How Healthy Are Beans?

By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer

My wife gives me beans’ is an expression that is quite insulting to the ‘magical fruit’ considering its numerous health benefits.

In fact, beans are one of the most nutritive vegetables one should eat even daily, but these legumes are overlooked by our wives and cooked more infrequently.

The reason may be that each bean fruit needs to be rid of the fibre that runs along one border of the fruit, snatching the tail end of each one. They are very dear in the market and the average family in Sri Lanka may not be able to afford eating it regularly. Even in affluent countries like Australia, a kilo of beans are sold for over $8 or more.

Around the world there are about 400 varieties of edible dry beans grown and harvested. Most of them are eaten in the fresh form, cooked or steamed. Various coloured bean dry seeds are used in soups and added to rice in Mexican dishes. In Sri Lanka the green and the white beans are popular for curries. The white variety referred to as ‘butter beans’ are more expensive for some reason or other, when the nutrition values are about the same.

Health Benefits

Cancer, heart disease and diabetes are three illnesses where beans are considered most beneficial.

The incident of cancer of the breast, prostate and colon are much less among people who consume beans as dry seeds or as fresh vegetables steamed or curried, as observed among Mexican people.

As reported by Ralph W. Moss, in the January 18, 2004 Cancer Decisions newsletter, ‘Beans Against Cancer’, “When USDA scientists analysed the coloured seed coats of 12 different types of beans, they found that these legumes contained many of the same antioxidants (such as anthocyanins) that are also found in pricier berries and fruits, and also in red wine.”

The World Cancer Relief Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research has made a general recommendation that 45-60% of dietary calories should come from starchy protein – rich foods, which include beans.

Beans and heart disease

Studies in the U.S. have found that those people who eat beans four times a week reduced their risk of heart disease by 22%, as compared to those who consumed beans less than once a week.

Beans and diabetes

All legumes, pulses, seeds carry a low glycemic Index (GI) of about 30, due to the low carbohydrate content. The protein content is high in these legumes and other seeds which help lower rate of digestion and absorption of the sugar in them.

Elizabeth A. Rondini / Maurice R. Bennik, food science human nutritionists at the Michigan State University, have shown that eating low glycemic index diets may be one mechanism to minimise the normal rise in blood sugar that occurs following meals and therefore aid in the management of diabetes. This has been shown in studies in Sydney, Australia and many other countries.

Beans and antioxidants

Coloured beans are very high in antioxidants. They help to reduce oxidative stress, which is associated with most inflammatory chronic diseases.
Vegetarians need to eat plenty of legumes and pulses to provide sufficient protein.

Beans and fat content

All varieties of beans have very low fat content and high in dietary fibre, and suitable for those who go on diets to reduce weight, and also reduces the absorption of cholesterol due to high fibre content.

Fats and fatty acids

Amounts Per Selected Serving:
Total Fat                                             0.9g
Saturated  Fat                                    0.1g
Monounsaturated Fat                         0.1g
Polyunsaturated Fat                           0.5g
Total Omega-3 fatty acids                 311mg
Total Omega-6 fatty acids                 197mg

Beans contain many vitamins, minerals and other micro-nutrients.
Amounts Per Selected Serving:
Vitamin C                                                            71.2 mg
Vitamin D 0
Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol) 0
Vitamin K 0
Thiamin                                                               0.7mg
Riboflavin                                                            0.5mg
Niacin                                                                 5.4mg
Vitamin B6                                                           0.2mg
Folate                                                                 109mcg
Vitamin B12                                                        0mcg
Pantothenic Acid                                                0.7mg
Choline 0
Betaine 0

Amounts Per Selected Serving:
Calcium                                         31.3 mg
Iron                                                 1.5 mg
Magnesium                                    38.6 mg
Phosphorus                                   68.1 mg
Potassium                                    344 mg
Sodium                                      11.0 mg
Zinc                                             0.7 mg
Copper                                        0.3 mg
Manganese                                  0.3 mg
Selenium                                    1.1 mcg

Read more at:

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a daily amount of 30 grams of pulses, including nuts and seeds to guard against heart disease and certain types of cancer. Dry bean seeds can be stored in air-tight bottles for years. They give colour to the kitchen racks.

In preparing beans for consumption they should be soaked overnight in water and then discard the liquid. This is supposed to help reduce flatulence associated with the sugar in beans.

(Some reference to WebMD Feb 22, 2009 Melody Rhodes.)

Popular Recipe
Baked White Bean Puree
By Dana Treat
WebMD Recipe from
2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 15½-oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. dry bread crumbs
1 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Preheat your oven to 350°F. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

Add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon rosemary and salt and pepper and stir well to combine. Scrape into a food processor fitted with the steel blade.

Transfer the beans to the food processor bowl and add the vinegar, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 3 tablespoons water and purée until smooth. Combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, remaining rosemary, and remaining olive oil in a small bowl, and stir until combined.

Place bean purée in an ovenproof bowl; top with the bread-crumb mixture. Transfer to oven; bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve hot.
Note: I prepared this through step 2 and refrigerated it overnight. Add 5 minutes to baking time.

Total Servings: 10
Nutritional Information Per Serving
Calories:                                205.7
Carbohydrates:                    30.8 g
Cholesterol:                          1.5 mg
Fat:                                         4.6 g
Saturated Fat:                       0.9 g
Fiber:                                     7.2 g
Sodium:                                 170.1 mg
Protein:                                 11.5

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