Why green beans aren’t really ‘beans’

My whole family likes green beans, so we eat them a lot. I recently looked at the Dietary Guidelines and saw we can’t count green beans as beans. Why not?

It’s true. Green beans don’t count in the “beans and peas” category in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And, perhaps surprisingly, neither do green peas!

The Dietary Guidelines includes subgroups under the “vegetables” category to encourage consumers to get a wide variety of vegetables in the diet. That’s important, because different types of vegetables offer different kinds of nutritional benefits.

When you take a good look at the vegetable subgroups, green beans are counted as “other vegetables,” and green peas are counted as “starchy vegetables.” The reason is simple: The types of vegetables in the beans and peas category have a different nutritional makeup than what you find in green beans and green peas.

The beans and peas group includes mature forms of legumes, such as black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils, split peas, black-eyed peas (mature and dry), and garbanzo beans (chickpeas). Like other vegetables, they are good sources of fiber, potassium and folate, but they are also excellent sources of protein, iron and zinc.

If you eat about 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day, the Dietary Guidelines recommends that you eat about 1.5 cups of beans and peas over the course of a week.

Because of their unique nutrient composition, beans and peas can also be counted as a protein in the Dietary Guidelines — one-quarter cup of beans and peas equals 1 ounce of a protein food.

You should also try to eat plenty of vegetables in the other subgroups. If you’re eating 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day, try to get:

  • About 5.5 cups a week of red and orange vegetables, including red bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, winter squash and sweet potatoes.
  • About 5 cups a week of starchy vegetables, including white potatoes, corn, green peas and green lima beans.
  • About 1.5 cups a week of dark green vegetables, including spinach, broccoli, romaine or dark green lettuce, and collard or mustard greens.
  • About 4 cups a week of other vegetables, including green beans, celery, asparagus, onions, mushrooms and zucchini.

For more information about the vegetable food group, including more complete listings of what’s included in each subgroup, see the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Choose MyPlate” website athttp://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables.html.

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