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Plunging my arms deep into bags of dried beans and running the hard, cool skins along my fingertips takes me back to childhood: making chili, tamales, quesadillasenchiladastacos, burritos, and pupusas. Cooking with beans has an emotional resonance with me whether its chili beans over sweet potatoes, edamame in salads or smashed chickpeas in the most amazing protein-rich sandwiches. Lentil soup and plant-based grilled cheese sandwiches are my favorite comfort food on a lousy day. Black beans and quinoa make me strong after a long day of hiking. Growing green beans in my garden provide a sense of pride and connection to the Earth.

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These healthy, low-cal meals leave a light carbon footprint and are an ode to my environmental work. That’s why, this summer, I’m packing my Extinction-free BBQ with bean dishes instead of beef. And here’s why you should, too:

1. Beans are more sustainable

A new study published in Climatic Change found that swapping out beans to replace beef could have major environmental benefits. Beef production is a colossal problem for the planet. By swapping our beef for beans could put us 75 percent of the way toward meeting our greenhouse gas reduction goals by 2020. Just by eating beans instead of beef.

It would also free up 42 percent of the cropland we currently waste to grow feed for cows. Instead, we could grow crops for humans or give habitat back to wildlife. Choosing beans over beef is the perfect complement to riding your bike to work or driving a hybrid car. We’re careful about the gas we put in our cars: we should be careful about what we put in our mouths.

2. Beans are better for your budget

Beans and rice are a key staple of our human diet around the world. Not only is it a delicious, nutritious combination that is gentler on the planet than beef, but it is far more affordable too. According to 2014 research, the average cost for a can of cooked beans (about two cups of beans) is $1.19. A pound of dried beans (about eight cups of beans) is more cost efficient at an average of $1.99. On the other hand, a single serving of beef can cost an average of $5. There’s no question that beans, which have a longer shelf life, are better for those on a budget.

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3. Beans are good for your health

When it comes to your health, beans win out over beef for reducing the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other issues. Chickpeas help fight diabetes and stabilize blood sugar. Navy beans are good for your heart, fighting cholesterol and adding potassium. Lentils lower risks of breast and colorectal cancers. Kidney beans are good for their anti-aging properties: They have the most antioxidants and omega-3s of any bean. Meanwhile, black beans are good for brain function and soybeans help you build muscle. On the other hand, the World Health Organization classified red meat like beef as a probable carcinogen for humans – the same category as cigarettes and asbestos.

How does the nutrition label of beans compare to beef? 100 grams of beef carries 30 grams of fat, compared to less than a gram of fat in 100 grams of black beans. Ironman must be a bean-lover because a serving of black beans carries more than 5 times the amount of iron as a serving of beef.

4. Beans support food security

In the last 30 years, beef production has tripled and is continuing to grow as our population bursts at the seams. The toll taken on wildlife, habitat, water resources, air quality, and climate is staggering. Every pound of beef takes at least 1700 gallons of water to produce. Americans eat about three beef burgers a week on average, and that adds up to 21.2 trillion gallons of water per year. This poses an enormous difficulty when it comes to sustainability.

We simply do not have unlimited land or water resources available to continue to eat the amount of beef we do in the United States, particularly given the increasing pressure of drought and climate change on food production. Food security is part of our national security, and we may very well face a food shortage crisis if we don’t rethink the way we put food on our plate. Switching from beef to beans is a key way to do that.

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5. Beans are packed with protein

Where do you get your protein? For those who choose to reduce their meat consumption, this may be the most frequently asked question. If you’re looking for a protein-rich diet that’s good for you and the planet, beans could be your answer. According to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the amount of protein from an average serving of beef could be achieved with less than a cup (188 g) of cooked black beans. The USDA estimates that Americans eat far more than the recommended daily intake of beef, while 87 percent of Americans currently consume less than the recommended levels of beans.

These five reasons aren’t the end of the story: the variety and simplicity and heartiness of beans tip the scales when it comes to taste. And that’s just one more reason to go bean-crazy this summer. Check out some tips on doing just that at Take Extinction Off Your Plate as well as some Extinction-free BBQ recipes to get a kick start on your Earth-friendly diet this summer!

Lead image source: Black Bean Burger With Cilantro Lime Sauce 

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