“Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart. The more you eat the more you…” Yes, we all know what comes next, right? Even so, chances are you’ve probably got more than one can of legumes in your pantry right now. And it seems you should keep stocking up, as besides keeping your ticker in great working order, this protein-packed kitchen staple can provide you with a whole host of other bodily benefits.
It doesn’t look like you’ll need much convincing to keep buying them, either. According to the agricultural recruitment website AgHires, the average American devours more than seven pounds of beans annually. In fact, it’s thought that on a typical day, 14 percent of U.S. adults incorporate legumes into their meal plans. And consumers play favorites, too: it looks like the most-loved varieties of beans include red kidney, pinto, black, navy and great northern.
Of course, American farmers have had to up the ante in order to cope with the growing popularity of beans. And as a result, roughly two million acres of U.S. land is now used to produce the different legumes. Also, rather mind-blowingly, one acre can yield up to 2,800 pounds of the pulses. What a lot of beans, eh?
So it’s certainly a good job they’re so versatile. And that’s exactly why people seem to love them, too. From tacos to soups or from salads to curries, beans are a fantastic way to bulk out different dishes. And if you’re looking for a quick snack, simply sprinkle a few different spices on them for a flavorful bowl of goodness that will benefit your body in more ways than one.
One of the most popular bean-laden dishes is, of course, chili con carne – or veggie chili if you’d rather forgo the meat. Either way, Americans spend an entire day every year celebrating the hearty dish. And the holiday seems to have really taken off. In 2015, for instance, the country enjoyed 118 million pounds of the spicy stuff – with Los Angeles claiming top-spot in terms of how much chili its residents managed to wolf down.
But as the popular bean-based rhyme suggests, eating them isn’t without its drawbacks. Legumes can cause stomach discomfort, you see – namely, bloating and gas. Thankfully, it seems the more beans you get down you, the more likely it is that your body will get used to the effects. But that doesn’t sound so catchy in a song now, does it?
Anyway… exactly how many portions of beans do you need to eat in order for your body to adapt? Apparently, three cups a week is all it takes to decrease your likelihood of experiencing such a side effect. And this shouldn’t be too difficult, given that using the various legumes as ingredients can open more than just a few new culinary doors.
And don’t just take it from us. If you’re still skeptical that you’ll become less gassy by eating more beans, Cynthia Sass, a registered dietician and Health’s contributing nutrition editor, is here to put you at ease. As she explained in the magazine in 2015, “People who eat beans on a consistent basis experience less gas and bloating than people who consume them less often.” And when you see what else beans can do for your health, you probably won’t need much more convincing to take the risk.
Beans, you see, can do a wealth of good for your overall health. And while you may be able to guess a few of the feel-good side effects that come with eating legumes on a regular basis, there are some more surprising and lesser-known advantages. In fact, learning what they do to your insides may have you folding the pulses into your next meal – and the one after that…
One thing’s for sure, though: the nutrients in beans make them especially great for people who prefer plant-based and meat-free diets. Contrary to what you may expect, those individuals actually make up a relatively small number of the population. That’s right: according to Gallup poll’s 2018 survey, only five percent of people said they were vegetarian, while a mere three percent claimed to follow a vegan diet.
Despite this surprising statistic, the concept of plant-based eating has become much more prevalent in recent years. And that’s all thanks to the wealth of information that now exists about this lifestyle choice and its merits. Even those who don’t want to adopt a completely plant-based diet have more delicious recipe options than ever before to choose from, which can only be a good thing, right?
What’s more, according to research into part-vegetarian diets, those who’ve started eating fewer meals containing meat have seen changes in their health. Some were able to shed the pounds and lower their blood pressure, for instance, while others have managed to ward off diseases such as diabetes.
There are different names for people who adhere to these partly meat-free diets, too. And the various titles give a glimpse into a given person’s reasons for following such plans. Some call themselves “flexitarians,” meaning they have a flexible but mostly-vegetarian eating style. Meanwhile, “climatarians” reduce their meat consumption because they want to protect the planet.
Regardless of someone’s reasons for eating less meat – or foregoing it all together – there are plenty of foods that easily replace it as the main protein source. Eggs, for one, stand as one of the cheapest and most complete forms of protein out there. They also contain a slew of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, B12, zinc and copper.
And there are also lesser-known options such as hemp seeds, which make a great addition to porridge and smoothies. Just an ounce of the grain supplies the body with ten grams of protein. Pretty impressive, right? Plus, there’s magnesium, zinc, calcium and iron to be found as well as a number of healthy fatty acids, too.
Funnily enough, gluten is also a great example of a vegetarian protein – yes, that’s the same gluten that many people try to avoid. It seems the texture of it makes it an ideal ingredient for creating mock meats such as faux beef burgers and chicken-style cutlets. More importantly, though, in a 3.5-ounce serving, you’ll find 25 grams of protein. This is about half of the recommended daily amount – depending on gender and body weight, of course.
But perhaps the most tried-and-true vegetarian, vegan and flexitarian staple are beans. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a country where the little legumes aren’t considered essential for home cooking – regardless of whether someone is a meat-eater or not. Beans pair well with just about any accompanying flavor, and as we’ve suggested, they can do wonders for your body.
Plant-based eaters tend to reach for beans because, like gluten and hemp, they contain a wealth of hearty protein. And in most varieties, you’ll also find an abundance of fiber and vitamins. All of this comes with a very reasonable price tag, too – whether they’re tinned or dried, legumes will likely be much more affordable than meat.
But adding beans to your diet will do more for you than merely save you a few dollars. Yes, we’re aware they’re protein-packed and full of fiber. But what exactly does this actually mean for your overall health and wellbeing?
To start, the fact that beans are loaded with fiber will help promote regular bowel movements. Adults are supposed to eat between 25 and 38 grams of fiber each day, but many fall short of hitting that amount. That’s where beans can help. If you were to have a cup of navy beans, for instance, you’d get a whopping 19 grams of fiber in just one sitting – nearly satisfying the daily requirement.
And since beans can help get your digestion back on track, it makes sense, then, that they can also help you to lose weight. Yes, it seems people who regularly eat beans tend to have a healthier body mass index, smaller midriff and are generally lighter than their non-legume-eating counterparts.
And research has reiterated this, too. Specifically, the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that obese men who got most of their protein intake from various types of beans shed more pounds than those who consumed more traditional alternatives such as meat.
Eating beans will also keep you satisfied for longer, and that’s again thanks to the hearty dose of fiber that they contain. It means you’ll receive a slow and steady release of energy from noshing on the legumes, which is obviously quite the opposite feeling you’d get from, say, a sugar rush and the crash that comes afterward.
Speaking of sugar, the majority of beans unsurprisingly come up trumps if you’re looking to reduce the amount that you consume. They rank low on the glycemic index, you see, which is a measurement showing how much – or how little – various foods impact blood sugar levels. And Dietitian Sass touched on why this is to Health magazine. “Because of the fiber and protein, the carbs in beans get absorbed at a slower rate over a longer period of time,” she explained.
For this reason, many experts believe that a bean-heavy diet can help ward off diabetes. And that’s not all. A serving of your favorite legumes may work to regulate your cholesterol levels, too. Having too much LDL cholesterol in your system isn’t good; it will cling onto blood-vessel walls, encouraging inflammation and eventually becoming plaque.
But fear not, as yep, you guessed it: beans can help. They actually stop LDL from getting into the bloodstream, thus helping to keep your cholesterol levels at bay. As Sass explains, “The soluble fiber in beans binds to cholesterol in the GI tract, which prevents it from being absorbed in the blood.” Studies have confirmed this time and time again, too.
For example, a Canadian Medical Journal experiment revealed that if you eat a daily dose of either lentils, chickpeas, peas or beans, you can cut the amount of LDL in your body by five percent. And as if we need any more convincing to up our bean intake, the same paper said eating more pulses may make it less likely that someone experiences cardiovascular problems, too.
It seems lowering your cholesterol levels goes hand-in-hand with improving your heart health – and that’s partly why beans are so good for the cardiovascular system as well. Sass put it simply to Health magazine, saying, “With every one percent reduction of total blood cholesterol, there is about a two percent reduction in the risk of heart attack.”
So it looks like the silly children’s rhyme isn’t wrong! More beans equals less chance of suffering from both heart and cardiovascular diseases. And it seems this is, again, largely down to the high fiber content in the little legumes. Rather astonishingly, one paper published in the British Medical Journal confirmed that even upping your fiber intake by just seven grams per day could slash your risk of getting both ticker-related illnesses by nearly 10 percent.
But surely not all of the goodness in beans is linked to fiber? No, the vitamins and minerals that the legumes contain also help to keep your heart healthy. Potassium, for one, pulls unnecessary amounts of water and sodium from the body – which, if left to roam, can spike your blood pressure. What’s more, the magnesium in beans improves the body’s nervous system.
If you don’t think you’re getting enough iron, there are some easy diet changes that you can make. And you don’t necessarily need to eat more meat, either. Just half a cup of cooked lentils will add 3.3 milligrams of the mineral to your system. Remember to eat lots of vitamin C-rich foods such as broccoli and tomatoes, though, as the combination makes it easier for your body to soak up the mineral.
Expectant moms – and those hoping to have kids in the future – should also add beans into their daily diets for a healthy dose of folate. It’s essential for pregnant women to get enough of this B vitamin, you see, as it can ward off various birth defects. And that’s not all. Folate helps everyone improve their nervous system, cardiovascular system and amitosis, too. So it’s a win-win!
And it appears the list of reasons to love beans just keeps on growing. Aside from folate, they contain a wealth of other B vitamins, such as B6, niacin, riboflavin and thiamin – all of which help increase good cholesterol levels and turn food into energy. Plus, the combination of folate and B6 can also reduce the risk of death by heart failure, according to a study published in Stroke.
Perhaps most surprisingly of all, though, is the link between beans and cancer prevention. The different pulses contain a wealth of antioxidants, which help act as a barrier between your cells and free radicals. Over time, you see, a lack of shielding from these nasty molecules could be detrimental to the body and its cells.
Interestingly, research has found that beans are effective in preventing two types of cancer in particular. One study from the International Journal of Cancer followed 90,000 women over an eight-year period. Their results then showed that eating more than one portion of beans every seven days reduced the risk of suffering from breast cancer. That’s compared to women who ate little or no beans, of course.
Beans may also protect us from colon and rectal cancers, too, according to another study published in The Journal of Cancer Research. In their research, women who helped themselves to beans four times per week or more had fewer colorectal polyps, which can sometimes lead to the aforementioned types of cancer.
Finally, beans contain compounds that have been shown to have cancer-fighting abilities as well. They contain saponins, and thankfully, Sass shed light on this organic chemical and what it does to Health. She said, quite simply, “saponins has been shown to block the reproduction of cancer cells and slow the growth of tumors.” As you can see, then, there are many advantages to adding beans to your diet.
Ready to incorporate beans into your day-to-day menu, then? If yes, you’re in luck as it’s simple to bring legumes into the fold. Firstly, you can purchase either dry or canned beans – the latter being the better option if you don’t have time to soak your legumes overnight before cooking them. And if you’re wondering which option contains the most nutrients, they’re both largely the same.
As we’ve mentioned, taking your bean intake from naught to one hundred may cause you to experience one small and short-lived side-effect: gas. But don’t worry if you feel bloated or otherwise full of air – it’s not a sign your legume-based meal was bad for you. It simply means your body is getting used to this new source of fiber.
Yes, after a week of eating more beans, this discomfort should subside. And staying hydrated will help, too, as it will prevent your digestive system from getting sluggish. Then, you can enjoy adding beans to your soups, salads, veggie burgers, hummus and the rest. And do you know what will make every bite all the more enjoyable? Knowing all the good things that your legume-eating habit is doing to your body!