Beans come in all colors, shapes, and sizes – whether they are green, black, white or red and shaped like strings or kidneys. They are high in protein and low in cholesterol, with plenty of other health benefits in between making them a superfood you need to start eating. So what makes beans good for us?
Beans contain high amounts of fiber, which is an important part of your diet and it contains more fiber than meat. This means that meat is digested fairly quickly, whereas beans are digested slowly, keeping you satisfied and fuller for longer. Plus, beans are low in sugar, which prevents insulin in the bloodstream from spiking and causing hunger. When you substitute beans for meat in your diet, you get the added bonus of a decrease in saturated fat.
Beans also contain phytochemicals, compounds found only in plants and not in meats. Beans are high in antioxidants, a group of phytochemicals that kill cell-damaging free radicals in the body. A study was conducted on the antioxidant abilities of some common foods. The researchers concluded that three types of beans contained the most amount of antioxidants and were at the top of the list – small red beans, red kidney beans, and pinto beans. Three other varieties of beans – black beans, navy beans, and black-eyed peas – were listed as well.
If you’re in the habit of counting calories and are on a low-caloric diet, beans are excellent for you. Green beans contain just nine calories per ounce. Even garbanzo beans, which have the most calories for beans, only have 33 calories per ounce. Beans are also naturally low-fat and cholesterol-free. Adding them to your diet helps cut calories without feeling deprived.
Aside from being a great source of protein and fiber, beans are also a good food to have for its B vitamins, iron, folate, potassium, magnesium, and many phytonutrients, and should be consumed on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
Beans are a wonderful heart healthy food. Eating them frequently can result in lower cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is only present in animal fats, which are also saturated fats. Beans, like all other plant-derived sources of protein, do not contain any saturated fat, and therefore are also cholesterol free. Moreover, as discussed, beans are also a good source of fiber. Fiber in your diet helps to keep LDL levels down, at the same time it raises HDL (the good cholesterol) levels.
Here are some beans that contain the highest amount of fiber:
- Lentils 8 grams
- Black beans 7.5 grams
- Pinto beans 7.5 grams
- Kidney beans 5.5 grams
- Chickpeas 4 grams
Beans are also a rich source of folate. Research studies have shown that folate plays a critical role in the reduction of homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is a compound that damages the blood vessel walls when it accumulates in the body. Folate helps to reduce this damaging effect by neutralizing the homocysteine molecules. Lastly, beans have a potent combination of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These group of electrolytes are associated with reduced risk of heart disease and hypertension.
When it comes to controlling blood sugar, it is the high soluble fiber content in beans that is the perfect nutrient. If you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, or diabetes, adding beans into your regular diet can be very helpful. The reason for this is that the soluble fiber in beans provides a slow burning and long lasting source of energy, consisting of complex carbohydrates and proteins for your body to use. Since these macronutrients take longer for your body to break down, blood sugar levels remain stabilized. When blood sugar are stabilized your body does not need to release as much insulin to control the glucose in the blood. This is especially important for diabetic patients.
Fiber adds a great deal of bulk to foods without adding a lot of calories to your diet, at the same time it makes you feel full for longer, curbing your cravings and thus controlling your weight. In order to maintain your weight you must balance the calories you intake through eating every day with the calories that you burn during your daily activities.
Scientific research suggests that beans may help to prevent certain types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer, colon, breast cancer, prostate cancer. Beans contain both lignins and phytates, which seem to be the major contributors to the cancer fighting effects of this superfood. Lignins are phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds that have been linked to a reduction in risk of developing breast cancer. Phytates are compounds that have been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of intestinal cancer.
Beans are definitely nutritional superfoods, however, they also naturally contain a type of sugar that is indigestible in humans. This sugar sits in the large intestine and bacteria convert it into a form that can cause gas and flatulence. To avoid this, soak dried beans in water, which can help ease the problem by breaking down the sugars. Since beans contain a ton of fiber, introduce beans to the diet gradually so the digestive system can get used to higher amounts of fiber and substitute them for meat on most days of the week.
Beans are also highly versatile when it comes to recipes. Have them in burritos, soups, stews, salads, sauces, or just simply steamed.