The health benefits of beans are numerous: they improve digestion and bone health, prevent heart disease, have anti-cancer properties, help treat diabetes, are rich in nutrients and others that we will explain below.
Common beans ( Phaseolus vulgaris ) are legumes that are grown around the world and are consumed as a high-nutrient food. Like all legumes, they are rich in fiber, protein and also contain vitamins and minerals that strengthen the body.
All beans are high in starch, a type of complex carbohydrate that is released slowly in the body, so they provide a feeling of fullness and prevent spikes in blood sugar.
Despite their starch content, beans are classified as vegetables and offer a large amount of vitamins and antioxidants just like vegetables.
They can even be considered proteins, since they provide a significant amount of plant proteins that are very necessary in the diet, almost without providing any fat and totally free of cholesterol. This is an advantage over animal proteins.
Beans are available throughout the year and can be used in all kinds of preparations, from stews and soups to adding them to burritos and tacos as a side. We invite you to know why you should incorporate this superfood into your diet right now.
Healthy properties of beans
1- They improve digestion
Beans are foods high in fiber, which is why they can be used as an aid to prevent constipation and improve the health of the digestive system. Besides this, beans are beneficial for the flora of the large intestine.
2- They help maintain low blood pressure
Beans are naturally low in sodium, one of the key factors in keeping blood pressure low.
They also contain essential minerals such as magnesium, potassium and calcium, which together have been shown to be beneficial in reducing rates of hypertension.
3- They promote optimal bone health
As we mentioned earlier, beans are rich in essential minerals like iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and copper.
Within the human body, bones are composed of 60% magnesium, 99% calcium and 80% phosphorus, therefore the contribution of these components is essential to maintain a healthy and strong bone structure.
In particular, it is calcium and phosphorus that play the most important role in the stability of our bones, while zinc and iron help to preserve the elasticity and strength of the joints.
4- They can prevent heart disease
People who consume more legumes have been shown to have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
The fibers in beans, as well as folates, B vitamins, potassium, and other phytonutrients, help keep your heart healthy.
On the other hand, beans have quercetins, a flavonol that is considered a natural anti-inflammatory, allowing to reduce the risk of arteriosclerosis.
Beans also contain saponins, with properties that help reduce blood lipids and levels of LDL cholesterol or “bad cholesterol”, which helps protect the heart and cardiovascular system.
5- They have anti-cancer properties
Beans have chemicals inside them known to be effective in treating cancer. These chemicals, specifically isoflavones and phytosterols, act in the body by preventing the development of hormone-related cancers, such as breast and endometrial cancers in women or prostate cancer in men.
In addition, the isoflavones present in beans help to reduce angiogenesis, that is, the vascularization process of a tumor, thereby reducing its size and facilitating its elimination by the body.
Other components within beans that help prevent cancers are saponins, which prevent cancer cells from multiplying and spreading within the body.
Among the essential minerals they contain is selenium, which is not always present in all vegetables.
Selenium can assist liver enzymes in their detoxification function, thereby promoting the elimination of some cancer-causing compounds in the body. Another advantage of selenium is its anti-inflammatory effect, which can slow the growth of a tumor.
Beans are rich in folate (vitamin B9), an essential vitamin for the body that must be consumed daily.
Folate or folic acid has repair and improvement effects on human DNA, so it can protect it from certain damages such as some types of cancers, especially colon cancer.
6- They reduce cholesterol
Beans are a food very high in soluble fiber, which contributes to the reduction of cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the body.
A study carried out by the University of Toronto, Canada, showed that eating all kinds of legumes once a day – in this case beans – in a three-quarter cup serving, reduces “bad cholesterol” or LDL cholesterol by 5 %.
This also translates into a 5% lower risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases, which correspond to one of the most important causes of death around the world.
Beans, in addition to being an important source of vegetable proteins, do not provide fat, which makes it possible to replace some animal foods and thus avoid “bad” fats, such as trans fats that are usually found in meats.
Another benefit is that beans are complex carbohydrates that distribute slowly in the bloodstream, ensuring a stable sugar curve for several hours.
This achieves a correct functioning of the metabolism and prevents diseases such as diabetes, preventing the development of the so-called metabolic syndrome, where high cholesterol is one of its main manifestations.
7- They are a complete package of proteins
Beans are an excellent source of plant protein. One-half cup of beans provides seven grams of protein, the same amount found in 200 grams of fish, meat, or chicken.
In this way, they are an excellent protein to supply to people who are vegetarians, vegans or who simply do not eat a lot of animal proteins.
Proteins are known as the building blocks of life. They are essential for the formation of muscles in our body, they promote the repair of cells and tissues, they take longer to be processed by the body than carbohydrates, so they maintain a feeling of satiety for longer.
They allow to achieve a healthy weight, since they favor the metabolism of fats into energy, instead of storing it in adipose deposits of the body.
Beans provide all the benefits of protein, but without the saturated fat and cholesterol of animal proteins, therefore they are essential in a healthy diet.
8- They help in the treatment of diabetes
People with type 1 diabetes who eat a healthy diet with high levels of fiber daily have been shown to maintain lower blood glucose levels.
The same occurs with type 2 diabetics, who, in addition to reducing their glucose values, also see a decrease in lipid and insulin levels.
This stabilization in the glucose curve not only allows better health, but also promotes a more balanced state of mind, with less irritability, fatigue, tiredness and greater concentration.
Beans are not only complex carbohydrates that are released slowly in the body and keep the blood sugar curve stable, but they also help to lower the levels of “bad cholesterol” in the body, therefore helping to improve the metabolism of the body, helping to keep diabetes in balance.
9- They are a complete food, high in nutrients and low in calories
Beans are not only composed of a large amount of protein, but also have a low glycemic index, which makes them an excellent alternative to a nutritious food that can be incorporated into low-calorie diets.
Its high fiber content promotes the health of the flora in the large intestine, regulating the amount of bacteria and reducing the absorption of toxic substances.
In this way, they also help reduce cholesterol levels and risks of coronary heart disease, as well as reducing the possibility of developing cancer.
They are also rich in flavonoids, recognized for being important antioxidants, with anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, anti-cancer properties and improvements in blood circulation, preventing the development of venous thrombi and toning heart function.
In addition, flavonoids protect liver function, helping to improve digestive activities. They also protect the stomach, as they help maintain the good condition of the gastric mucosa, preventing ulcers.
10- They help in the treatment of arthritis and rheumatoid diseases
Beans have anti-inflammatory properties that can be helpful in treating joint conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatism, and arthritis.
Beans have antidiuretic effects that benefit the body in these cases, reducing pain and inflammation.
11- Symptoms decrease during Premenstrual Syndrome
Being rich in manganese, beans help reduce symptoms during the premenstrual period, such as colic and sudden mood swings caused by hormonal cycles. It is recommended to especially prefer green beans and consume them throughout those days.
12- They strengthen the joints
Beans have high amounts of vitamin K, essential for the strength of bones and joints.
Low levels of this vitamin in the body are related to arthritis in the knees and hands, as well as clotting problems, which could make the person more prone to bruising.
13- They allow the absorption of more iron
Beans are also high in vitamin C, known for its antioxidant effects. Vitamin C also promotes the absorption of iron, which also contains beans.
Iron is vital for the health of the body’s cartilage, as well as the collagen found in the skin and in the walls of arteries and veins.
14- They prevent problems during pregnancy
They are an excellent source of folates (vitamin B9), essential during pregnancy and the formation of the fetus, especially to prevent defects in the neural tube of the baby.
Folates are essential components of cell synthesis and division within human DNA.
Other interesting facts
Beans are a complete food that can be found everywhere and very cheaply. For little money, it is possible to access a large amount of nutrients and vitamins that constitute a balanced meal. They have fiber, protein, folic acid, B vitamins, complex carbohydrates, essential minerals, low glycemic index and are 0% cholesterol.
You can take advantage of the benefits of beans in all their forms: mung beans, green beans, chickpeas, found beans, white beans, pinto beans and many more. In all of them you will find the same properties to improve the quality of your diet with a single meal.
It is recommended to prefer fresh beans and prepare them as a base for stews, stir-fries, accompaniments and even within sauces and dressings such as hummus, pesto and others. By grinding them, you can take advantage of all their properties and enjoy their creaminess and flavor complementing other foods.
In the case of using canned beans, it is advisable to look for those with a low sodium intake. However, it is likely that storage processes have lost some of their benefits.
When cooking, the skin can be removed after soaking for eight to ten hours in water or overnight.
With this, the possibility of abdominal distention and discomfort in the large intestine that some people feel after consuming legumes is reduced, due to the oligosaccharides present in the skin of beans, a type of sugar that tends to produce excess flatulence.
The positive is that despite removing the peel, the nutritional content and its properties remain intact.
Main components of beans
Beans are a food that is included in the diet of many countries, hence they receive different names and are cooked in different ways, so the percentage of fat, calcium or magnesium experiences small variations depending on the recipe used.
In Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and other South American countries they are consumed as a hot pot or dish, a cup of chickpeas or beans contains the following elements.
About 300 calories, 50 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams of protein, 10 grams of dietary fiber, 300 micrograms of folate, 100 milligrams of calcium, 5 milligrams of iron, 5 grams of fat, 10 milligrams of sodium, and a 28% of calories from fat.
Where is beans consumed?
Spain, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, and some areas of Asia and Africa are the territories where this food is part of the diet of its inhabitants, but depending on the place it is named and cooked in a different way.
In Mexico and some countries in South America, black beans are collected and cooked, this variety is oval in shape, they have a medium size, a sweeter flavor, and they are usually incorporated in soups and rice dishes. Its color is black.
White beans, also called American, or kidney beans are usually cooked in Spain, as in other varieties, their shape is oval, but their size is smaller and they have an earthy texture. They are part of a typical dish of Asturian cuisine that is called fabada, although this recipe provides more calories to the body since the beans are accompanied by foods such as chorizo or blood sausage.
In Europe, North America, and Mexico red beans are abundant. Its size is larger than in other varieties and its flavor is stronger. They are often used in rice, soups, salads or chilis.
In Central America and especially in Cuba, carita beans are cooked, their shape is also oval, their size is medium, they are cream in color although they can also have dark shades. They are often used in rice recipes or as a side dish.
Another variety are pinto beans, they are found in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, as in other varieties their shape is oval, and when cooked they turn brown. They are usually used in refried foods.
Although to a lesser extent, this food is also cooked in Africa and Asia. In India there is a variety called mung beans, and in some regions of the African continent pigeon pea is grown, a type of green bean similar to pea and that resists the long periods of drought that affect this area of the planet.
A different variety of beans are lentils, these legumes are seed-shaped, their size is small and they are usually black and yellow. In Spain they are a typical dish, especially in winter, in countries of Central and South America it is used as an accompaniment to other stews.
Chickpeas are a different type of beans, their size is medium, their shape is round, and they are beige in color, although in some areas of Spain such as Extremadura, where it is a typical dish, they are black.
Their texture is rigid and they are usually part of Spanish soups where they are also cooked with chorizo, blood sausage or potatoes. They are also typical of some areas of India where they are the main component of dishes such as falafel or hummus.
From America to Europe, a journey that began in 1492
The bean is a food that man has consumed since the beginning of time, it began to be cultivated by the Native Americans who occupied the territories that today belong to Guatemala, and especially to Mexico.
When the Europeans arrived on the American continent in 1492 they discovered cultures totally different from those they knew on the other side of the Atlantic, the same happened with food, many crops traveled to Europe on the return expeditions carried out by Columbus and his crew.
Chili, tomato, squash, cactus, corn or beans were crops that settled and flourished in the Mediterranean basin where the climate and soil favor their development.
Precautions to keep in mind when consuming beans
Eating too much beans can introduce excess oxalate into the body. This compound is very abundant in various legumes, it is produced as a waste of the body that is expelled through the urine. High amounts of oxalate in the body can cause kidney problems.
The appearance of flatulence, flatus or gas are another negative effect of the consumption of beans, these are produced by an abdominal distention that bring with them a feeling of bloating or heaviness. To avoid gas, it is advisable to chew them well and gradually incorporate them into the diet.
Another drawback derived from the composition of the human body itself is that the body is not capable of absorbing all the phosphorus that these legumes provide. Humans and some animals lack the bacteria necessary to digest this food.
When buying them in the supermarket it is advisable to know where they have been grown, since the composition of the soil in which they grow and are extracted influences their supply of nutrients.
Recommendations when cooking beans
Being a food that is consumed in many countries and in a very diverse way, it is advisable to follow some basic guidelines when cooking them to prevent them from losing their nutrients and bringing with them some negative effect on the body.
In case you are not clear about the recipe you are going to cook, it is good to follow the instructions that appear on the package that contains the beans, in case they are bought in canned food, check the expiration date on the container. It is also important to wash them in fresh water, especially if they have been grown in greenhouses or have been treated with any pesticide.
Spices are the best ally that can be found in the market to give them flavor, oregano, cumin, or garlic are ingredients that accompany beans avoiding excess calories in the body.
In addition to cooking them boiled or in stews, they can also be used as a garnish in salads, rice dishes or sauces. They can also be added to breakfast or dinner.
- University of Toronto (2014) Lowering cholesterol by eating chickpeas, lentils, beans and peas.
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- Chem Cent J. (2014). A review of phytochemistry, metabolite changes, and medicinal uses of the common food mung bean and its sprouts (Vigna radiata). US National Library of Medicine.
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