(BPT) - If you're leaning towards a more plant-based diet, chances are you're focusing on the health benefits. Many health-conscious people today follow a “flexitarian diet,” a balanced approach that aims to increase plant-based food intake without completely excluding foods like meat and poultry.

Plant-based foods are loaded with nutrients and have been shown to lower risks for heart disease, obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. What you may not know is that one particular plant food — beans — provides a wealth of these benefits, including supporting your gut health.

Beans as a prebiotic

Beans contain prebiotic fiber, which feeds good gut bacteria. Research suggests that these bacteria positively impact both your digestive health and overall health by helping to support the immune system, reduce obesity and improve other chronic health conditions.

Beans and fiber

Also related to your gut health is fiber consumption. Two types of dietary fiber — soluble and insoluble — are found in beans, and both are important for a healthy digestive system.

  • Soluble fiber helps slow down digestion, which can make you feel full longer, making it easier to resist the urge to overeat and ultimately aid in weight control. It has also been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

  • Insoluble fiber supports healthy digestion by promoting movement of food through the digestive tract.

Incorporating more beans into meals and snacks helps ensure that your body has the fiber it needs. The average person consumes just 15 grams of fiber each day, but with 6-9 grams of fiber in a single half-cup serving, beans can help bridge the fiber gap and improve your digestive health.

Boost your bean intake with creative recipe ideas

Want to explore the world of beans? S&W Heirloom Series features rare, colorful beans, exclusively grown by hand-picked farmers. If you're looking to add more beans to your meals, here are seven simple recipes to try using classic and heirloom varieties.

BBQ Bean Sliders feature S&W European Soldier Beans (or "red-eye" beans), long white beans with red spots around the eye. They are mild-flavored and can substitute for almost any white bean. These sliders use yellow onion, green bell peppers, crushed pineapple, barbecue sauce and coleslaw for a zingy blend of sweet and savory flavors with a satisfying crunch.

White Beans and Asparagus Salad is a delightful spring salad, making good use of fresh spring veggies like asparagus, which can be served on a bed of any type of garden greens you have available. The farro and white beans make this deceptively light salad pack a hefty protein punch.

Bean and Avocado Toasts are made with Jacob's Cattle beans, a white bean shaped like a kidney bean, with vivid splashes of maroon. Perfect for an appetizer or light lunch, Bean and Avocado Toasts blend the creamy textures of mashed beans and avocadoes with the tang of a balsamic glaze, garlic and fresh basil leaves for a flavorful bite.

Falafel Patties celebrate vibrant Middle Eastern flavors by blending garbanzo beans with curry powder, cilantro and cumin for a tasty lunch or dinner sandwich patty that cooks quickly on your stovetop.

Yellow Eye Bean Cobb-Style Salad features plump, cream-colored S&W Yellow Eye Beans also known as “tiger-eye” beans. These beans have a slightly nutty flavor and creamy texture, perfect for any dish, from refried beans to cowboy caviar. You can substitute your favorite cheeses to combine with the eggs, bacon and cherry tomatoes in this refreshing yet hearty salad.

Loaded Pinquito Bean Nachos are a game day or outdoor party favorite made from the petite, pinkish-brown and lightly speckled pinquito bean. Add or swap out your favorite nacho toppings to the Mexican cheese blend, olives, taco sauce and sour cream to make this recipe your own.

Veggie and Bean Quesadillas combine black beans and pinto beans for another Mexican-inspired favorite, with jalapenos and cumin added for a spicy kick. Add more peppers if you like it hot!

Try these and other family favorite recipes from SWBeans.com.

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