5 Health Benefits of Beans—and 5 Surprising Risks
Beans are nutritional powerhouses packed with protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron, potassium, and are low in fat; but this mighty food can also pose potential health risks.
Health Benefit: Beans can prevent heart disease
Studies have shown that people who eat more legumes have a lower risk of heart disease, and the phytochemicals found in beans might be partially to thank since they protect against it. A 2017 review of medical studies in the journal BioMed Research International found that high legume intakes are associated with a lower risk of premature death—and in particular cardiovascular disease-related death. Legumes are one of the foods that are tied directly to younger-looking skin.
Health Benefit: Beans can lower cholesterol
Beans provide the body with soluble fiber, which plays an important role in controlling blood cholesterol levels. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources says that 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber a day—the amount in 1/2 to 1 1/2 cups of navy beans—reduces LDL cholesterol by about 3 to 5 percent. Beans also contain saponins and phytosterols, which help lower cholesterol.
Health Benefit: Beans can help you lose weight
A serving of beans will help you feel full more quickly because the rich fiber content fills your stomach and causes a slower rise in blood sugar, according to a 2016 study in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine. That should stave off hunger longer and give you a steady supply of energy.
Health Benefit: Beans can help manage diabetes
Beans are a superfood for people living with diabetes! The balance of complex carbohydrates and protein provides a slow, steady source of glucose instead of the sudden surge that can occur after eating simple carbohydrates, research has found. Beans are part of the best foods for diabetics.
Health Risk: Beans can cause migraines
Some beans and legumes contain a substance called tyramine It can trigger migraines, according to the National Headache Foundation. These foods may also cause an allergic reaction in some people. Peanut is the most common legume allergy, reports FARE (Food Allergy, Research & Education). If this happens, talk to a doctor and eliminate the culprit from your diet.
Health Risk: Beans can raise blood pressure
If you take a monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor to treat depression, avoid fava beans because they can interact with your medication and raise blood pressure, according to the National Headache Foundation. MAO inhibitors are one of the 12 medicines you should never mix with alcohol.
Health Risk: Beans can interfere with vitamin absorption
Some beans, like soybeans, contain substances that interfere with the absorption of beta carotene and vitamins B12 and D, according to an older study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The heat from cooking inactivates most of these substances, making vitamin absorption more likely. However, it’s still smart to compensate for potential vitamin loss by consuming plenty of fresh fruits and yellow or dark green veggies (to up your beta carotene) and lean meat (for vitamin B12).
Health Risk: Beans can trigger gout
If you suffer from gout, talk to your doctor about your bean consumption. People with gout are often advised to forgo dried peas, beans, lentils, and other legumes because of their high purine content, according to a 2014 study in Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. In susceptible people, purines increase levels of uric acid and can precipitate a gout attack. Read one person’s account of what it’s like to live with gout.
Health Risk: Beans can make you gassy
While not technically a health risk, beans can cause an embarrassing flatulence problem, particularly dried beans, lentils, and peas. As your body breaks down the natural sugars in the food, gas builds up, explain experts at the Cleveland Clinic. Help reduce gas production by changing the water several times during the soaking and cooking process, and always rinse canned beans. Adding herbs like lemon balm, fennel, and caraway, or combining cooked legumes with acidic food, might also help prevent flatulence. It’s worth it—here are even more way beans can help you shed pounds.
- American Chemical Society
- Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin: "Total Purine and Purine Base Content of Common Foodstuffs for Facilitating Nutritional Therapy for Gout and Hyperuricemia."
- BioMed Research International: "Legume Consumption and All-Cause and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality."
- Cleveland Clinic: "What You Should Know About Beans and the (Embarrassing) Gas They Cause."
- Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine: "Therapeutic Effects of Soluble Dietary Fiber Consumption on Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus."
- Food Allergy Research & Education: "Peanut Allergy."
- National Headache Foundation: "Low-Tryramine Diet for Migraine."
- National Institutes of Health Clinical Center Drug-Nutrient Interaction Task Force: "Important Information to Know When You Take Any of the Following Drugs: Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor (MAOI) Medications."
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol with TLC."
- National Institutes of Health