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Beans

(Black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, navy beans, white beans)

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See also Bean sprouts, Lentils, Lima beans, Peas, Soybeans.

Nutritional Profile
Energy value (calories per serving): Moderate

Protein: High
Fat: Low
Saturated fat: Low

Cholesterol: None
Carbohydrates: High
Fiber: Very high
Sodium: Low

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Major vitamin contribution: Vitamin B6, folate


Major mineral contribution: Iron, magnesium, zinc

About the Nutrients in This Food


Beans are seeds, high in complex carbohydrates including starch and
dietary fiber. They have indigestible sugars (stachyose and raffinose), plus
insoluble cellulose and lignin in the seed covering and soluble gums and
pectins in the bean. The proteins in beans are limited in the essential
amino acids methionine and cystine. All beans are a good source of the B
vitamin folate, and iron.
One-half cup canned kidney beans has 7.5 g dietary fiber, 65 mcg
folate (15 percent of the RDA), and 1.6 mg iron (11 percent of the RDA for
a woman, 20 percent of the RDA for a man).
Raw beans contain antinutrient chemicals that inactivate enzymes
required to digest proteins and carbohydrates. They also contain factors
that inactivate vitamin A and also hemagglutinins, substances that make
red blood cells clump together. Cooking beans disarms the enzyme inhibitors and the anti-vitamin A factors, but not the hemagglutinins. However,
the amount of hemagglutinins in the beans is so small that it has no measurable effect in your body.
Soybeans are the only beans that contain proteins considered complete because
they contain sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids.

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Beans

The Folate Content of Cup Cooked Dried Beans


Bean

Folate (mcg)

Black beans
Chickpeas
Kidney beans canned
Navy beans
Pinto beans

129
191
65
128
147

Source: USDA Nutrient Database: www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/cgibin/nut_search.pl, Nutritive Value


of Foods, Home and Gardens Bulletin No. 72 (USDA, 1989).

The Most Nutritious Way to Serve This Food


Cooked, to destroy antinutrients.
With grains. The proteins in grains are deficient in the essential amino acids lysine and
isoleucine but contain sufficient tryptophan, methionine, and cystine; the proteins in beans
are exactly the opposite. Together, these foods provide complete proteins.
With an iron-rich food (meat) or with a vitamin C-rich food (tomatoes). Both enhance
your bodys ability to use the iron in the beans. The meat makes your stomach more acid
(acid favors iron absorption); the vitamin C may convert the ferric iron in beans into ferrous
iron, which is more easily absorbed by the body.

Diets That May Restrict or Exclude This Food


Low-calcium diet
Low-fiber diet
Low-purine (antigout) diet

Buying This Food


Look for: Smooth-skinned, uniformly sized, evenly colored beans that are free of stones
and debris. The good news about beans sold in plastic bags is that the transparent material
gives you a chance to see the beans inside; the bad news is that pyridoxine and pyridoxal,
the natural forms of vitamin B6, are very sensitive to light.
Avoid: Beans sold in bulk. Some B vitamins, such as vitamin B6 (pyridoxine and pyridoxal),
are very sensitive to light. In addition, open bins allow insects into the beans, indicated by
tiny holes showing where the bug has burrowed into or through the bean. If you choose to
buy in bulk, be sure to check for smooth skinned, uniformly sized, evenly colored beans free
of holes, stones, and other debris.

Storing This Food


Store beans in air- and moistureproof containers in a cool, dark cabinet where they are protected from heat, light, and insects.

Preparing This Food


Wash dried beans and pick them over carefully, discarding damaged or withered beans and
any that float. (Only withered beans are light enough to float in water.)
Cover the beans with water, bring them to a boil, and then set them aside to soak.
When you are ready to use the beans, discard the water in which beans have been soaked.
Some of the indigestible sugars in the beans that cause intestinal gas when you eat the beans
will leach out into the water, making the beans less gassy.

What Happens When You Cook This Food


When beans are cooked in liquid, their cells absorb water, swell, and eventually rupture,
releasing the pectins and gums and nutrients inside. In addition, cooking destroys antinutrients in beans, making them more nutritious and safe to eat.

How Other Kinds of Processing Affect This Food


Canning. The heat of canning destroys some of the B vitamins in the beans. Vitamin B is
water-soluble. You can recover all the lost B vitamins simply by using the liquid in the can, but
the liquid also contains the indigestible sugars that cause intestinal gas when you eat beans.
Preprocessing. Preprocessed dried beans have already been soaked. They take less time to
cook but are lower in B vitamins.

Medical Uses and/or Benefits


Lower risk of some birth defects. As many as two of every 1,000 babies born in the United
States each year may have cleft palate or a neural tube (spinal cord) defect due to their mothers not having gotten adequate amounts of folate during pregnancy. The current RDA for
folate is 180 mcg for a woman and 200 mcg for a man, but the FDA now recommends 400 mcg
for a woman who is or may become pregnant. Taking a folate supplement before becoming
pregnant and continuing through the first two months of pregnancy reduces the risk of cleft
palate; taking folate through the entire pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects.
Lower risk of heart attack. In the spring of 1998, an analysis of data from the records for
more than 80,000 women enrolled in the long-running Nurses Health Study at Harvard
School of Public Health/Brigham and Womans Hospital in Boston demonstrated that a diet

Beans
providing more than 400 mcg folate and 3 mg vitamin B 6 a day from either food or supplements, more than twice the current RDA for each, may reduce a womans risk of heart
attack by almost 50 percent. Although men were not included in the analysis, the results
are assumed to apply to them as well. NOTE: Beans are high in B 6 as well as folate. Fruit,
green leafy vegetables, whole grains, meat, fish, poultry, and shellfish are good sources of
vitamin B 6.
To reduce the levels of serum cholesterol. The gums and pectins in dried beans and peas appear
to lower blood levels of cholesterol. Currently there are two theories to explain how this may
happen. The first theory is that the pectins in the beans form a gel in your stomach that sops
up fats and keeps them from being absorbed by your body. The second is that bacteria in
the gut feed on the bean fiber, producing short-chain fatty acids that inhibit the production
of cholesterol in your liver.
As a source of carbohydrates for people with diabetes. Beans are digested very slowly, producing only a gradual rise in blood-sugar levels. As a result, the body needs less insulin to control
blood sugar after eating beans than after eating some other high-carbohydrate foods (such
as bread or potato). In studies at the University of Kentucky, a bean, whole-grain, vegetable,
and fruit-rich diet developed at the University of Toronto enabled patients with type 1 diabetes (who do not produce any insulin themselves) to cut their daily insulin intake by 38
percent. Patients with type 2 diabetes (who can produce some insulin) were able to reduce
their insulin injections by 98 percent. This diet is in line with the nutritional guidelines of
the American Diabetes Association, but people with diabetes should always consult with
their doctors and/or dietitians before altering their diet.
As a diet aid. Although beans are high in calories, they are also high in bulk (fiber); even
a small serving can make you feel full. And, because they are insulin-sparing, they delay
the rise in insulin levels that makes us feel hungry again soon after eating. Research at the
University of Toronto suggests the insulin-sparing effect may last for several hours after you
eat the beans, perhaps until after the next meal.

Adverse Effects Associated with This Food


Intestinal gas. All legumes (beans and peas) contain raffinose and stachyose, complex sugars that human beings cannot digest. The sugars sit in the gut and are fermented by intestinal
bacteria which then produce gas that distends the intestines and makes us uncomfortable.
You can lessen this effect by covering the beans with water, bringing them to a boil for
three to five minutes, and then setting them aside to soak for four to six hours so that the
indigestible sugars leach out in the soaking water, which can be discarded. Alternatively, you
may soak the beans for four hours in nine cups of water for every cup of beans, discard the
soaking water, and add new water as your recipe directs. Then cook the beans; drain them
before serving.
Production of uric acid. Purines are the natural metabolic by-products of protein metabolism in the body. They eventually break down into uric acid, sharp crystals that may

concentrate in joints, a condition known as gout. If uric acid crystals collect in the urine,
the result may be kidney stones. Eating dried beans, which are rich in proteins, may raise
the concentration of purines in your body. Although controlling the amount of purines in
the diet does not significantly affect the course of gout (which is treated with allopurinol,
a drug that prevents the formation of uric acid crystals), limiting these foods is still part of
many gout regimens.

Food/Drug Interactions
Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors are drugs used to
treat depression. They inactivate naturally occurring enzymes in your body that metabolize
tyramine, a substance found in many fermented or aged foods. Tyramine constricts blood
vessels and increases blood pressure. If you eat a food containing tyramine while you are
taking an MAO inhibitor, you cannot effectively eliminate the tyramine from your body.
The result may be a hypertensive crisis. Some nutrition guides list dried beans as a food to
avoid while using MAO inhibitors.