The Many Benefits of Beans…and Some Risks

The Many Benefits of Beans…and Some Risks

Beans truly are nutritional powerhouses packed with protein, fiber and vitamins and minerals but even the mightiest of foods have some weaknesses.

First let’s peruse some of the benefits:

Beans are Good for Your Heart:

Studies have shown that people who eat more legumes have a lower risk of heart disease and the phytochemicals found in beans might be partially to thank since they inhibit the adhesion of platelets in the blood, which can help lower risk for heart attack and strokes.  

Beans Can Lower Cholesterol:

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests having just 1⁄2 cup of cooked pinto beans daily might lower cholesterol. Like all foods that contain a lot of soluble fiber, beans help bind cholesterol and keep it from being absorbed in the gut.  Beans also contain saponins and phytsterols which help lower cholesterol.

Beans Can Fight Cancer:

Those phytochemicals I’ve mentioned- isoflavones and phytosterols- are associated with reduced cancer risk.

Beans Can Help You Lose Weight:

Because beans are fiber-rich they fill your stomach which causes a slower rise in blood sugar.  Evening out your blood sugar level staves off hunger longer and gives you a steady stream of energy.

..and there are some risks:

Beans Can Interfere with Vitamin Absorption:

Some beans, like soybeans, contain substances that interfere with the absorption of betacarotene and vitamins B12 and D.  The heat, however, from cooking inactivates most of these substances, making vitamin absorption more likely.  It’s still smart to consume plenty of fresh fruit, yellow and dark green veggies (for betacarotene) and lean meat (for vitamin B12).  

Beans Can Trigger Gout:

If you suffer gout you may want to limit or eliminate beans from your diet.  Gout sufferers are advised to avoid beans, lentils, other legumes because of their high purine content.  Purines increase uric acid levels and can precipitate a gout attack.

Beans Can Make You Gassy:

More of an annoyance rather than a risk, dried beans, lentils and peas are the biggest offenders.  Reduce gas production by changing water several times during soaking and cooking process and always rinse canned beans.  You can also add some foods which are natural digestive aids like fennel, dill, caraway seeds or combine legumes with acidic foods to lessen the gassy effect.

Like much of life, and especially in reference to foods, moderation is the key.  For most of us beans are a healthy and nutritious addition to our daily good eating.

Here are a few of my favorite bean recipes from The Whole Meal:

Cuban Black Beans and Rice

Pinto Bean Cakes with Chipotle Cream Sauce

Brunswick Stew

For more bean/legume inspiration head to The Whole Meal and search “beans”, “lentils” and “peas”.

Cuban Black Beans and Rice

Cuban Black Beans and Rice

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