Legumes: Prevent Heart Disease, Diabetes and Cancer

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • Everyone knows that legumes (beans) are a healthy part of a vegetarian diet, as they are a rich source of protein for those who don’t eat meat. However, beans are packed with nutritional benefits that are a necessary part of any healthy eating plan. Not only are beans filling from a calorie perspective, they also play a key role in cholesterol, blood glucose levels, decreased cancer risk and more. As is the case with all foods, variety is important as each of the many types of beans contain slightly unique properties. Even though beans are known to produce intestinal gas for some people, there are specific cooking techniques that can reduce or eliminate this problem all together, disregarding any and all excuses not to consume beans on a weekly basis.

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    Nutritional Properties

    So what are some of the key health benefits of beans? Well for starters, beans contain 2-4x more protein than grains, making them one of the richest plant sources of protein on the planet (1 cup contains approximately 15g protein).[1] They also are an excellent source of insoluable and soluble fiber, also containing approximately 15g per cup of cooked beans. Beans fall into the complex carbohydrate category, providing the body with the energy it needs for optimal daily functioning. Some of the other essential vitamins and minerals in beans are folic acid, phosphorus, iron, B6/B1 vitamins, magnesium, manganese and potassium. Beans are also a great antioxidant, protecting the cells against free radicals and oxidative stress.[2]


    Health Benefits

    Eating beans, even just 2-3x per week, offers amazing health benefits. For starters, the soluble fiber helps reduce cholesterol, while also decreasing the risk of heart disease. They also lower homocysteine levels in the blood, another contributor to heart disease, due to their folate and B6 content.[3] Folate also helps build and repair DNA. Beans are also particularly beneficial for both preventing and treating diabetes for their ability to reduce blood glucose levels. This is due to their protein content and low glycemic index, which inhibit the blood glucose response.[1] Beans are also proving to be an important part of any cancer fighting or prevention diet due to their low fat content and antioxidant properties, which protect the cells, tissues and other organs.[4] These antioxidants also have anti-aging benefits. Additionally, they are great for weight loss due to a hormone they contain called cholecystokinin, a digestive hormone that is a natural appetite suppressant.[5]


    Bean by Bean [2]

    -Black (59.8% fiber, 30.4% protein, 64% folate) – Support healthy digestive tract and colon health 


    -Navy (76.4% fiber, 29.9% protein, 63.7% folate) – Highest fiber content, great for replenishing iron stores, low in calories and fat free


    -Lentils (62.5% fiber, 35.7% protein, 89.5% folate) – One of the top beans for fiber content, excellent for heart health due to high magnesium content


    -Garbanzo (49.8% fiber, 29% protein, 70.5% folate) – Great for weight loss


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    -Kidney (45.3% fiber, 30.7% protein, 57.5% folate) – High in molybdenum which detoxifies sulfites, contain vitamin K


    -Dried Peas (65% fiber, 32.7% protein, 31.8% folate) – Contain isoflavones linked to reduced breast and prostate cancer risk


    -Pinto (61.5% fiber, 30.8% protein, 73.5% folate) – Great source of folate


    Two additional beans that many people are less familiar with include mung beans and aduki beans. Aduki beans are easily digested, producing less gas than other beans. Mung beans, native to India, are excellent for sprouting.


    Cooking Beans

    Preparing beans in a way that doesn’t produce gas takes a bit of pre-planning. For this reason many people opt for canned beans. However, freshly prepared beans contain 3x more health benefits, making the effort to prepare them yourself worthwhile. Here are some tips on cooking digestible beans:


    1. Purchase organic beans, processed without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. 


    2. Soak your beans for 6-8 hours or overnight. Keep the beans in their soak water inside the refrigerator to prevent fermentation. (Note: Lentils and Mung beans do not need to be soaked)


    3. Pour out the soak water and rinse the beans well. Place them in a pot of fresh water (2 to 4” level above the beans  - you may need to add more water later). Remove any floating skins.


    4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and skim off the foam.


    5. To support digestion, you can add spices such as cumin, garlic, ginger, anise, fennel, rosemary, turmeric, lemongrass, coriander.


    6. You can also add a piece of Kombu or Wakame seaweed near the end of cooking to aid digestion.


    7. Consume your beans with vegetables, rather than grains/starches, for the most digestible food combining. Avoid mixing beans with other types of protein in the same meal.


    8. If you still have problems, you can take digestive enzymes during or after the meal. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and miso are also helpful for protein digestion.


    [1] Murray, M. (2008, March 3). Health benefits of common beans. Retrieved from http://heart-healthy-recipes.fitsugar.com/Health-Benefits-Common-Beans-1090505


    [2] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.whfoods.com/


    [3] Minton, B. (2008, December 28). Beans: fabulous health benefits, weight management and nutrition at very low cost. Retrieved from http://www.naturalnews.com/025175_cancer_WHO_risk.html


    [4] Goldstein, H. (2012, November 17). Beans beans the magical fruit. Retrieved from http://www.naturalnews.com/038000_beans_fiber_cancer_prevention.html


    [5] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/15-foods-to-help-you-lose

Published On: February 05, 2013