Beans are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants and are an excellent addition to a varied, economical, healthy diet. All four of the major dietary food-scoring systems promote beans as a part of a healthy diet, one of only four foods these guidelines agree on. The newest dietary guidelines for Americans also promote whole plant food consumption, including a high legume intake.
Many of the most health-promoting and disease-reversing diets ever studied emphasize high bean and legume consumption:
- The Ornish diet
- The Mediterranean diet
- The traditional Kenyan, Okinawan and Bantu diets
- The traditional Native American and Indian diets
- Plant-based diets
Beans contain a multitude of nutrients that are known to be health-promoting:
- Ergothioneine, shown to protect DNA
- Folate, important for maintaining healthy homocysteine levels
- Magnesium, associated with an overall decreased risk of mortality
- Non-heme iron, a safer form of iron than the heme-iron found in animal sources
- Phytates, now believed to promote bone health, decrease the risk of cancer and even force cancer cells to dedifferentiate back towards being normal cells
- Potassium, an essential mineral that may be protective against stroke
- Soluble fiber, associated with decreased risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease risk, and stroke, as well as slowed progression of heart disease and treatment of constipation
- Vitamin B6, important for eye health
- Zinc, important for male reproductive health
Bean consumption appears to play a role in the following:
- Decrease circulating insulin levels
- Decrease oxidative stress from exercise
- Decrease risk of metabolic syndrome and pre-diabetes
- Decrease the rate of cancer progression and metastasis
- Improve asthma symptoms
- Lower body weight
- Lower cholesterol
- Minimize dioxin and cadmium toxicity
- Prevent the production of the cancer promoting compound TMAO
- Protect against the initial development of cancer
- Reduce blood pressure
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce risk of benign prostate hyperplasia
- Reduce risk of depression
- Reduce risk of suicide
- Slow skin aging and wrinkling
- Stabilize blood sugar levels
In fact, beans are so health promoting that their consumption is now believed to be the single most important predictor of longevity among older populations around the world.
Black beans appear to be slightly more antioxidant-rich than pinto beans. Lentils (red lentils more than than green ones) come in second after black beans for antioxidant content. Tempeh is a whole soybean food and as such is one of the healthiest forms of soy.
There appears to be little difference in nutrient profiles among cooked, sprouted and canned beans, but some canned beans may contain up to one hundred times more salt than beans prepared at home. One should also be aware that the plastic linings in bean cans produced by certain companies contain BPA.
Unfortunately, 98% of Americans are not utilizing the full potential of these versatile, cost-effective, environmentally friendly foods. Public health and economic policies could do more to promote the consumption of healthy foods. It’s never too late to accrue health benefits from switching to a healthier diet and lifestyle.
Topic summary contributed by Miranda.