With their low glycemic index and high fiber and protein content, beans certainly have a lot going for them as an occasional meat alternative, even for non-vegetarians.

Subbing beans for meat every once in a while could not only reduce your carbon footprint but lower your cholesterol intake and even fatten your wallet, since beans tend to be far cheaper than most meat products!

To give you a head start, we've rounded up seven of the healthiest bean varieties out there and researched the unique properties of each. Your best bet is to try them all!

1. Soybeans

This bean, which comes from the glycine max plant, boasts a respectable sixteen grams of protein per hundred gram serving along with six grams of fiber. Plus, soybean intake has been found to decrease cholesterol levels, likely due to the food's high concentration of certain plant compounds called saponins.

Next, soybeans are high in isoflavones, which can reduce the severity of women's menopause symptoms and their risk of osteoperosis by mimicking estrogen. These isoflavones may also serve to reduce cancer risk, especially the risk of breast and prostate cancer.

This effect is especially pronounced in Asian Americans, which is thought to be due to the fact that their bodies are more likely to be able to convert these isoflavones to a compound called equol.

One caveat of soybeans is that excessive intake can suppress thyroid function, and that they are one of the plant varieties most likely to be genetically modified. Since genetically modified soybeans may have a poorer nutritional profile and are likely to contain greater amounts of pesticide residue, it may be worth springing for organic. Finally, if you'd rather drink your soybeans than eat them, you can always try soy milk!

2. Black Beans

Black beans, which are actually the seeds of the Phaseolus vulgaris plant, are sometimes called turtle beans because of the hard shells found on them when raw. A hundred gram serving of black beans will contain about nine grams each of protein and fiber, and will also be high in folate, calcium, potassium and magnesium!

Since they are among the darkest beans in color, black beans will be higher than most others in a special class of antioxidants called anthocyanins, which serve critical functions for preserving heart and brain health.

Other compounds present in black beans like quercetin may further reduce heart disease risk. Use this legume in protein bowls, salads, or, more creatively, as a base for a vegan brownie or burger!

3. Kidney Beans

These tasty beans are mostly grown in Mexico and parts of Central America and can come in a variety of colors, including white, cream, red, and purple. They are so named for their distinctive curved shape, though white kidney beans are sometimes called "cannelini beans" instead.

Like the black bean, the kidney bean is considered a "common bean" and comes from the Phaseolus vulgaris plant, but it is slightly lower in fat and sugar and higher in fiber and potassium than its close cousin. A cooked hundred gram serving of kidney beans contains nine grams of protein, six grams of fiber, and less than a gram of sugar!

Plus, kidney beans contain isoflavones and other cancer-fighting flavonoids, though not in as high a concentration as soybeans do. More uniquely, kidney beans also contain alpha-amylase inhibitors, compounds that have been studied as a starch-blocking weight loss supplement!

Unfortunately, these "starch blockers" are usually inactivated by cooking, and since eating kidney beans raw has been associated with acute gastroenteritis, we definitely wouldn't recommend that!

4. Navy Beans

If you ask for "navy beans" and expect to be served something blue, you may be disappointed. These light-colored beans actually got their name because they were once figured so prominently in US Navy rations, an honor they got because they are cheap, high-nutrient, and easy to store.

Other names for "navy beans" include pea beans, haricots, and Boston beans (since they're the kind usually used in Boston staple dish "baked beans!")

A hundred gram serving of navy beans will provide you with eight grams of protein and ten grams of fiber. It will also provide you with some copper and iron, minerals that work together to ensure healthy circulation.

Navy bean consumption has also been found to reduce the risk factors of metabolic syndrome and to increase good cholesterol in children. Plus, they are one of the few non-meat sources of phosphatidylserine, a fatty acid critical to cell signaling.

5. Pinto Beans

Another cousin of black and kidney beans, these "pinto" beans are so called because of the speckled appearance they have when raw—as "pinto" is the Spanish word for painted!

After they are cooked, the color of these pinto beans changes to a solid brown one, which you might recognize if you've ever had a Mexican dish made with "refried beans!"

Pinto beans are lower in fat than even most other beans and have a distinctive earthy flavor. They're also particularly rich in the antioxidant kaempferol, which has been associated with a reduced risk of stroke and cancer and lowered inflammation.

Additionally, pinto beans have been found to encourage the production of the short chain fatty acid propionate, which has been associated with reduced heart disease risk, lowered blood pressure and improved gut health. It's also a good source of the vitamin-like compound choline, which is itself a precursor to critical neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

6. Lima Beans

Lima beans come from the "phaseolus lunatus" plant, and are so-called because of their roots in the Peruvian city of Lima. Their taste has been described as "potato-like," "beany," "grainy," and "buttery," so much so that are sometimes called "butter beans."

They have been found in a study of ten different legumes to have the greatest concentration of bio-available iron among them. They also contain seven grams of protein and five grams of fiber per hundred grams and are high in folate, riboflavin, niacin, panothenic acid, and molybdenum.

This blend of micro-nutrients means that lima beans can strengthen bones, aid digestion, and rid the body of toxins like sulfites and homocysteine. Unfortunately, the high purine content of lima beans means that they should usually be avoided by people with gout and other purine-related health problems like kidney stones.

7. Mung Beans

Mung beans come from the vigna radiata plant, and this little-known Asian superfood is definitely a standout among beans. For one thing, they're less gas-inducing than other beans but have nearly all of the same nutritional benefits as they do, plus a few unique ones!Mung beans contain almost eight grams of fiber, and their seven grams of protein is made up of essential amino acids like phenylalanine, leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine, and arginine. Mung beans also contain several antioxidants, such as phenolic acids, flavonoids, caffeic acid, cinnamic acid, and, of particular note, anti-inflammatory vitexin and isovitexin, which may prevent damage from heat stroke when consumed.

Research has also shown that mung beans have anti-microbial, anti-diabetic, and anti-tumor effects, and that their high peptide content is especially useful for lowering blood pressure.

You may also wish to know that sprouted mung beans, which are sometimes labeled "bean sprouts" in Asian dishes, will have both more antioxidants and less calories than the non-sprouted version. However, since mung beans are not found in all grocery or even health food stores, you may have to buy them online!

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