Baked beans are sauce-covered legumes prepared from scratch or sold premade in cans.
In the United States, they’re a popular side dish at outdoor cookouts, whereas people in the United Kingdom eat them on toast.
Though legumes are considered healthy, you may wonder whether baked beans qualify.
This article reviews baked beans and whether they’re good for you.
Baked beans are typically made with small, white navy beans.
Other common ingredients are sugar, herbs, and spices. Recipes may also include tomato sauce, vinegar, molasses, and mustard.
Some baked beans are vegetarian, while others contain small amounts of bacon or salt-cured pork for flavor.
Despite their name, the beans aren’t always baked. They can be cooked by other methods, too, such as on the stove top or in a slow cooker.
Summary Common ingredients in baked beans are navy beans, sugar, herbs, and spices. Some also contain tomato sauce, vinegar, molasses, mustard, and pork.
Baked beans provide many nutrients.
Though amounts may vary by brand, a 1/2-cup (130-gram) serving of canned baked beans offers approximately ():
- Calories: 119
- Total fat: 0.5 grams
- Total carbs: 27 grams
- Fiber: 5 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
- Sodium: 19% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Potassium: 6% of the RDI
- Iron: 8% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 8% of the RDI
- Zinc: 26% of the RDI
- Copper: 20% of the RDI
- Selenium: 11% of the RDI
- Thiamine (vitamin B1): 10% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 6% of the RDI
Baked beans provide fiber and plant-based protein. They’re also a good source of thiamine, zinc, and selenium, which support energy production, immune function, and thyroid health, respectively (2, 3, 4).
Notably, legumes contain phytates — compounds that can interfere with mineral absorption. However, cooking and canning reduce the phytate content of baked beans ().
Baked beans offer beneficial plant compounds, including polyphenols, as well.
These may protect your cells from damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals and inhibit inflammation. Both free radical damage and inflammation have been linked to heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases (, ).
Due to the nutrition content and association with reduced chronic disease risk, U.S. dietary guidelines recommend a minimum of 1 1/2 cups (275 grams) of legumes per week for an average 2,000-calorie diet (8).
Summary Baked beans supply many nutrients, including plant protein, fiber, B vitamins, minerals, and health-protective plant compounds.
In addition to their nutrient content, baked beans offer other benefits as well.
Tasty and Convenient
Baked beans are flavorful and generally well-liked, which may encourage people to eat more legumes.
One study found that 57% of adolescents liked baked beans, while less than 20% liked lentil soup or salad made with beans ().
Canned baked beans are also quick and easy to prepare — all you have to do is open the can and heat them.
May Support Gut Health
Just 1/2 cup (130 grams) of baked beans supplies 18% of the RDI for fiber. Fiber supports gut health, including regular bowel movements ().
Fiber also nourishes the microbes in your large intestine or colon. This may increase the number of beneficial bacteria linked to reduced colon cancer risk (, , ).
Moreover, baked beans contain the plant compounds apigenin and daidzein, as well as other nutrients that may protect against colon cancer ().
May Lower Cholesterol
Baked beans provide fiber and compounds called phytosterols that can inhibit cholesterol absorption in your gut. This may reduce high blood cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease (, ).
In another study, men with borderline-high cholesterol ate 5 cups (650 grams) of baked beans weekly for 1 month. They experienced an 11.5% and 18% decrease in total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, respectively ().
Summary Canned baked beans are a quick and tasty way to eat legumes. They also support gut health and may lower cholesterol.
On the other hand, baked beans have some drawbacks — many of which you can minimize by making them from scratch.
High in Sugar
Baked beans typically contain one or more sweeteners, such as sugar or maple syrup.
Consuming too much added sugar can cause tooth decay and is linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and memory problems (, , , ).
At least one U.S. brand makes baked beans containing 25% less sugar, and another sold in Europe offers baked beans sweetened only with stevia — a zero-calorie, natural sweetener.
Note that if you make baked beans at home using either canned or dried navy beans, you can control the amount of added sugars.
Tend to Be Salty
Sodium is another nutrient of concern to some people, particularly those prone to high blood pressure with increased salt intake ().
Canned baked beans average 19% of the RDI for sodium per 1/2-cup (130-gram) serving, which is primarily from added salt ().
A few brands offer reduced-sodium varieties, though not all stores carry them.
In homemade versions, you can add less salt. If you’re making baked beans using canned rather than dried beans, rinse and drain them to reduce the sodium by about 40% (24).
Among the most common are:
- Modified corn starch. This thickening agent has been altered, typically with chemicals, to make it more effective. It’s also often made from corn that’s genetically modified, a controversial practice with possible risks (, , ).
- Caramel color. Caramel coloring often contains a chemical called 4-methylimidazole, which is a potential cancer-causing agent. Still, scientists say current levels allowed in food are safe (, ).
- Natural flavors. These are extracted from plant or animal foods but are usually not simple ingredients you would use at home. The vague description also makes it hard to tell if less common food allergens are present (, 33, ).
May Contain BPA Contaminants
The interior lining of bean cans commonly contains the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), which can leach into foods ().
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says the chemical is safe for currently approved uses, but many scientists disagree. Some research suggests that BPA may increase obesity risk and reduce fertility, among other potential health concerns (, 36, , ).
In a study of foods collected from grocery stores, baked beans ranked fourth highest in BPA among 55 different foods containing detectable amounts of the chemical ().
A few organic brands of baked beans are sold in cans made without BPA or similar chemicals. However, these brands cost more.
May Make You Gassy
Beans contain fiber and other indigestible carbs that are fermented by bacteria in your gut, potentially causing you to pass more gas ().
Still, one study found that less than half of people who added 1/2 cup (130 grams) of legumes, including baked beans, to their daily diet reported increased gas.
Additionally, 75% of people who initially reported increased gas said it returned to normal levels after 2–3 weeks of eating beans daily ().
Lectins Are Minimized by Cooking
Legumes, including the navy variety in baked beans, contain proteins called lectins.
However, cooking largely inactivates lectins. Therefore, your exposure to these proteins from baked beans is likely minimal and not a concern (43).
Summary Potential drawbacks of canned baked beans include added sugars and salt, food additives, and BPA contaminants from can linings. These can be minimized by making baked beans from scratch. Digestive issues may also occur.
Baked beans are high in protein, fiber, other nutrients, and beneficial plant compounds. They may improve gut health and cholesterol levels.
Canned varieties are convenient but often high in added sugars, salt, additives, and BPA contaminants. Your healthiest option is to make them from scratch using dried beans.
Baked beans made with minimal sugars and moderate in salt can be a nutritious addition to a balanced diet.