Beans: nutritional properties, benefits

Beans have beneficial properties for the body and are allies of the health of those who consume them regularly. Let’s find out all the characteristics and benefits of these legumes together.

Beans are legumes, perhaps the best known in the world, originating from Central America whose scientific name is Phaseolus vulgaris. The bean plant is an annual climber, belonging to the legume family which also includes lentils, peas, chickpeas, lupins, broad beans, green beans, cicerchie, peanuts and soy.

Varieties and types of beans

There are many varieties of beans , the main feature of which is the fruit of various shapes and colors that is contained in a pod. The main species grown in Italy are the cannellino, with white, black or blue seeds, and the borlotto, whose seeds are very large, but there are other varieties available and usable in the kitchen. Let’s see the characteristics of the most common types of beans:

  • Borlotti beans: these are very popular beans and are characterized by streaked red and white seeds and in the kitchen they lend themselves to numerous recipes such as soups, soups and salads;
  • Cannellini beans: they are among the best known varieties. They are recognized for their white and smooth pods, moreover, they have a very delicate taste usually appreciated even by the little ones;
  • Azuki beans: they stand out for their red color and small size, as well as for the slightly sweet taste that makes them also suitable for the preparation of desserts;
  • Black beans: This variety of beans is widely used in Mexican and Brazilian cuisine. In addition to the black color, they are characterized by their strong flavor and compact consistency, in fact, they are mainly used as a side dish;
  • Green mung beans: also known as mung beans or green soybeans, this is a type of bean widely used in oriental cuisine and characterized by small and green seeds. Compared to the other varieties, these beans are used for the production of sprouts to be eaten raw;
  • White beans from Spain: they are characterized by a large and crushed white pod. They have a very fleshy consistency and a delicate flavor that makes them especially suitable for the preparation of fresh salads;
  • Purgatory beans: also called tondini, they are white, small and oval-shaped beans. It is a variety grown in Lazio and protected by the Slow Food presidium;
  • Black- eyed beans: they are characterized by a white seed with a small black spot. They are a variety widely used for soups and soups.

Although there are numerous varieties, the benefits and characteristics are quite similar to each other. Let’s now look at the nutritional properties of beans and their health benefits.

Beans: calories and nutritional values

As for caloric intake, beans develop 345 calories per 100 grams, a value similar to that of other legumes. In terms of macronutrients, beans are mainly composed of carbohydrates, especially starch, which represents about 48% of the total calorie content. Starch is made up of two polymers, amylose and amylopectin. Beans have a relatively high percentage of amylose compared to most other food sources of starch, a characteristic that defines the starch of these legumes ” slow release.”, As it is less easily digestible than amylopectin. The consumption of foods rich in slow-release starch causes a smaller and more gradual increase in blood sugars than other types of starch, making the consumption of beans particularly suitable for people with diabetes or other glycemic disorders.

The protein content of beans is also quite high (¼ of the weight), making these legumes particularly interesting for consumption by vegetarians or vegans. Beans are also an excellent source of fiber whose benefits are the increase in the sense of satiety, the improvement of intestinal transit and the reduction of the absorption of simple sugars and fats, especially cholesterol. Furthermore, the richness in proteins, fibers and the low sugar intake makes them the ideal food also for those suffering from diabetes or glycemic dysregulation problems.

From the point of view of micronutrients, however, beans contain a variety of vitamins and minerals providing mainly potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin B3 and folate.

In addition, in these legumes we also find some antioxidants and antinutrients. Let’s see more specifically what it is.

  • Isoflavones: class of antioxidants known to be present in high amounts in soy and also found in beans. They have a number of more or less positive health effects and are classified as phytoestrogens due to their similarity to the female sex hormone, estrogen;
  • Anthocyanins: antioxidants and pigments present in high quantities in the skin of beans and which give foods their characteristic color;
  • Phytohemagglutinin: toxic lectin found in high quantities in raw beans, particularly in red ones, which degrades with cooking;
  • Phytic acid: it is an antinutrient present in all edible seeds that impairs the absorption of various minerals such as iron and zinc. Its quantity is reduced by soaking, germinating, cooking or fermenting the beans.

For greater clarity, we report below the table with the nutritional values ​​of the beans.

Nutritional values ​​per 100g of beans:

  • Waterfall: 10.7 g
  • kcal: 345
  • Proteins: 23.6 g
  • Fat: 1.5 g
  • of which saturated: 0.5 g
  • Carbohydrates: 51.7 g
  • of which sugars: 4 g
  • Fibers: 17 g
  • Potassium: 1445 mg
  • Phosphorus: 437 mg
  • Magnesium: 170 mg
  • C vitamin: 3 mg
  • Vitamin B3: 2.3 mg
  • Folate (Vit. B9): 130 µg
  • Glycemic index: 16-24
  • Cholesterol: 0 g

Beans: health benefits

The synergy of the elements just seen gives the beans beneficial properties for the whole organism. In short, beans are good for the heart by reducing cholesterol, help prevent diabetes, are beneficial in pregnancy and promote weight loss, but not only. So let’s see in detail what are the benefits that these legumes bring.

✓ Weight loss

Several observational studies have associated the consumption of beans with the lower risk of developing overweight and obesity, thanks to the fiber and protein content. A study, would have shown that, in overweight / obese subjects, the consumption of legumes 4 times a week for 2 months would lead to a reduction in the proinflammatory state and greater weight loss compared to a diet that excludes these foods.

✓ Friends in pregnancy and breastfeeding

As we have seen, beans are a good source of folate (vitamin B9), essential for preventing megaloblastic anemia, and, above all, severe fetal malformations such as neural tube defects (including spina bifida, anencephaly and encephalocele) and other malformations, particularly some cardiovascular congenital defects, malformations of the lips and palate (cleft lip and palate), urinary tract and limb reduction defects. The adequate intake of vitamin B9 allows the primary prevention of congenital malformations with a risk reduction of up to 70%.

✓ Prevention of diabetes

The benefits of beans also extend to the prevention of diabetes: being rich in proteins, fibers, slow-release carbohydrates and having a low glycemic index, these legumes are particularly effective in regulating glycemic levels and therefore in preventing diabetes. Likewise, as we have seen above, beans are also useful to eat in case of overt diabetes.

✓ Beans lower cholesterol

Studies have confirmed that regular consumption of beans not only helps reduce total cholesterol, but also bad cholesterol (LDL), which increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

✓ Cancer prevention

An observational study and a meta-analysis linked the consumption of legumes (including beans) to the lower risk of developing colon cancer, thanks to the action of fiber, resistant starch and alpha-galactosides (prebiotics) which, reaching the colon, are fermented by beneficial bacteria, stimulating their growth and causing the formation of different compounds such as butyrate, acetate and propionate which act by improving colon health and reducing the risk of cancer in this area.

How many beans can you eat?

The recommended serving of dried beans is 50g and they provide around 170 kcal, if using fresh, frozen or canned beans, however, the recommended serving is 150 grams.

Recall that beans, as well as other legumes, can be associated with cereals, pasta or bread to make a single dish. A healthy and correct diet involves the inclusion of 3 or 4 portions of legumes per week, therefore, to benefit from all the properties of the beans it is possible to consume them even 3 or 4 times a week, however it is advisable to alternate them with other legumes to have a diet as varied as possible.

Beans: how to use and store them

First of all, remember that beans do not contain gluten and can also be consumed by those who are intolerant. Avoid canned beans as they are rich in sodium (added to the preservative liquid) and nickel (due to the erosion of the metal container). If for convenience you want to buy them ready to use, it is better to opt for frozen beans or stored in glass and it is important to drain and rinse them well before use.

If you prefer to consume dried beans, here are some useful tips:

  • Beans are very rich in B vitamins, but these vitamins are water-soluble and are easily lost when soaking and cooking in water. The addition of lemon juice, exactly one tablespoon (10 grams) for each liter of water, increases the retention of B vitamins at the end of cooking;
  • The soaking water should be thrown away because it contains phytates and purines, toxic substances favoring the appearance of uric acid in the blood.

Adding beans to the diet is very simple, they can represent a main dish, the condiment of pasta dishes, the central ingredient of a soup, or they can be eaten as an appetizer (great black bean hummus!).

The best nutritional strategy, however, is to combine legumes with cereals, in order to cover the total daily protein requirement. Therefore, pasta and beans, pasta with chickpeas and rice with peas represent complete dishes from a nutritional point of view, as well as recipes of our tradition.

A very original idea to add beans to your diet and especially to the nutrition of the little ones is by replacing them with flour in confectionery preparations. You can make delicious gluten-free chocolate muffins and brownies by adding beans to the dough!

Beans are also the ingredient of a truly unique hazelnut and chocolate cream, the bean! Easy and super quick to prepare, it can be used for breakfast or as a snack.

Ingredints for about 1 jar of beans:

  • Cooked cannellini beans ›75 gr
  • Bitter cocoa powder ›15 gr
  • Hazelnuts ›25 gr
  • Extra virgin coconut oil ›2 tbsp
  • At least 70% dark chocolate ›20 gr
  • Pitted dates ›55 gr
  • Natural almond milk ›75 ml


  • Heat a pan and toast the hazelnuts for 2-3 minutes to release their aroma;
  • Melt the dark chocolate in a bain-marie and separately blend the hazelnuts with the cocoa;
  • Add the melted chocolate and blend for a long time until you get a cream;
  • Add the beans (if you use the packaged ones, drain them from their liquid and rinse them well under running water), the almond milk, the dates and the coconut oil, continuing to blend until you get a cream (if necessary add another drop of milk);
  • Your recipe is ready and can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator.

Beans are also allies of beauty. Moisturizing masks and quick scrubs can be prepared with the help of bean flour which is obtained simply by toasting the beans under the oven grill and grinding them. For a quick and purifying mask it is advisable to mix bean flour with yogurt and spread all over the face insisting on the T zone, that is the one where the impurities are most noticeable.

Beans: contraindications and potential negative effects

Although beans bring a number of benefits to our health, their consumption is not without contraindications and can also cause unpleasant side effects. One of the best known side effects is gastrointestinal upset, which we will discuss in more detail in the next paragraph. For this reason, it is good to pay attention to their use in case of intestinal problems such as colitis. Additionally, beans have a high nickel content, which should be taken into consideration by allergy sufferers.

Furthermore, it should be noted that raw beans are toxic to both humans and animals and this is caused by phytohemagglutinin, a lectin particularly present in red beans. The main symptoms of bean poisoning include diarrhea and vomiting and may require hospitalization. Soaking and cooking the beans removes most of the toxin, making them safe.

Beans also contain a number of so-called antinutrients, these are substances that alter the absorption of nutrients. The main antinutrients present in beans are: phytic acid, a substance that hinders the absorption of some minerals, such as iron and zinc; protease inhibitors, which inhibit the function of various digestive enzymes, impairing the digestion of proteins; starch antagonists: alter the absorption of carbohydrates from the digestive tract.

Why Beans Can Swell Your Belly and How to Prevent the Problem

Among the best known contraindications of beans we find intestinal disorders. Specifically, consumption of beans can cause bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea in some people. These effects are determined by the fiber, in particular by the oligosaccharides, which is fermented by the bacteria present in the colon with the formation of gas.

To limit this problem it is important to soak the dried beans at least 12 hours and cook them properly, preferably in a pressure cooker, these two steps allow you to make the beans more digestible.

To further improve the digestibility of the beans, a piece of kombu seaweed can be added during cooking, which reduces intestinal fermentation problems. Another possibility involves using peeled beans or passing them, after cooking, through a vegetable mill to eliminate the external cuticle which is the richest part of fiber. Finally, it can be useful to cook them with aromatic herbs such as bay leaf.


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