Why Beans are Such An Important Part of a Healthy Vegetarian Diet

Beans and lentils are part of the legume family. Vegetarians love them because of their high protein content, great health benefits, and wide variety. There must be hundreds of simple vegetarian recipes that use beans.

Super Health Benefits

Legumes lower cholesterol, are heart healthy, and can even reduce the risk of many cancers.

High in Dietary Fiber

You may already know that fiber can lower cholesterol and is important for heart health. Fiber also prevents blood sugar levels from rising quickly after eating (this is good news for people with diabetes, insulin resistance, or hypoglycemia).

High in Heart Healthy Nutrients

They're an excellent source of folic acid, potassium, and B6, all heart healthy nutrients.

Potassium helps protect you from high blood pressure and stroke. Folic acid and B6 break down the amino acid homocysteine. If you have high amounts of homocysteine in your blood, it can triple your risk of heart attacks and stroke. Just one cup of cooked, dry beans has 264 mg of folate. This is more than half of the recommended daily intake.

Contain Potent Antioxidants

They're loaded with the powerful, anti-inflammatory antioxidants, flavonoids and flavonols. According to Dr. Perricone, these antioxidants,

". . exert antioxidant activity fifty times greater than vitamin E, protect against oxidative damage to cell membrane lipids, promote healthy collagen and cartilage, and restore the antioxidant powers of vitamins C and E after they've battled free radicals."

Beans are also a low fat, low sodium food. And, with the exception of soybeans, they're also low in calories.

One of the Best Vegetarian Protein Sources

Legumes have more vegetarian protein than any other plant food. They're also one of the only sources of lysine, an important amino acid.

Protein Content

Type Protein Content
Black Beans (1 cup cooked) 15.24 grams
Canned n/a
Kidney (1 cup cooked) 15.35 grams
Canned 13.47 grams
Pinto (1 cup cooked) 15.41 grams
Canned n/a
Chickpeas (Garbanzo) 14.35 grams
Canned 11.88 grams
Navy Beans (1 cup cooked) 14.98 grams
Canned n/a
Lentils (1 cup cooked) 17.86 grams
Canned n/a
From the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

Protein is important to build muscles and for a healthy metabolism. Plus it makes you feel full. This is really important for vegetarians. When there isn't enough protein in your meal, you don't feel satisfied. This can make you eat too much, or eat the wrong foods. It's one of the reasons why some vegetarians wind up gaining weight.

The Gas (Flatulence) Issue

Vegetarians, especially newbie vegetarians, frequently run into problems with digestion. The most common is gas.

There's a compound in beans called oligosaccharides that your body cannot digest or absorb. As a result, they get broken down by bacteria, which produces the gas.

There are solutions. Cook them well. The cooking process significantly reduces the amount of oligosaccharides. Another way to reduce the oligosaccharides is to sprout them. And, if all else fails, you can buy a product called Beano.

Conclusion

Beans and lentils are an invaluable superfood for a vegetarian diet. They're healthy, easy to prepare and cook and bring a lot of versatility to your meals.

Sources

USDA National Nutrient Database for Protein Content

Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Jack Norris, RD, Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, Vegan for Life

Nicholas Perricone, MD, The Perricone Promise: Look Younger Live Longer in Three Easy Steps

Michael Murray, N.D., The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods

Adebamowo, C.Al, E. Cho, L. Sampson, et al. "Dietary Flavonols and Flavonol-Rich Foods Intake and the Risk of Breast Cancer." Int. J. Cancer 2004;114(4):628-633.

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