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It’s been said that if you had to be stuck on a desert island with one food, it should be beans. Beans are some of the best nutritional multitaskers around. They are packed with protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and are low in fat. They are rich in lignans, which play a role in preventing osteoporosis, heart disease and certain cancers. Studies suggest that they reduce the risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer, and, possibly, even diabetes. What's more, beans are savory, easy to prepare, inexpensive, and come in many varieties. With so many good reasons to eat beans, it doesn't add up that Americans eat only about one cup of beans a week, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a minimum of three cups. Dry beans are especially nutrient-dense, providing a particularly high amount of nutrients per calorie. Also, in a recent multicultural study, the consumption of beans was shown to be the only dietary component related to living longer.
Beans are full of vitamins and minerals. Beans are a good source of minerals, like calcium, copper, zinc, iron, and potassium, and B vitamins, such as folic acid.
Beans are high in fiber. Beans contain impressive levels of dietary fiber: 12 to 15 g in a one-cup serving, which translates to half or more of the daily recommended fiber intake of 21 to 30 g for older individuals. They are a rich source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. The insoluble fiber in beans absorbs liquid in the colon and helps soften stool, which protects against constipation. A cup of high fiber beans such as pinto or black beans would be comparable to eating eight slices of whole wheat bread to get the same amount of fiber. And it’s primarily cholesterol-reducing fiber, which makes beans a heart-healthy alternative to meat.
Beans are packed with protein. One cup of cooked beans provides as much as 16 g of protein, about a quarter to a third of the amount you need in a day. They are loaded with the “good fat” your body needs and complex carbohydrates, the nutrients that are responsible for providing energy to muscles and brain.
Beans stabilize your blood sugar. Soluble fiber in beans slows the passage of glucose from food into your bloodstream. Because of this, your body has to produce less insulin; high levels of insulin are a precursor to diabetes. Their low glycemic index also gives them the unique ability to provide energy over a sustained period of time by being slowly released into your blood stream.
Beans are heart-healthy. Scientific evidence that beans promote heart health continues to grow. In a study conducted by the USDA Agricultural Research, researchers found that consuming as little as a 1/2 cup of beans a day helped lower total LDL cholesterol levels in healthy people as well as in those with an increased risk of heart disease.
Beans may reduce colon cancer risk. Increasing bean consumption by a significant amount may protect against the recurrence of precancerous polyps that can lead to colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
Beans often get a bad rap for causing intestinal discomfort. Yes, beans can be gassy, but don’t let their “explosive” nature keep you from enjoying their nutritional advantages and versatility. Cooking methods such as draining canned or soaked beans or using herbs can help reduce the hard-to-digest carbohydrates in beans that cause flatulence. Also, the body gradually adapts to increased bean consumption.
Beans or legumes are second only to grains in supplying calories and protein to the world’s population. Compared to grains, however, they supply about the same number of calories, but usually two to four times the proteins. For so many healthy reasons, beans deserve a big space in your garden and your diet.
John Hopkins Health Alert, Posted in Nutrition and Weight Control on August 12, 2009, Reviewed January 2011
EAT BEANS AND MORE BEANS, Susan Raatz, PhD, MPH, RD, Research Nutritionist, USDA Human Nutrition Research Center, Grand Forks, ND