Beans make a great value-for-money filling meal and, as it turns out, are incredibly good for your health too. So, what can these fiber-rich veggie proteins do for your body?
As one piece of research found, those who consumed beans regularly had higher intake of potassium, fiber, iron, copper, and magnesium.1 Beans contain both soluble as well as insoluble fiber and each kind of fiber comes with its own set of health benefits. These include lowering levels of LDL and total cholesterol and cutting the risk of metabolic syndrome, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, obesity, and even diabetes.2 And we’re just getting started!
Beans are a rich source of nutrients that have a low glycemic index, are high on fiber and protein, and are low fat to boot! In fact, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that you consume about 1.5 cups of beans every week.3 Take your pick and make the most of the health benefits of black beans, lima beans, pinto beans, or even the more exotic adzuki beans from Asia. Whatever your choice, you’ll be able to draw on the nutritional content that makes beans a great functional food.
1. Lower Your Cholesterol
Dry beans can help lower cholesterol levels in your blood, a property attributed to the soluble fiber, phytosterols, and saponins in them.4 Pinto beans benefits on this front have been shown in one study – consumption of the bean reduced the levels of total cholesterol as well as bad LDL cholesterol, both biomarkers for heart disease risk.5 Which is why experts suggest that if you consume beans regularly in your diet, you could lower your risk factors for heart disease, besides helping with better glycemic control.6
2. Control Sugar Levels And Diabetes
Low glycemic index foods are a good choice for diabetics. The protein and the complex carbohydrates make them a smart food choice. Slow digestion means your blood glucose levels remain stable and you are unlikely to experience the sudden dips of exhaustion and irritability that come after your body burns through a food that has a high glycemic index. This has been proven through research which finds that beans, like whole grain foods, when swapped for quickly digested carbs can improve glycemic control and lower incident diabetes.7
Legume fiber (as is found in beans) has been linked to a lower risk of metabolic syndrome. The protective effects of this kind of fiber could help you sidestep problems associated with metabolic syndrome – like disturbance in glucose metabolism, dyslipidemia, and hypertension.8 Asian favorite red beans or adzuki beans are a rich source of antioxidants with many health benefits. The beans also have antidiabetic properties. One animal study found that extruded adzuki beans extract was able to significantly lower postprandial blood glucose levels in test subjects.9
3. Aid Weight Loss
Beans are fiber-rich, which is why they can keep you satiated longer. Because you feel full for longer, you are less likely to graze between meals and that in turn can help keep your weight in check if you eat healthy during main meals.10 As a food with low glycemic index, it brings about a slower rate of increase of blood sugar. This means energy is released more gradually, which fuels your body longer too.
Researchers have found people who eat beans have a smaller waist size, reduced risk of obesity, and lower body weight than those who did not consume beans.11
Hormone leptin when present in lower concentrations (as opposed to high levels) is better at regulating your appetite. A diet rich in legumes reduces circulating leptin concentrations in the body. Which means your body will manage its appetite better, aiding weight loss or helping you stay at your ideal weight once you’ve hit your targets.12
4. Work As A Healthy Protein
Want to increase your protein intake without the fallout of added cholesterol? This plant protein is a perfect fit. Legumes and beans are great sources of protein. For instance, a half cup of dry lima beans gives you about as much protein as an ounce of chicken. 13 14 Beans is a good choice because they are a vegetable protein which has no cholesterol. One study of obese men found that of the three protein-rich diets tested, those on the legume-based diet (which included plenty of beans) saw the highest levels of weight loss in the eight weeks of the test. The men had to consume legumes on at least four of the seven days in a week. Besides weight loss, they also saw significant reduction in their body fat mass as well as waist circumference, total cholesterol, and blood pressure, compared to those on other proteins like fatty fish.15
Plus, beans are also incredibly affordable. The USDA listed it as one of the 9 food groups that were both low cost and offered significant nutritive value. Dry beans and legumes were listed among the lowest cost sources of protein.16
5. Lower Cancer Risk
Among other things, experts have suggested bean intake can help with overall health and may even cut the risk of some cancers. That’s due to the high antioxidant content of beans. Beans contain a mix of tannins, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds – all of which can fight free radical damage linked to cancer.17 Different pieces of research have pointed at its potential in cutting the risk of stomach, colorectal, prostate, kidney, and breast cancers.18
6. Relieve Constipation
If constipation plagues you, eating your beans could help. The fiber in them, when consumed along with adequate fluids (plain old water will do just fine!), can help keep your bowel movements more regular. This fiber also keeps you satiated. And as you’re probably aware, our diets don’t normally deliver even half of the recommended level of 14 gm of fiber per 1000 kcal.19 If you’re someone with a gluten allergy, this becomes even more important, because many traditional sources of fiber like whole grain wheat, barley, and some forms of oats contain gluten. If you’re picking between beans, choose the dry beans like pinto beans as these contain more fiber than fresh beans.
7. Build Immunity
As some experts have pointed out, pinto beans benefit your immune system, supplying it with antioxidants and nutrients that help boost your immunity. And that’s true for most beans, whether it is garbanzo beans, fava beans, white beans, or regular green beans. Lima beans and red kidney beans, however, seem to pip others to the post. Beans are rich in soluble fiber that amps up anti-inflammatory protein production, thereby strengthening your immune system. And that’s besides the antioxidants and folate beans contain which are building blocks of new immune cells.20
While white beans health benefits or the benefits of red kidney beans may spur you on to eat them, remember they can be quite delicious too. Try trading in a protein in a flavorsome recipe for these beans and you may be surprised what a hearty meal they make. If that isn’t for you, but you still want to tap the protein power and nutrients in beans, just add them into your meals along with your staple chicken or fish or meat.
|↑1, ↑11||Papanikolaou, Yanni, and Victor L. Fulgoni III. “Bean consumption is associated with greater nutrient intake, reduced systolic blood pressure, lower body weight, and a smaller waist circumference in adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 27, no. 5 (2008): 569-576.|
|↑2||All About Beans Nutrition, Health Benefits, Preparation and Use in Menus. North Dakota State University.|
|↑3||Dietary Guidelines. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.|
|↑4||Bourdon, Ingeborg, Beth Olson, Robert Backus, B. Diane Richter, Paul A. Davis, and Barbara O. Schneeman. “Beans, as a source of dietary fiber, increase cholecystokinin and apolipoprotein B48 response to test meals in men.” The Journal of nutrition 131, no. 5 (2001): 1485-1490.|
|↑5||Winham, Donna M., Andrea M. Hutchins, and Carol S. Johnston. “Pinto bean consumption reduces biomarkers for heart disease risk.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 26, no. 3 (2007): 243-249.|
|↑6||Jenkins, David JA, Cyril WC Kendall, Livia SA Augustin, Sandra Mitchell, Sandhya Sahye-Pudaruth, Sonia Blanco Mejia, Laura Chiavaroli et al. “Effect of legumes as part of a low glycemic index diet on glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized controlled trial.” Archives of internal medicine 172, no. 21 (2012): 1653-1660.|
|↑7||Venn, B. J., and J. I. Mann. “Cereal grains, legumes and diabetes.” European journal of clinical nutrition 58, no. 11 (2004): 1443-1461.|
|↑8||Hosseinpour-Niazi, Somayeh, Parvin Mirmiran, Golbon Sohrab, Firoozeh Hosseini-Esfahani, and Fereidoun Azizi. “Inverse association between fruit, legume, and cereal fiber and the risk of metabolic syndrome: Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study.” Diabetes research and clinical practice 94, no. 2 (2011): 276-283.|
|↑9||Yao, Yang, and Guixing Ren. “Suppressive effect of extruded adzuki beans (Vigna angularis) on hyperglycemia after sucrose loading in rats.” Industrial Crops and Products 52 (2014): 228-232.|
|↑10||McCrory, Megan A., Bruce R. Hamaker, Jennifer C. Lovejoy, and Petra E. Eichelsdoerfer. “Pulse consumption, satiety, and weight management.” Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal 1, no. 1 (2010): 17-30.|
|↑12||Zhang, Z., E. Lanza, A. C. Ross, P. S. Albert, N. H. Colburn, M. J. Rovine, D. Bagshaw, J. S. Ulbrecht, and T. J. Hartman. “A high-legume low-glycemic index diet reduces fasting plasma leptin in middle-aged insulin-resistant and-sensitive men.” European journal of clinical nutrition 65, no. 3 (2011): 415-418.|
|↑13||Lima beans, immature seeds, raw.USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.|
|↑14||Chicken, broilers or fryers, meat only, raw.USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.|
|↑15||Abete, Itziar, Dolores Parra, and J. Alfredo Martinez. “Legume-, fish-, or high-protein-based hypocaloric diets: effects on weight loss and mitochondrial oxidation in obese men.” Journal of medicinal food 12, no. 1 (2009): 100-108.|
|↑16||Drewnowski, Adam. “The Nutrient Rich Foods Index helps to identify healthy, affordable foods.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 91, no. 4 (2010): 1095S-1101S.|
|↑17||Amarowicz, Ryszard, and Ronald B. Pegg. “Legumes as a source of natural antioxidants.” European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology 110, no. 10 (2008): 865-878.|
|↑18||All About Beans Nutrition, Health Benefits, Preparation and Use in Menus. North Dakota State University.|
|↑19||Anderson, James W., Pat Baird, Richard H. Davis, Stefanie Ferreri, Mary Knudtson, Ashraf Koraym, Valerie Waters, and Christine L. Williams. “Health benefits of dietary fiber.” Nutrition reviews 67, no. 4 (2009): 188-205.|
|↑20||Feed a Cold. Yoga Journal.|