Black beans are a delicious, inexpensive, widely available and versatile nutrient-dense food that are a staple for vegans. These legumes tout incredible health benefits and are a nutritional powerhouse. They are a wonderful source of protein and dietary fiber as well as important minerals such as iron, zinc and folate. In this post, I'll cover in depth nutrition information about black beans as well as how to cook them, store them and use them in recipes.
As part of both the protein and vegetable group, black beans are definitely on the list as one of my superfoods. I keep by pantry stocked with both dried black beans and canned black beans at all times and use them in my cooking almost daily.
In addition to their health benefits (which is important to me given my educational background with a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree and being a Master Certified Health Education Specialist) they are also a joy to incorporate into my cooking. Black beans can be cooked in a variety of ways and they absorb flavor extremely well. A can of black beans is inexpensive (usually $1.00 or less!) and can serve as the main protein source for a plant-based meal. Canned black beans have a long shelf life and they are so versatile in how you can use them in your meals.
Nutrition Facts of Black Beans
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), one ½ cup serving of canned black beans contains 8.3 grams of dietary fiber, 2.3 mg of iron (12.8% of the Daily Value for iron), 73 mcg of folate (18.3% of the Daily Value) and 7.3 grams of protein. Black beans don't contain any saturated fat or cholesterol and one serving is just 109 calories. Here is the full nutrition breakdown from the USDA:
- Calories: 109
- Total Fat: 0.4g
- Cholesterol: 0mg
- Sodium: 461mg
- Total Carbohydrates: 20g
- Dietary Fiber: 8.3g
- Total sugars: 0.3g
- Protein: 7.3g
- Iron: 2.3mg (12.8% daily value)
- Zinc: 0.7mg (6.4% daily value)
- Folate: 73mcg (18.3% daily value)
- Thiamin: .17mg (14.2% daily value)
Health Benefits of Black Beans
Black beans are an inexpensive and rich source of plant-based protein and iron, both of which can often be lacking for vegans, as well as folate. Black beans also offer calcium and potassium. And, regularly incorporating beans as part of an overall healthy diet has been shown to help lower the risk for many chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Research shows that black beans may help to stabilize blood sugar, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and support immune function.
Black beans have a high fiber content which is essential for gut health, helps promote proper digestion and promotes satiety by keeping you feeling full for longer. Fiber also helps slow down the absorption of carbohydrates, which is especially important for those with diabetes as it leads to a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream. The soluble fiber found in black beans has been shown to reduce risk factors for heart disease including blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Getting enough protein from food can sometimes be challenging for vegans, and black beans are a great (and delicious) way to do it! It is widely understood that protein, which helps build and repair muscles, is an important part of a healthy diet and black beans have 7.3 grams of protein per one ½ cup serving. I aim to pair my black beans with a grain such as brown rice or tortillas to create a complete source of plant-based protein.
Black beans are a great plant-based source of iron (2.3mg per one ½ cup serving). Iron is an essential mineral that is necessary for making hemoglobin in red blood cells, which help transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. A deficiency in iron can cause weakness, fatigue, dizziness and/or lightheadedness. To enhance the absorption of iron, it is recommended to pair black beans with a source of vitamin C such as bell peppers, broccoli, mango, citrus or tomatoes. For a simple lunch, I love to serve black beans with brown rice, avocado and salsa or mango salsa. These fiesta bowls are also a favorite black bean recipe of mine that offers vitamin C from the mango to aid in iron absorption. For dinner I love to roast bell peppers and onions and serve in a black bean taco.
Black beans are considered to be high in folate. Folate is a B-vitamin that is often overlooked because most people in the United States do actually get enough of it. However, females between 14-30 years old and those with disorders that lower nutrient absorption (i.e., celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease) are more likely to have low folate levels. A deficiency in folate can cause birth defects for those having children as well as other health issues (source). One ½ cup serving of black beans provides 73mcg of folate, which is 18.3% of the daily recommended value.
How often should you eat black beans?
Daily intake for any food is individual and based on age, gender, weight and activity level. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, for a 2,000-calorie level diet you should aim for 1 ½ cups of beans, peas or lentils per week. But, this is assuming an animal-based diet where beans are part of the vegetable group and protein sources are coming from other sources (i.e. meat). As a vegan, I surpass this pretty easily simply by incorporating black beans or other legumes into many of my meals and snacks for added protein. Eating a well balanced diet is most important!
Canned vs. Dried Black Beans
Canned black beans
Canned black beans are much easier to use from a practical standpoint because they are already cooked and can be served straight out of the can. As a busy mom I usually take the canned shortcut and have no complaints! They are inexpensive and are a whole food with no additives that can easily be stored in the pantry.
Canned black beans are high in sodium (one ½ cup serving contains 20% of the daily value recommended by the USDA), but rinsing and draining can reduce its sodium content by up to 40%! When shopping, you can also look for canned black beans that are low sodium or no salt added. Store canned beans at room temperature and be sure to use before the expiration date on the can.
Dried black beans
I love fresh black beans and they are definitely worth cooking if you have the time! It does require a little more effort, but if the goal is to add more flavor you will not be disappointed. Make sure to add some salt when cooking dried beans because unsalted beans tend to absorb too much water and break before softening.
Dried black beans are also cheaper than canned. When shopping, choose beans that are fresh, firm and uniform in color. Shriveled beans means they are older will not soften as easily, if ever. Make sure to store dried black beans in an airtight container to protect against pests.
When cooking dried black beans, it is important to continue to test their softness while in the pot. The freshness of the beans is a major factor in the amount of time it takes to properly cook them, and that will vary each time. Additionally, the hardness of your water also affects cooking times (the harder the water, the longer it takes), so it may take a couple times to learn generally how long it takes on your stovetop. Cooking them from scratch on the stovetop will typically take at least an hour and requires supervision after that point.
How to cook black beans from scratch
If you opt for cooking dried black beans, the first step is to rinse them and pick out any wrinkled or shriveled ones. Then simply pour them into a pot and cover with water, add in any other desired seasonings at that time, cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, remove the lid, reduce it to low heat and cook for one hour before checking its softness. Continue to check on the beans every 5-10 minutes until they reach your desired consistency.
You can also cook black beans in the Instant Pot! To do so, add water and seasonings (i.e., salt, pepper, garlic, onion, etc.) to the pot along with the beans, select the Pressure Cook function and cook it on high for 25 minutes. Once the timer goes off, naturally release the pressure for another 20 minutes and you're done! I definitely prefer the Instant Pot method over stovetop because it requires much less time and no supervision.
How long can you store black beans?
Cooked black beans or beans from an open can should be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 5 days. Always look for normal signs of spoilage such as smell and appearance. They can be stored in the freezer for 1-2 months.
Dried black beans can be stored for several years if kept properly, but after about a year they will begin to lose nutrients.
Vegan recipes featuring black beans
I love black beans because they have no additives, are neutral in flavor and can be used in a variety of ways. They are creamy when pureed, yet they provide bulk to salads when whole. They also can hide in brownies, chocolate smoothies and other desserts to sneak in some extra nutrition!
I love to use them for taco night or to make veggie burgers. In the winter I add black beans to chilis, soups and stews. And in the summer I add them to my salads.
Here are some recipes that highlight the versatility of black beans:
- Fiesta bowls
- Vegan sweet potato black bean enchiladas
- One-pan Mexican quinoa and black beans
- Sheet pan veggie black bean tacos
- Vegan Mexican quinoa casserole
- Mexican veggie burrito bowls
- Grillable quinoa black bean veggie burger
- Avocado veggie burger
- Creamy black bean and roasted sweet potato tostadas
- Vegan enchilada stuffed bell peppers
- Spanish rice and beans
For more on black beans, check out my post on Pantry Staples That Do It All: Vegan Black Bean Recipes. And comment below with your favorite way to incorporate black beans into your diet!