Beans, Beans, Good For Your Heart


The more you eat…the more nutrition-filled your diet will be.  (What?  Did you think I was going to say something else?).

Childish rhymes aside, beans ARE good for your heart and the rest of your body too. There is significant scientific evidence to support their role in weight loss, improving blood sugars, lowering bad LDL cholesterol, having a positive impact on blood pressure, and even preventing cancer.

Because of the paleo diet craze, beans have been showing up on the DO NOT EAT list of many diets.  Some of us may be avoiding beans because of some of their, let’s just say, not so pleasing natural side effects.  But, from a nutritional and overall health perspective, it would be a mistake to not include beans on a regular basis.

Beans are nutritional powerhouses that have a multitude of benefits.  They are full of fiber, both soluble and insoluble, that helps your body feel more satisfied and improves digestion.  Another benefit of their fiber content is their ability to help lower cholesterol levels.  The soluble fiber actually binds to cholesterol and carries it out of the body.

Beans are also a good source of protein and slow-burning carbohydrates, nature’s perfect combination of nutrients that positively impacts blood sugar levels.  These slow-burning carbs are broken down more gradually than other faster burning carbs – think white pasta – so therefore are digested at a slower rate and have a healthier impact on blood sugars.  Instead of the rapid spike and rapid fall that result with faster burning carbs, beans allow for a more gradual rise and fall, which is a good thing.

Beans also are loaded with potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.  Potassium and magnesium are both specifically important for heart health.  Potassium helps balance the sodium in our bodies, ultimately helping to regulate and improve blood pressure. Magnesium functions in also regulating blood pressure, as well as muscle and nerve function, and blood sugar control.

Regarding their not so socially acceptable side effect of gas, don’t fear. The good news is that as we increase bean intake and consistently eat them, most of our bodies will adapt. Certain beans and peas, such as lentils, split peas, and canned beans have been found to be less gas-producing for most.  Draining and rinsing beans well can also help and this kills two birds with one stone by removing some of the sodium that is prevalent in canned beans.  It is also important to make sure you are hydrating well and drinking plenty of fluids, preferably water.  If your body just doesn’t seem to be adapting, there are over the counter products, such as Beano, that contain an enzyme that helps your body break down the gas producing bean sugars.

So, it is true that the more you eat beans (and peas and other legumes) the better you will feel.  I do recommend you eat them often, maybe not with every meal, although the American Institute for Cancer Research, after reviewing nearly half a million studies on cancer prevention, did make the recommendation to include legumes (beans, split peas, chickpeas, or lentils) with every meal.  But, if that recommendation is too lofty, daily is a good goal.  Aim to get 1/2 – 1 cup, or just some, daily or at least several times a week.

If you’re convinced now that beans are something you want to try to include more of, you might be wondering how you do that?  Well, beans of all kinds are great added to a salad, they can be added to soups or stews, or eaten in hummus.  Dried beans are great, but canned beans work too, the only difference is that canned beans have more sodium. As I mentioned earlier, a good, quick rinse and drain works, and you can also look for reduced sodium and no-salt-added varieties.

Over the Summer my husband and I took a white water rafting trip down the Chattooga River with Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC).  About midway down the river our guides set out a lunch spread for us of various deli meats, whole grain bread, and veggies.  In the midst of those well-known lunch items was a container of spread that everyone was curious about and ultimately was revealed as  NOC’s signature black bean hummus.  So, I spread it on my sandwich and it was delicious.  I was told I could find the recipe online, so when I got home I did.  I played with it a bit and made it my own and each time I make it it gets better and better.  I used to buy store-bought hummus, but now after making my own there is no going back.  It is great as a snack dip or spread on a sandwich.

Hummus ingredients

Two-Bean Hummus
Fresh juice of 1 lemon juice, or 2-3 Tablespoons
1/3 cup tahini
1/2 an onion, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, or 1-2 Tablespoons
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 cup parsley
15 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

7.75 ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

In food processor add lemon juice and tahini, and blend for about 1 minute.  Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl and process for another minute or so.

Add in onion, garlic, pepper, salt,  cayenne pepper and cumin.  Pulse for 1-2 minutes, scraping down sides about halfway through. Add in parsley, black beans, and garbanzo beans.  Pulse until desired consistency. You can add in some of the black bean water if the mixture is too thick.

Makes 10 (1/4 cup) servings

Nutrition Information (per serving):  
Calories:  111   Total Fat:  5 g   Saturated Fat:  1 g   Cholesterol:  0 mg   Sodium:  270 mg   Carbohydrates:  13 g    Fiber:  4 g   Protein:  5 g

Looking for more delicious ways to include more of these nutritional heavyweights into your eating plan, you can find more recipes, like Shrimp, Black Bean, & Avocado Wraps, Arizona Skillet, and Couscous Salad with Chickpeas and Tomatoes on my recipes tab at