Nutritious Great Northern Beans Make Delicious Baked Beans

By Anne Palumbo

BEANSEver eat something without giving a wit about its nutritional chops? Say, a yummy side that accompanies your main course like no other?

Baked beans has always been that side for me. Come summer, it’s all I ever want with whatever’s on the grill.

For years, I never thought much about baked beans, other than that they slipped out of a can and tasted delicious! But once I inspected the can’s nutrition label, I realized that while canned baked beans indeed feature some important nutrients, some of the other ingredients — sugar, salt, additives — make them less nutritious and more caloric than they need to be.

So I started making my own baked beans with canned Great Northern white beans, a popular bean that’s nearly identical to the hard-to-find canned pea (aka navy bean) that’s traditionally used to make this dish.

Like most beans, Great Northerns are your heart’s best friend. They’re chock full of cholesterol-lowering fiber; they’re super rich in folate, a B vitamin that lowers levels of an amino acid associated with greater risk of heart disease and stroke; they’re low in fat and calories (only 200 calories per cup); and they’re loaded with heart-protecting antioxidants. 

For vegetarians and those trying to reduce their intake of meat, Great Northerns are an excellent source of low-fat, plant-based protein (about 15 grams per cup), a nutrient we need to build up, keep up, and replace tissues in our body. Although the protein in this versatile bean is incomplete, it can easily be combined with other foods, such as pasta, rice or grains, to yield a complete protein.

Despite its small size, this tasty legume boasts a whopping 13 grams of fiber per cup: 50% of our daily needs. Because Great Northerns contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, we reap multiple benefits: improved digestion and elimination, lowered cholesterol and blood-glucose levels, and greater satiety for better weight management. In fact, according to a study published in the “Journal of the American College of Nutrition,” people who eat beans are less likely to be obese and more likely to have a smaller waist and lower body weight than people who don’t eat beans.

Lastly, this nutritious bean is an impressive source of manganese, phosphorous, and iron—essential minerals that support brain and nerve functions, bone and teeth health, and energy production, respectively.

Healthier Baked Beans

Serves 6-8

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 cup tomato sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika or smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
2 15-ounce cans Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Lightly oil an 8-inch square baking pan.

Heat olive oil on medium heat in large skillet.  Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until translucent.

Turn off the heat and add tomato sauce, mustard, vinegar, paprika, garlic powder, brown sugar, salt and pepper.  Stir well, and then gently mix in beans, adding more sauce if preferred.

Pour into prepared baking pan and cover with foil.  Bake the beans for about 25 minutes and serve.

Note:  If using dried beans, about 1½ cups will yield the approximate canned amount.

Helpful tips

Look for canned beans labeled “Low Salt” or “Low Sodium” and thoroughly drain and rinse before using. Nutrition-wise, canned beans and dried beans are about equal. Cooked beans, whether prepared from the dried state or retrieved from a can, can be covered and chilled for up to 5 days.

Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at