Beans are pulses and are classed among the starches in the food pyramid because they provide a lot of energy in the form of carbohydrates. Fresh beans that are eaten with the pod, such as common green beans, are an exception. These are classed as vegetables because they are made up of 90 per cent water. Green beans are harvested at the immature stage when the pod is still edible.
Beans come in a great variety of colours, from black to shiny red and brilliant white. Originally from Central and South America, they are an essential ingredient in "chilli con carne", a traditional Mexican bean dish. But they can be used in many other ways, too, be it in soups, stews, salads or as hummus. Beans offer a variety of flavours: adzuki and kidney beans are sweetly aromatic, while mung beans and black beans taste nutty.
Beans are a good source of plant-based protein as well as folate, potassium, iron, magnesium and zinc. A portion of bean and beetroot stew, for example, contains almost 50 per cent of our daily potassium requirement. This nutrient is important for our muscles and nervous system. Zinc and magnesium play a role in the body's own production of protein and help to keep our bones strong.
Please note: beans, whether fresh or dried, must always be cooked. This is because cooking destroys the toxins, such as lectins, which the beans naturally contain. In our article on pulses, you can find out more about how to prepare beans and avoid digestive complaints.