Beans are a nutritious addition if you are moving toward a plant-based diet with less red meat. Beans can be used as a protein source in your meal or as a side dish vegetable. To achieve the health benefits from beans, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 1½ cups of beans a week.

The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) recommends decreasing red meat consumption to no more than 18 ounces a week, not overcooking meats, and limiting bacon and hot dogs to only special occasions, along with increasing fruits and vegetables. There is a positive association with preventing certain cancers and cancer survivorship.

What are the benefits to incorporating beans? Beans are loaded with nutrients. Beans are a good source of soluble fiber (which attracts water and turns to gel during digestion), which can help with glycemic control and weight management, while lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. One cup of black beans, for example, has about five grams of soluble fiber, but all beans are a good source of fiber. If you have not been using beans, start out adding a small amount (maybe ¼ cup) of black beans to your salad. As with any increase in fiber-rich foods, remember to increase water intake as well.

Beans can be substituted for animal proteins. One half cup of beans contains approximately seven to nine grams of protein. Most animal proteins are considered “complete proteins,” meaning they contain all the essential amino acids — the building blocks of proteins. Most plant sources, however, typically do not, so it is important to eat plant sources of proteins in combinations to ensure you are getting all of the essential amino acids. If a vegan diet is your choice, be sure to include both legumes (beans, peanuts and soy foods) and whole grains to ensure you are consuming complete proteins.

Beans not only contain fiber and protein (including the amino acid lysine), but other nutrients such as folate, manganese, potassium, iron, magnesium, copper, selenium and zinc, as well as phytochemicals that are important for many vital body functions.

There are many types of beans available, and one can be substituted for the other. Beans are versatile ingredients because they will absorb other spices and flavors you are adding to your recipe. Two types of beans that might be unfamiliar are the adzuki bean and the cranberry bean. Originally from Asia, the small, vivid red adzuki bean is used there in festive or special meals. The cranberry bean is known for its creamy texture. They are round with red specks that disappear when cooked. For more information on the different types of beans, go to the American Dry Bean Board (

Beans can be cooked and used from their dry form or the canned form. The canned variety will have more sodium. Remember to rinse the canned beans before cooking — this will decrease the sodium content by approximately 40 percent.

If you plan to use dry beans in your next recipe, there are two steps to cooking beans: soaking and cooking. The easiest method is overnight soaking. Place beans in a large container. For each pound of beans (two cups), add 10 cups of cold water. Cover and refrigerate for eight hours or overnight. After soaking, drain and rinse beans with fresh cool water. When ready to cook beans, place in a large pot with fresh water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer gently until beans are tender but firm (about 45 minutes to two hours depending on type of bean and your preference). You can try a taste test, or mash beans against side of pot periodically to check if you need to add more water to pot. When cooked, refrigerate beans in shallow pans to eat later, or freeze if not using within four days.

Beans are a delicious addition to your meal plan and loaded with nutrients when moving towards meatless meals. If you would like more information on improving your eating habits, Gundersen registered dietitians can help. For an appointment, call Gundersen Nutrition Therapy at (608) 775-3447.

Tofu chili

Makes: 6 servings


1 pound extra-firm tofu

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 ounces mushrooms, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 teaspoons cocoa powder

2 teaspoons oregano

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1 (15 ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 (15 ounce) can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed

2 (15 ounce) cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes


Drain tofu and press liquid out by placing tofu between layers of paper towels with a heavy object on top — stacked dishes, heavy pan, heavy cutting board, etc.

Heat olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté for five minutes. Add mushrooms and peppers and sauté for another five minutes.

Crumble tofu and add to pot. Add all the spices to the pot. Sauté tofu in spices for another five minutes. Add beans and tomatoes, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for about an hour, allowing flavors to meld together.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 305 calories, 8 g fat, 19 g protein, 41 g carbohydrate, 15 g fiber, 860 mg sodium

Veggie burgers

Makes: 6 servings


1 (15 ounce) can of black beans

1 (15 ounce) can of Great Northern beans

4 large portabella mushrooms, finely chopped with gills removed

4 eggs

1 cup zucchini, finely chopped

½ cup onion, finely chopped

1 cup panko or plain bread crumbs

1 tablspoon garlic, minced

½ cup shredded parmesan

½ cup shredded mozzarella

½ cup shredded sharp cheddar

1 teaspoon steak seasoning

Swirl of Sriracha sauce

3 shakes of Duffy’s Sauce


In a small bowl, mash black beans. Add whole Great Northern beans and mix well. Transfer bean mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add each of remaining ingredients one by one, mixing well. Add more panko or bread crumbs if mixture is too wet to make a soft patty.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil to large skillet over medium heat. Form mixture into six patties, (about ½ cup each) and sauté for 10-15 minutes in skillet (patties should be crispy and browned on both sides). May also place in well-oiled baking dish and baked at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. Garnish with avocado and radish zest for added flavor.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 330 calories, 11 g fat, 22 g protein, 37 g carbohydrate, 9 g fiber, 920 mg sodium

Michelle Sedlacek is a Gundersen Health System registered dietitian.


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