Beans: Fabulous Health Benefits, Weight Management and Nutrition at Very Low Cost

Sunday, December 28, 2008 by: Barbara L. Minton
Tags: nutrition, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) What if there were a delicious, versatile, meatless, high protein food that could almost magically bring you good health, help prevent heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and keep your weight in check? You wouldd be willing to travel a way to get this food and pay a lot of money for it, wouldn't you? Actually, you probably already have some of this hiding in the back of your pantry, and if not it is available at the nearest grocery story at a very low price. This food is the mighty bean, an overlooked vegetable that is turning out to be a research superstar.

The bean is technically a legume, a class of foods that includes peas and lentils. One-quarter cup of any legume is equivalent in protein to an ounce of meat. A cup of legumes contains about 15 grams of protein with the exception of soybeans which contain a whopping 29 grams of protein in a cup. Beans are a cook's dream. They easily pick up the flavor of seasonings used in almost any recipe and blend right into almost any raw or cooked creation.

Studies show the bean is good for what ails us

Beans are generating a lot of interest in the scientific community because they are showing to provide protection from so many of the fearsome diseases of modern times. University studies have documented that eating beans on a regular basis reduces risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity. In fact, regular bean eaters weigh about 6.6 pounds less than non-bean eaters according to a recent Real Age article.

In a study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, men and women who consumed legumes 4 times a week had a 22% lower risk for heart disease than did people consuming legumes only once per week. In a follow-up study, men who adhered to a prudent diet that included greater consumption of legumes had a 30% lower risk of heart disease. People following the typical Western diet with low consumption rates for beans had a higher risk of heart disease.

A newly released series of studies from Colorado State University, reported in the Journal of Nutrition, found that eating beans and potatoes regularly could help prevent breast cancer. The studies, which will progress into a clinical trial using breast cancer survivors, may produce preventative diet plans for women who want to avoid breast cancer or a recurrence. Researchers introduced a carcinogen into the mammary glands of rats that were then fed a daily diet of different varieties of beans or potatoes in each of the separate studies. The rat control group did not receive beans or potatoes. At the completion of the three studies, the researchers collected data on the occurrence of cancerous mammary tumors, tumor mass and multiplicity of tumors. Results indicated that the more beans or potatoes included in the diet, the less the frequency for malignant tumors. Though some bean or potato varieties proved more effective at prevention, all beans were better at preventing cancer than a no-bean diet.

During another study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed data collected from 90,630 women who participated in the Nurses Health Study II, selecting women between the ages of 26 and 46 when the study began in 1991. After an eight-year follow-up, the researchers found that women who consumed beans or lentils at least twice a week were 24 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than women who consumed them less than once a month.

It has been known for several years that inositol hexaphosphate (IP6) found in beans, legumes and some other vegetables exhibits potent anti-cancer action. Scientists have recently discovered an additional anti-cancer compound in legumes, known as inositol pentakisphosphate. In a study reported in Cancer Research, the newly discovered compound was tested in mouse models and on cancer cells. Not only was it found to inhibit the growth of tumors in mice independently, the phosphate also enhanced the effect of cytotoxic drugs in ovarian and lung cancer cells. This finding suggests that inositol pentakisphosphate could be used to sensitize cancer cells to the action of commonly used anti-cancer drugs.

The researchers concluded that the properties of inositol pentakisphosphate make it a promising therapeutic agent which is non-toxic, unlike conventional chemotherapy agents. And it was found to be non-toxic even at higher concentrations. The study director underscored the importance of a diet rich in foods such as beans, nuts and cereals that would help prevent cancer.

Beans have also been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer due to the presence of flavonols, phytonutrients which are found in many plant-based foods including beans. Another finding based on data review from the Nurse's Study II is women who ate lentils or beans just twice a week reduced their risk of developing breast cancer by 24% compared to women who ate beans and lentils once a month or less.

In a study of nearly 35,000 women, those who ate four of more servings of legumes each week reduced their risk of developing colorectal cancer by approximately one-third. In a related study, people who had previously developed colon cancer were found able to reduce the risk of recurrence up to 45% by increasing their consumption of beans.

Several animal studies have concluded that incorporating beans into the diet can reduce the risk of developing colon cancer. In one study, rats were fed either pinto beans or milk protein as their main source of dietary protein. The bean fed rats had fewer tumors than the milk protein fed rats.

Other recent research conducted at the National Cancer Institute found that people who eat more dried legumes, such as pinto or navy beans, lentils, and bean soups have significantly less risk of developing colon cancer. Data culled from the Polyp Prevention Trial revealed that adding a significant amount of dry beans to one’s existing diet has a strong protective effect against recurrence of precancerous polyps. Those participants who added the most dried beans to their diets had the most significantly reduced risk for recurrence of advanced polyps. On average, these people increase their dry bean consumption by four fold.

Beans offer a wealth of nutrition and a very low cost

Beans have significant antioxidant properties which make them a terrific anti-aging food. In a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, three varieties of beans ranked in the top four foods studied for antioxidant benefits. Red beans such as those used to make red beans and rice, red kidney beans, and pinto beans beat many other fruits and vegetables in antioxidant benefits.

Another study at the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences concluded that color is the key when choosing beans. Bean coats get their color and antioxidant capabilities from phenol and anthocyanins, and there is a link between the darker seed coats and higher phenol levels. This study also found red beans to have the highest antioxidant level, with black beans coming in second place.

Beans are a good source of soluble dietary fiber, containing about 4 grams per cup of cooked beans. Soluble fiber has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol in epidemiologic, clinical, and animal studies. Data from several human intervention trials indicate that consumption of canned and dry beans reduces both total and LDL cholesterol. Significant increases in HDL cholesterol and/or reduction in tryglycerides were also seen in many of the studies.

In addition to cholesterol, recent attention has been focuses on high levels of plasma homocysteine as a risk factor for vascular disease. High levels of homocysteine are correlated with greater risk of cardiovascular disease. Beans provide a significant amount of folate, one of the B vitamins found to reduce homocysteine levels.

Eating beans can help in maintaining desired weight levels. They can help reduce blood glucose, insulin, cholesterol concentrations, and reduce the incidence and consequences of diabetes.

Beans also contain energy sustaining complex carbohydrates, essential vitamins and minerals, and are very low in fat and sodium. A pound of almost every variety of organic dried beans can be bought for under one dollar, making beans a central player for anyone watching his or her budget.

Beans are a user friendly food

Some of the studies about the cancer-fighting benefits of beans have indicated that incorporating 3 cups of cooked beans a week into the diet can have significant health benefits. This may sound like a lot of beans, but it is easy to do. Beans make great main dishes, salad, soups, side dishes, and can be mashed or pureed for burritos and dips. They combine easily with other nutritious fare like vegetables, herbs and spices.

The only factor that seems to stand in the way of people eating beans is the intestinal gas they tend to produce. There are two easy ways around this problem. One is by soaking the beans for 12 to 15 hours before they are cooked. Pour off the water used for soaking, rinse and add fresh water for cooking. This soaking process replicates what nature had in mind for the bean.

Beans contain high levels of phytic acid or phytate, nature's way of preserving the bean as it lies on the ground waiting for the spring rains before it can germinate. When the rain comes, the bean soaks in the ground until this natural preservative is exhausted, and at that point the new plant is ready to grow and the nutrients it will need are released from the bean. After you have soaked beans for 12 to 15 hours, the phytate has been reduced and the nutrients in the bean have been made available. It is the preservative quality of phytate that make unsoaked beans so difficult to digest and so apt to produce gas when eaten.

The second way to reduce gas production is by using herbs and spices while cooking beans. Herbs and spices that go particularly well with beans include cumin, garlic, anise, fennel seeds, rosemary, caraway seeds, turmeric, lemongrass and coriander. And if you are really on flatulence patrol, get a bottle of digestive enzymes to make absolutely sure you are safe whether you have chosen to soak the beans or not. One that works particularly well with beans is V Gest from Enzymedica.

Additional Sources:

“Beans Investigated for Cancer-Fighting, Anti-diabetic Benefits”, Colorado State University.

Elizabeth A Rondini and Maurice R. Bennink, Beans and Cardiovascular Health, Michigan State University.

Cancer and Nutrition, website for The Mesothelioma Cancer Center.

About the author

Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.

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