Pinto soufflé, garbanzos a l’orange, black bean flambé…if we afforded beans gourmet status, we may well reduce the burden of many of our most common degenerative diseases. That’s because the incredible health benefits of beans are simply undeniable. Let’s take a look at how the many benefits of beans can positively affect your health and well-being.
Health Benefit of Beans #1: High in Protein
Though lean meats and fish typically get all the glory, one important health benefit of beans is their protein content. A cup of cooked beans—black, pinto, or kidney, to name a few—contains roughly 15 grams of satiating, muscle- and tissue-building protein. So whether you’re a vegetarian or just looking for something other than chicken, fish, or turkey to add to your plate, try beans instead.
Health Benefit of Beans #2: Loaded With Fiber
Did you know that the average American only consumes about half the daily recommended amount of fiber? Instead of getting the 30–35 grams required for optimal health and proper digestion, most people only eat about 16 grams. Adequate fiber intake can lower cholesterol, ward off diabetes, enhance intestinal health, help with weight loss, and relieve a number of other health concerns. In fact, a recent study showed that every 7 additional grams of fiber consumed by study participants helped to significantly reduce their risk of heart disease. Another health benefit of beans? You can get that amount of fiber (about 7.5 grams) in just one half-cup serving.
Health Benefit of Beans #3: Bursting With B-Vitamins, Folic Acid, and Minerals
Another benefit of beans is that they are packed with vitamins and minerals, particularly B-vitamins, folic acid, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and copper—nutrients that the standard American diet tends to be deficient in. Beans also contain other phytonutrients such as plant sterols, lectins, and phenolic compounds with diverse health-enhancing properties.
Health Benefits of Beans #4: Rare Plant Source of Lysine
An interesting health benefit of beans is that they are one of the few plant sources of the amino acid lysine. Why is lysine important? For starters, it’s an essential amino acid, meaning it’s necessary for health but your body cannot produce it so you must get it from dietary sources. Furthermore, it’s required in the formation of collagen and connective tissue, the conversion of fatty acids into energy, and the absorption of calcium. Meat, fish, cheese, and eggs are good sources of lysine, but the clear winner in the plant world is beans.
Health Benefit of Beans #5: Low on the Glycemic Index
If you are watching your weight or your blood sugar, you are probably familiar with the glycemic index (GI) of different foods. In laymen’s terms, glycemic index basically refers to how quickly foods are broken down in your body and how they affect blood sugar. Foods with a high glycemic index cause rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin (and subsequent crashes), and foods lower on the GI list tend to be digested more slowly and have less of an effect. The slower breakdown of foods helps keep blood sugar on an even keel, makes you feel full longer, and has positive effects on several aspects of health. Foods with a GI of 55 or lower are considered low glycemic. And guess what? Another health benefit of beans is that they have a GI ranging from 10 to 40, with chickpeas (garbanzo beans) being the lowest.
Health Benefit of Beans #6: Boon for Heart Health, Diabetes, and More
The benefits of beans really are undeniable. Regular consumption of beans has been linked to improvements in heart and intestinal health, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, weight control, and more. Everyone should try to incorporate more of these nutritional powerhouses into their daily diets. (Check out the healthy bean recipes below for ideas on how to get started.)
How to Overcome One Downside to Beans
Despite all the health benefits of beans, they can produce intestinal gas, which can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. It’s caused by the human body’s inability to completely digest resistant starches and other carbohydrates in beans called oligosaccharides. We simply lack the enzymes to break them down into simpler molecules for absorption. When these undigested carbs arrive in the intestinal tract, they are metabolized by the trillions of bacteria that reside there, which break them down in a fermentation process that releases hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases. (The odor is caused by sulfur compounds.)
There are two ways to reduce this problem. First, soak dried beans plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda in cold water for eight hours or overnight. Pour off the soaking water and rinse well before cooking. This will get rid of a significant percentage of indigestible oligosaccharides.
Second, take Beano or digestive enzymes when you eat beans. Beano contains alpha-galactosidase, an enzyme that converts the indigestible carbohydrates in beans into simple, readily absorbed sugars.