What is best: Dried beans or canned beans?

April 30, 2017

white bowl with cooked beans

Many people who come to me for nutrition counseling know that I am an advocate for adding beans (or legumes to use the fancy term) to meals.  They are budget-friendly choices packed with nutrients including protein and fiber.  They can also benefit your gut microbiome, your blood glucose levels, and keep you feeling full and satisfied.

What’s better: canned beans or dried?

I am often asked if I use canned or dried beans. My answer: I use both!

I prefer using dried beans when possible because they make our grocery budget go farther and I can cook them to the texture and/or flavor I want.

That said, I am a big fan of canned beans for their convenience and keep several different types of canned beans in our pantry.  For some recipes, I prefer canned beans over home cooked as they tend to have a creamier texture. If you are going to use canned beans, however, be sure to read the ingredients!  Some companies are adding corn-syrup or high fructose syrup to cans and I highly recommend you avoid those.   It seems to happen most often with kidney beans but read the label on any beans before you buy them.

How to cook dried beans

I frequently asked what’s the best method to use for cooking dried beans.  Any quick internet search will reveal a variety of ways including hot soaks, long soaks, using the stove or using a slow cooker.  I’ve tried a variety of methods and the method I find that works is best is described here. Be sure to scroll down to the end of the page as it details the 3 different soaking methods referenced in the top section.

Who should NOT use “short soak” or “no soak” methods

If you are at risk of osteopenia, osteoporosis, a vegetarian, or someone who avoids dairy products, I recommend you use only methods that have you soak beans for more than a few hours and be sure to rinse them before cooking the beans in fresh water.  Why?

Dried beans can be high in a substance called “phytates” which can bind to calcium and reduce the amount of calcium you absorb from foods and supplements.   Despite this fact, should you avoid dried beans and other foods high in phytates?

Based on the scientific evidence I have reviewed at this point, no.  The benefits of eating these foods outway this concern and soaking the dried beans reduce the issue.   If you are taking calcium supplements for medical issues, however, I recommend you speak to a registered dietitian, such as myself, about the appropriate timing and dosage of calcium supplements so you get the maximum benefits from them.

The other reason to soak dried beans and rinse canned or dried beans

Rinse beans 3 times: before you start to soak them, before you start to cook them even, and after you cook them. This helps to give you tender beans and removes some of the compounds that may cause you to “toot”.

If you are using canned beans, I also recommend rinsing them after opening the can. This also helps remove any extra sodium used in preparing them and reduce the “toot” factor.

Bean math: How much to cook

Canned beans will not increase in volume.  One cup in the can equals one cup in a recipe. Dried beans will double or triple in volume as you soak and cook them, so use a bigger bowl and pot plus more water than you think you will need.

If you end up with more beans cooked than you can use within 3 days, freeze the extra beans in small portions. Defrost them in the refrigerator and they are fine to use in many recipes.

Bean safety

Do not keep cooked beans longer than 3 or 4 days, despite what you may read on the internet!

This is a recommendation from the US Department of Agriculture’s food safety specialists and me. One of the worst cases of food poisoning I ever had was from beans that had been kept too long. (Not sure how long it is safe to keep foods? Click here to see safe food handling recommendations.)

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