Beans are packed full of essential nutrients like fiber, protein, starches and many vitamins and minerals. Pound for pound, beans contain almost as much protein as a fillet steak- at a fraction of the cost and with many more health benefits. They have been associated with protecting against heart disease, circulatory problems and bowel cancer, and are a valuable source of slow-release energy, making them an excellent food for diabetics.
Beans are part of the legume family of plants. There are over one thousand bean species, and they are also known as pulses and legumes. Beans can be broken down into three basic categories: snap beans, which includes string beans; shell beans, including peas and lima beans; and "dry" beans, which includes varieties like black-eyed, kidney, chickpeas (garbanzo), pinto, mung and aduki beans to name a few. "Dry beans" are available in canned or dried forms. Dried beans are beans that are allowed to dry in the pod before harvesting.
Beans are a rich source of proteins, starches, vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are one of the few vegetables that are rich in both protein and fiber, including both soluble and insoluble fiber to promote regularity and reduce the risk of certain cancers. Beans are an excellent source of potassium, folate and magnesium, and are also a good source of manganese, molybdenum, and the B vitamin thiamine. Darker beans like black beans are as rich in antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins as grapes and cranberries. In fact, beans are four of the top twenty antioxidant-containing foods. They also contain plant hormones called phytoestrogens, which are associated with protecting against breast and prostate cancers and have been found to dramatically reduce the risk of osteoporosis, when included in the diet regularly.
Studies on the health Benefits of beans
longevity - A study showed that those who ate beans regularly, more so than any other food, seemed to live longer across various cultures.
breast cancer - The consumption of beans is associated with reduced risk for breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
heart health - A recent clinical study presented at the April 2009 Experimental Biology conference in New Orleans has found that daily consumption of pulses- beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas, led to major improvement in blood vessel function and is associated with helping to fight cardiovascular disease. The study also found that regular consumption reduced the body mass index of participants and increased the dietary intake of fibre, folate, Vitamin C, iron, zinc, potassium and protein.
Previous studies have associated bean consumption with a significant reduction in the risk of heart disease, and lowering blood pressure.
All beans have valuable health benefits. Some of their individual properties include:
- Black-eyed beans: these are especially rich in fiber, zinc and selenium. Zinc is an important antioxidant mineral that helps the development of the body's disease-fighting cells, and selenium is needed to produce antibodies and to help prevent cancer.
- Green beans: these crunchy vegetables are high in soluble fiber, B-vitamins, and Beta-carotene, which the body converts to cancer-preventing Vitamin A. They are also a good source of manganese, needed for the production of the anti-viral substance interferon.
- Kidney beans: high in fiber, potassium and zinc, kidney beans also contain nutrients for combating low moods and strengthening brain function, as well as folate, a B-vitamin that is important for reproductive health.
- Butterbeans: these are particularity high in fiber, potassium and iron, as well as vitamin B5 and zinc, immune stimulating nutrients that help the body to produce antibodies to fight off disease.
- Aduki: these nutty beans are rich in fiber, magnesium, potassium and zinc. They also contain good levels of B-vitamins, which are needed for steady energy production and to repair body tissues. Aduki beans are a popular bean for sprouting.
- Mung beans: these are smaller beans and contain less starch and more folate than other beans. They are more easily digested and are also rich in iron and phosphorus. Mung beans are the beans that are used for bean sprouts, and when sprouted they also contain Vitamin C.
Tips for Using Beans
- Dried beans should be soaked in water before using to make them more easily digestible and reduce their "gassy" properties. Soak them and then change the water before cooking them.
- When cooking dried beans, never add salt as this toughens the skin and makes the beans indigestible.
- If you are not used to eating beans and are worried about being "gassy", start off by eating small amounts and gradually increase your intake over time. Gas produced by beans is often due to a sudden introduction of fiber, and you body should adjust if you are consistent with your fiber intake.
- Menotti A, Kromhout D, Blackburn H, et al. Food intake patterns and 25-year mortality from coronary heart disease: cross-cultural correlations in the Seven Countries Study. The Seven Countries Study Research Group. Eur J Epidemiol 1999 Jul;15(6):507-15.
- Choung MG, Choi BR, An YN, Chu YH, Cho YS. Anthocyanin profile of Korean cultivated kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.). J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Nov 19;51(24):7040-3.
- Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG, Loria CM, Whelton PK. Dietary fiber intake and reduced risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: the National health and nutrition Examination Survey I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Arch Intern Med. 2003 Sep 8;163(16):1897-904.
- Azevedo L, Gomes JC, Stringheta PC, Gontijo AM, Padovani CR, Ribeiro LR, Salvadori DM. Black bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) as a protective agent against DNA damage in mice. Food Chem Toxicol. 2003 Dec;41(12):1671-6.