In this article, learn about eight health benefits of beans, including getting more protein and reducing the risk of heart disease.
Beans: The basics
Beans are the seeds from flowering plants in the Fabaceae family and are classified as legumes. They usually grow in pods, which are capsules with several beans inside. These pods or capsules develop from flowers. Other legumes include peas, peanuts, and lentils.
Beans contain amino acids, which are the chemicals that combine to form protein and help build muscle. Protein is an essential nutrient.
Beans are a source of protein, vitamins and fiber.
There are a variety of different beans, and most must be cooked to be safe to eat. Some of the most popular bean varieties include:
- lima beans
- black beans
- black-eyed peas
- kidney beans
- garbanzo beans
- navy beans
- pinto beans
- red beans
Health benefits of beans
Beans offer several health benefits, including:
1. Protein source
Adding beans to grains can turn an incomplete protein into a complete one.
Protein is a vital nutrient that plays a key role in virtually everything the body does. Beans are high in amino acids, the building blocks of protein.
Protein sources can be divided into two different categories: complete and incomplete. Animal products, soy, and quinoa are all complete proteins, which means they contain all nine amino acids.
Out of all the types of beans, only soybeans contain all nine amino acids. Incomplete proteins can be easily combined with nuts, seeds, dairy, or grains at a single meal or over various meals throughout the day to make complete proteins.
For example, a person can eat beans with rice or couscous. Even having black beans at lunch and then almonds or cheese later in the day can ensure people get complete proteins.
Beans make an excellent source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. They are also lower in calories and saturated fat than some other protein sources, such as dairy products.
2. Nutrient dense food
Beans contain several vital nutrients, including folate. Folate can help prevent neural tube defects in a fetus during pregnancy.
Dried beans contain nearly double the folate that canned beans contain, so it is better to cook them from their dried form. However, canned beans still contain more folate than many foods.
Not getting enough folate can cause several symptoms, including:
- heart palpitations
- loss of appetite
Other important nutrients found in beans include:
Beans are rich in a type of antioxidant called polyphenols. Antioxidants fight the effects of free radicals, which are chemicals that affect a wide range of processes in the body, from physical aging to cancer and inflammation.
4. Better heart health
5. Reduced risk of cancer
Some studies have shown that beans act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. These effects could reduce the risk of cancer.
Research published in 2015 analyzed whether beans might have antioxidant properties that fight intestinal cancer. Black beans were shown to have the highest antioxidant activity.
6. Diabetes and glucose metabolism
Beans may help stabilize blood glucose levels or even prevent diabetes. Beans are high in fiber, which can help lower blood glucose.
A 2015 study in mice found that a chemical found in soybean leaves could help the body maintain healthy glucose levels.
Soybeans also support the healthy functioning of pancreatic cells. The pancreas produces insulin, which regulates blood sugar.
7. Preventing fatty liver
Fatty liver is a metabolic disorder that occurs when fats accumulate in the liver.
Research published in 2016 found that adzuki beans improve the accumulation of fat in the liver of mice. This result suggests that these beans might preserve liver health and reduce the risk of fatty liver, although more studies in humans are needed.
8. Controlling appetite
The fiber and healthy starches in beans can help prevent food cravings. People may feel fuller after consuming beans, which may prevent overeating and even help with weight loss.
9. Improving gut health
Research has shown a variety of beans, especially black beans, enhance gut health by improving intestinal barrier function, and increasing the number of healthy bacteria. This may help prevent gut-associated diseases.
Some people are allergic to beans or members of the legume family. Peanuts, for instance, are a legume and a common allergen. Soy is also a common allergen in the United States, while a lupin allergy is more common in Europe.
Some people who are allergic to one bean or legume are allergic to others, so people with a history of allergies should consider allergy-testing and ask their doctor about carrying an epinephrine injector (EpiPen).
It is unsafe to eat many beans raw because they contain proteins called lectins. These proteins can cause severe food poisoning because they interfere with digestion and can lead to cyanide formation.
Cooking the beans for at least 10 minutes destroys lectins so that they can be safely eaten.
The most common side effects of eating beans are gas and intestinal discomfort. These are not dangerous but can be unpleasant and even painful for some people.
A person can reduce the risk of gas and other intestinal problems by hot-soaking beans and discarding the water used for soaking, or sprouting, boiling, or pressure-cooking them. Digestive enzymes can also be taken to improve digestion of beans.
Adding beans to your diet
A mixed bean salad is both filling and tasty.
A person should always wash beans before cooking them and remove any beans that are shriveled or discolored.
Beans can be cooked by boiling them with seasoning and allowing them to simmer until they are soft.
Canned beans are pre-cooked and can be used straight away in a variety of dishes.
Some simple strategies for adding beans to a regular diet include:
- Replacing meat with beans. Try adding beans instead of meat to soups, casseroles, and pasta dishes.
- Eating chilled bean salads. Beans are tasty and filling as a standalone salad, or as a garnish to other salads.
- Mixing beans and grains. Adding beans to grains can turn an incomplete protein into a complete one.
It can take a little trial and error to find the beans that work best for someone's preferred dishes, but beans can make a healthy addition to almost any meal.