It is a well known fact that beans are extremely high in fibre. This fibre is both soluble and insoluble – insoluble fibre isn’t broken down by the gut and absorbed into the bloodstream. It adds bulk to waste in the digestive system which helps to keep you regular whilst preventing constipation,
Soluble fibre is soft and sticky and absorbs water to form a gel-like substance inside the digestive system. It helps to soften the stool so it can slide through the GI tract more easily and binds to substances like cholesterol and sugar, preventing or slowing their absorption into the blood. That's why it's known to help regulate blood sugar levels and protect against heart disease. What's more, soluble fibre boosts the population of good bacteria in the gut which is linked to improved immunity, anti-inflammatory effects and even enhanced mood.
This soluble fibre can also bind to cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and eliminate them from the body before they get into circulation.
There are many ways that beans contribute to heart health. Firstly they can help to lower blood pressure – elevated blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease. The Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that people who ate beans had a 47% lower risk of high blood pressure than those who didn’t eat beans. Other studies have found that eating a diet rich in beans can lead to greater elasticity in blood vessels which results in lower blood pressure.
Beans contain several phytochemicals, including polyphenols, terpenoids, and anthocyanins, that can reduce the inflammation and oxidative stress that contribute to heart disease. Beans that have dark-colored seed coats, such as black beans, red kidney beans and pinto beans, have higher levels of these beneficial phytochemicals.
Beans also provide a healthy dose of several vitamins and minerals that are associated with improved heart health. These nutritional powerhouses are naturally high in Folate (Vitamin B9), which decreases levels of homocysteine – an amino acid which can damage the walls of blood vessels. High concentrations of homocysteine have been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. An average serving of beans normally provides over 100% of the RDI for Folate. They are also high in Magnesium, a vital mineral for maintaining a steady heart beat and normal blood pressure.
High in Plant Protein
A 100g serving of beans will provide in the region of 20g of high quality plant based protein. Whilst this isn’t a complete protein (containing all of the amino acids our bodies cannot make themselves), simply combining them with grains such as rice, barley, rye or oats act as complementary proteins and supply the amino acids that beans lack. Proteins are the main building blocks of the body used to make muscles, tendons, organs and skin. They are also used to make enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and various tiny molecules that serve various functions.
Support Weight Loss
Researchers at St Michael’s hospital in Canada analysed 21 clinical trials involving 940 adults who lost an average of ¾ 1lb over 6 weeks without doing anything other than adding a single serving of pulses to their diet. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that a daily serving of beans and pulses contributes to moderate weight loss and reduced cholesterol levels. Previous research by the same group found that beans increased the feeling of fullness by 31%, thereby reducing the risk of snacking between meals – a major factor in weight gain.
Folklore and history
The oldest known domesticated beans were found in Guitarrero Cave in Peru and date back to the second millennium BCE (around 4,000 years ago). Genetic analysis of the common bean, Phaseolus, shows that it originated in Meso America and subsequently spread southwards.
Egyptians considered beans to be an emblem of life and had temples dedicated to them. Later, the Greeks and Romans used them in festivals to worship their gods. The Roman's four most distinguished families were named after beans; Fabius (fava bean), Lentulus (lentil), Piso (pea), and Cicero (chickpea).
During the lean years of the Great Depression, beans were also tagged "poor man's meat" because of their protein power at pennies per pound. A few years later during World War II, Dr. C. McCay of Cornwell University School of Nutrition was hired by the U.S. government to find suitable protein substitutes for meat, poultry and dairy foods because of expected wartime shortages. After months of research he concluded that beans would fill the need quite well. He wrote several articles that included instructions and recipes, but since the shortages never came, the campaign to educate the Americans about the nutritional value of legumes was dropped.
One of the longest cultivated plants in history, the humble bean was an important source of protein throughout Old and New World history and continues to be so to this day. The oldest findings that we used beans for food are 9,000 years old and were discovered in Thailand. Wild variants of broad beans (fava beans) were gathered in Afghanistan and the Himalayan foothills.
Beans are a heliotropic plant – meaning their leaves tilt towards the sun during the daytime to face the sun, then at night they go into the folded sleep position.
Most dry beans require soaking overnight before cooking. When cooked they make a delicious, nutritious addition to stews, soups, curries, veggie burgers, burritos, salads and much more.
Amino Acids, Fibre, Vitamins, Minerals, Polyphenols, Terpenoids and Anthocyanins
If you overdo the beans some side effects you may experience range from; cramping, flatulence, diarrhoea or constipation. Water is the key to most bean side effects. Boiling beans softens their fibre content, and drinking plenty of fluids helps them move through the digestive tract more efficiently.