Dried beans (often referred to as grain legumes) may contribute to some of the health benefits associated with plant-based diets. Beans are rich in a number of important micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and zinc, and are important sources of protein in vegetarian diets. In particular, they are among the only plant foods that provide significant amounts of the indispensable amino acid lysine. Commonly consumed dried beans are also rich in total and soluble fiber as well as in resistant starch, all of which contribute to the low glycemic index of these foods. They also provide ample amounts of polyphenols, many of which are potent antioxidants. Intervention and prospective research suggests that diets that include beans reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, favorably affect risk factors for metabolic syndrome, and reduce risk of ischemic heart disease and diabetes. The relatively low bean intakes of North Americans and northern Europeans can be attributed to a negative culinary image as well as to intestinal discomfort attributable to the oligosaccharide content of beans. Cooking practices such as sprouting beans, soaking and discarding soaking water before cooking, and cooking in water with a more alkaline pH can reduce oligosaccharide content. Promotional efforts are needed to increase bean intake.
© 2014 American Society for Nutrition.