Eat beans, and it may help reduce your risk of disease. They’re a good source of protein and fiber as well as antioxidants, all of which help our bodies fight to stay healthy. It turns out they are a magical fruit. Here are some of the main health benefits of beans.
So, yes, beans get a bad rap when we’re kids. All of our young life, we know beans for the gas they give us. We just giggle at them. But beans don’t get enough credit for the ways they help keep us healthy, functioning humans. In addition to being a good source of fiber, beans have a handful of benefits such as maintaining heart health to reducing the risk of cancer.
1) Plant-based protein
This one is for the vegans. When choosing to cut meat from your diet, you still need protein for essential functions like maintaining healthy tissue and metabolism as well as preventing disease [source]. That’s where beans come in handy.
Almost all types of beans, including soybeans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils, adzuki beans, lima beans, navy beans, and black beans, can help you meet the recommended amount of protein intake, which is 50 grams per day.
2) High in folate
Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient for pregnant women, promoting healthy fetus development. Most adults should consume about 400 mcg daily [source]. Luckily, beans deliver a lot of it. For example, just one cup of lentils nearly fulfills your entire recommended daily intake [source]. Other beans contain folate as well, including black beans, pinto beans, mung beans, kidney beans, and more.
3) Fight disease
Heard of polyphenols? Dried beans have them -specifically kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, and navy beans [source]. You could argue that the best types of foods help prevent disease and because beans check that box. Polyphenols help lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes by neutralizing free radicals that find a home in our bodies. But that’s just one way that beans help fight illness.
Dry beans make the list of cancer-fighting foods at the American Institute for Cancer Research [source]. According to the organization, dried beans have resistant starch, which may help produce healthy bacteria that protect the colon, potentially reducing the risk of colorectal cancer. This idea was reinforced by a study that found evidence of black beans slowing colorectal cancer growth [source].
Other studies have shown that soybeans may reduce the risk of prostate cancer because they contain an antioxidant known as isoflavones [source]. Beans also contain the antioxidants known as flavonoids and phytochemicals which, you guessed it, are believed to protect us from cancer.
5) Lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels
The research has spoken. Eating beans in moderation makes your cholesterol levels happy. According to research reported by The New York Times, eating 4.5 ounces of legumes daily may lower cholesterol levels by 5%, which in turn may decrease your risk of heart disease by 5% to 6% [source].
One explanation is soluble fiber. Beans have a lot it, and research has found it helps your body process the bad cholesterol rather than store it [source]. It also slows down your body’s carbohydrate absorption, lowering blood sugar levels.
So what else is in beans? It varies depending on the type of bean you’re eating, but according to The Bean Institute, there are about 100 to 130 calories and around 8 grams of protein (some varieties have significantly more) per 1/2 cup of cooked beans [source]. Fat content is low, usually less than a gram per 1/2 cup.
There are about 20 grams of carbohydrates and 5 to 10 grams of fiber. This doesn’t include any cooking liquid. Again, these are estimates. Here’s a more specific breakdown of the different types of beans and their nutrition content.
The downside to beans
Now, time to get real. Despite some notable health benefits, beans aren’t the easiest to digest, though some varieties are easier than others. If you have a sensitive stomach, IBS, or another tricky digestive condition, stick to aduki beans, lentils, mung beans, and peas to get the nutritional value without the tummy ache. Soybeans are one of the hardest to digest and may disrupt vitamin absorption. Lastly, beans are not gout friendly.
How do you keep beans from giving you gas?
Soaking your beans may curb the gassy side effects by removing some of their starch, which your gut bacteria like to feed on (and ultimately causes gas). Other remedies include rinsing beans before cooking them, chewing thoroughly, or OTC enzyme supplements [source].
Experts also report that the more you eat beans, the easier it becomes for your body to digest them. While you may not want to eat beans every day, eating a serving a few times per week may help your body adjust, meanwhile benefiting from all the pro-bean points discussed above.
Are canned beans good for you?
Just check the label for added sugars and salt that may skew beans as more harmful than helpful. Look for labels that say “no sugar added” and “no salt added.”