty Images.

14. Beans have a lot of protein.

A cup of canned black beans? 16 grams of protein. People who don't get enough protein risk a form of malnutrition called kwashiorkor, which is all too common in developing countries. Having access to inexpensive, protein-rich foods is a huge deal for people facing a limited food supply.

15. They're great nitrogen fixers.

More accurately, the bacteria that live on the roots of beans are great nitrogen fixers. This improves the quality of the soil and helps other plants thrive, even long after the beans are gone.

16. They come in many strains.

International seed gene banks hold about 40,000 bean varieties. This variability is a huge deal in a changing climate. Need a bean that tolerates a certain type of soil? A certain temperature or rain level? You've already got hundreds of strains to choose from, and conventional breeding allows scientists to combine and manipulate those traits.

Beans are a big deal for food security.

Let's recap: They're high in protein, they have a multitude of other health benefits, they can survive heat and drought while improving soil quality for future crops, and they're pretty inexpensive.

Sure, beans aren't going to solve the global food crisis on their own. But they're definitely going to be an important crop in the years — and growing conditions — to come. So next time you hear someone being negative about beans, you've got 16 new facts to choose from to change their mind.

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