Beans are an excellent way to add to a healthy diet. Although they are small in seize, they are packed with a variety of nutrients which are vital for good health. Firstly, they are full of fiber. “They are one of the better sources of fiber there is,” according to Joe Hughes, PhD, assistant professor in the nutrition and food sciences program at California State University in San Bernardino, who has beans at the center of his research. |
What’s so good about this is that they have a high content of soluble and insoluble fiber, which causes different effect in the body. Besides beans, oats are also one of the few other foods which are high in both types of fiber. But you can use beans in many more other type of dishes than oats.
Besides fiber, beans are also rich in minerals, protein, and surprisingly: antioxidants.
Although beans are not the only food that help lower cholesterol levels, they certainly are one of the best. The soluble fiber is the same gummy stuff found in apples, barley and oat bran. In the digestive tract, soluble fiber traps cholesterol-containing bile and remove it from the body before it gets absorbed.
“Eating a cup of cooked beans a day can lower total cholesterol by 10% in 6 weeks, “ says Patti Bazel Geil, MS, RD, a diabetes educator and nutrition author in Lexington, Kentucky, who has written about the benefits of beans. While 10% doesn’t seem like much, keep in mind that every 1% reduction in total cholesterol means a 2% less risk for heart attack.
Beans can lower cholesterol in just about anyone, but the higher your cholesterol content, the better they work. In a study at the University of Kentucky, 20 men with high cholesterol ( over 260 milligrams per deciliter of blood ) were given about 3/4 cup of pinto and navy beans per day. The men’s total cholesterol dropped an average of 19% in three weeks, possibly lower their risk of heart attack by almost 40%. Even more remarkable, the dangerous low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – that’s what cause the blocking of arteries, plunged by 24%.
Apparently all beans can help to lower cholesterol levels, even canned baked beans. In another study at the University of Kentucky, 24 men with high cholesterol ate 1 cup of canned beans in tomato sauce every day for 3 weeks. Their total cholesterol dropped by 10.4 %, and their triglycerides ( another blood fat that contributes to heart disease)dropped 10.8 %.)
In further research into the cholesterol-lowering effects of beans and other legumes, authors of a report in the British Journal of Nutrition compiled the findings of 11 studies that looked at the relationship between cholesterol and different types of legumes, such as pinto beans, chickpeas, white beans, and mixed beans ( except soybeans). They found that the beans in these studies lowered total cholesterol by 7.2%, LDL (bad) cholesterol by 6.2%, and triglycerides by 16.6%. The soluble fiber in these foods appeared to be the most important factor responsible for their cholesterol lowering effect.
Steady Blood Sugar Keeping steady blood sugar levels is vital to keep diabetes under control. “Many people don’t realize how good beans are for people with diabetes,” says Geil. In fact, eating about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of beans a day has proved to significantly improve blood sugar control. And beans provide yet another benefit for people with diabetes, she says.”People with diabetes have a four to six times greater change to develop heart disease,” she says.”Eating more beans will keep their cholesterol low, thereby reducing their risk.”
Beans are also rich in complex carbohydrates. Not like sugarly foods, which dump sugar (glucose) into the bloodstream all at once, complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly. This means that the glucose enters your bloodstream a little at a time, and helping to keep blood sugar levels steady, says Geil.
The effect that food has on blood sugar is commonly measured on a scale called the Glycemic Index. The lower the GI, the better. Beans have a low GI, which is very good, because of their soluble fiber, says Dr. Hughes. This should be good news for the 21 million Americans with diabetes, and the 54 million with “prediabetes,” a condition that causes a rise in blood sugar and usually occurs in people before they develop diabetes.
Unfortunately, Americans only eat 17 grams of fiber daily, on average – and people with diabetes only eat 16 grams – according to a survey from the federal government. The American Dietetic Association recommends 25 grams daily.
Something nice about beans is that you can buy them in many varieties – and you can prepare them in different ways – which makes it easy to eat beans even more than once a day in relatively large quantities to benefit from their fiber content, says Dr. Hughes.
Cancer-Licking Legumes As we all know, fruits and vegetables are the foods rich in antioxidants. To prove this fact, the USDA researchers compiled the antioxidant capacity of hundreds of foods in the American diet and many of these foods stood out. The Granny Smith apple, for example, scored a 5,381 on the measurement of total antioxidant capacity per serving. The artichoke scored 7,904 and the low bush blueberry got a hopping 13,427. But several beans more than held their own, too. The pinto bean scored 11,864 and the red kidney bean scored 13,259!
Beans are rich sources of phytochemicals, which are plant components that have antioxidant and other disease fighting properties, says Dr. Hughes. Beans may contain hundreds of types of antioxidant chemicals. If you can remember what I have written in my previous articles, that antioxidants help to protect you from cancer by limiting damaging attacks on your cells from free radicals. Also, unlike some antioxidant rich plant foods like blueberries, you can put lots of different beans on your plate, meal after meal, without getting bored or overwhelmed by the flavor.
Some other compounds in beans – like lignans, isoflavones, saponins, phytic acid, and protease inhibiters – have proved to inhibit cancer cell growth. These compounds appear to keep normal cells from turning cancerous and prevent cancer cells from growing.
The Healthy Alternative to Meat Beans used to be called the ” poor man’s meat”. But a more accurate name would be the healthy man’s meat. Like red meat, beans are loaded with protein. But unlike meat, they’re low in fat, particularly dangerous, artery-glogging saturated fat. For example, a cup of black beans contains less than 1 gram of fat and less than 1% of that comes from saturated fat. Three ounces of lean, broiled ground beef on the other hand, has 15 grams of fat, of which 22% is of the saturated kind.
Beans are also a great source of vitamins and minerals. A half cup of black beans contains 128 micro grams, or 32% of the Daily Value for folate, a B vitamin that may lower risk of heart disease and fight birth defects. That same cup has 2 milligrams of iron, 11% of the Daily Value, and 305 milligrams of potassium, or 9 % of the DV. Potassium is a mineral that has been shown to help control blood presure.
The darker the beans, the more antioxidants they contain. Black beans also contain more fiber, about 6 grams. If you don’t have the time to cook you can buy canned beans as they contained their nutrients. Only they may have a higher sodium content.
If you have a problem with uncomfortable and embarrassing gas, start eating beans once a week and the next month twice a week, for example. It may also help to add ground ginger to the beans.
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