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Beans, Beans, Good for the Heart... Yes, They Are!

Updated on August 15, 2010

Healthy Beans

Beans really can be considered a magical food. Well, as magical as a food can get.  Beans have the highest antioxidants of any other food, they taste great, they’re low in calories and fat, and they fill you up.  They help fight cancer and heart disease, reduce weight and regulate diabetes.  I’ll bet you didn’t know beans were this good for you, and once you know, I’ll bet you eat more of them.

Beans are high in complex carbohydrates, have a larger variety of nutrients than most other foods, have no saturated fat, lots of protein and a huge amount of soluble fiber.  Key nutrients found in beans include calcium, potassium, and magnesium – all nutrients that are vital to women’s health which women are often lacking in their diets.  They also contain vitamin B6 and about 32% of the daily requirement of folate. 

Beans are one of the original heart-healthy foods.  The University of Kentucky has conducted several studies on the relationship between eating beans and heart health.  Patti Bazel Weil, professor at U of K and author of “Magic Beans”, found that eating a cup of cooked beans decreased cholesterol about 10% in six weeks, which can reduce the risk of heart disease by 20%.  Another study from the U of K found that only three weeks of eating more beans – a cup of pinto and navy beans to be exact – lowered cholesterol by 19% of the men in the study, reducing the risk of heart disease by an amazing 40%.  The soluble fiber in beans binds to cholesterol in the bloodstream and removes the cholesterol from the body.  In particular, black beans are very rich in anthocyanins, the antioxidants that fight cancer and heart disease.  Garbanzo beans, or chickpeas (hummus anyone?), can cut LDL cholesterol by 5%, and the potassium found in navy beans helps regulate blood pressure and normal heart contractions.

A fresh bean salad is just one of many ways to add beans to your diet.
A fresh bean salad is just one of many ways to add beans to your diet.

People suffering from diabetes have known for many years about the benefits of eating more beans.  This magic food contains 13 grams of fiber per cup.  Fiber helps create more insulin receptor sites, places where insulin molecules connect to the cells that need it and keep the insulin out of the bloodstream.  Beans also have a low glycemic index because of their high content of complex carbohydrates.  For diabetics, this translates into lower glucose levels because the starches in beans break down more slowly than in other sources of carbohydrates.  Pinto beans in particular help stabilize blood sugar due to their high fiber content, lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Beans are the highest antioxidant food, more than the much-touted blueberries and cranberries.  In 2004 the United States Department of Agriculture did a study to rank foods according to their antioxidant content.  Beans held three of the top four positions.  Small red beans ranked first, kidney beans third and pinto beans fourth.  Antioxidants help you keep your youthful looks and vibrancy.  They also, and more importantly, help fight cancer, particular colorectal, prostate and breast cancer.  The protease inhibitors in beans help to keep normal cells from turning cancerous and inhibit the growth of cancerous cells.

For the vegetarians out there or anyone who can’t eat meat, beans are an excellent source of protein – about 15 grams per cup – and when combined with a grain such as rice, they form a complete protein, a claim no other plant food can make.  Protein is vital for healthy and normally functioning of much of our bodies.  It builds strong muscles and repairs damaged tissues.  We cannot make or store protein so we have to consume the protein our bodies need. 

Though the childhood song about beans may be humorous, in part it’s very true.  Beans have long been ignored as a vital part of our diets, relegated to the rank of pauper food.  With studies showing the huge nutritional benefits of beans, more people are adding them to their diet, and beans are gaining wide popularity and recognition as a food that may be as close to a super food as we can get.

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