Legumes: The Sustainable, Nutritious Grocery Staple of the Future

If you’re looking for a staple ingredient that’s good for your health, your wallet, and the planet, look no further. 

Dry beans, a popular substitute for meat, are a great option for reducing your carbon footprint, adding nutrients to your meals, and saving money at the grocery store. They pair very well with rice and other grains, and provide a blank canvas for a multitude of flavor profiles. 

This March, for National Nutrition Month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is encouraging the public to learn more about environmentally friendly food choices, including plant-based meals and food products with minimal packaging—like dry beans! 

A Wealth of Health Benefits 

According to the USDA and myfooddata.net, beans and lentils are rich in fiber and protein, and are excellent sources of a variety of essential minerals.

For example: 1 cup of black beans contains 15 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber. 

Another example: 1 cup of lentils has over 17 grams of protein! 

Spend Less, Eat Better 

Dry beans are less expensive than canned beans and much cheaper than meat. Beans are a great example of an option that’s both healthy and affordable.  

For example, at Stop & Shop 1 pound of dry black beans costs about $2.00 and contains 108 grams of protein, whereas 1 pound of ground beef, containing about 84 grams of protein, often costs between $6 and $7.  

Massachusetts food prices increased by 10.5% in 2022 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index. Choosing plant-based protein sources over meat and eggs can reduce the overall costs of our meals without sacrificing nutrition. 

Plants that help the planet 

Beans are a planet-friendly choice! An article from the Harvard School of Public Health states that “legumes release up to seven times less greenhouse gas emissions per area compared to other crops,” while also sequestering carbon and drawing nitrogen from the air into the soil. According to the World Resources Institute, “per gram of protein, beef production uses 20 times the land and generates 20 times the GHG emissions as beans.”  

According to the BBC, scientists from the EAT-Lancet Commission studying heathy diets and sustainable food systems have developed a “planetary health diet” consisting of mostly plant-based proteins (including dry beans!), fruits and vegetables. 

Time to Get Cooking 

Cooking dry beans takes more planning and preparation, but is well worth it considering the health, budgetary, and environmental benefits.    

Most types of beans take 1-2 hours to cook after being soaked overnight. Lentils, however, do not need to be soaked overnight and only take 20 minutes to cook.  

Beans can be cooked on the stovetop, in a slow-cooker, or an Instant Pot (or other pressure cooker). After cooking, they can also be frozen for later use. 

Cooking dry beans:  

Cover the beans with water (3 cups water to 1 cup beans) and let soak overnight*. Drain, then cover the beans by 2 inches with water in a pot with a lid.   

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 ½ – 2 hours, or in a slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours (checking for doneness after 5 hours).  

1 cup dry beans yields 3 cups cooked beans.  

*Alternatively, follow the quick soak method: bring the water and beans to a boil, cover and turn off the heat and let sit for 1 hour, then follow the cooking instructions as usual. 

Recipe suggestions 

Lentils also make a great substitute for ground beef in dishes like tacos, burgers and shepherd’s pie, and they are perfect for curries and soups. 

Many cultures around the world have understood and honored the value of beans and lentils in their cuisines for thousands of years. Indian, Mexican, and South American cuisines are all heavily reliant on beans and lentils, and many traditional French and Italian dishes are as well. If you want to try adding dry beans to your diet, there’s no shortage of delicious recipes to try from various cultures! 

To get started, check out The Open Door’s Bean Salad Recipe Collection for a selection of recipes including Vegetarian Chili, Black Bean Burgers, and Lebanese Mujadara (lentils & rice with caramelized onions).

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