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.

Adapted by Alyssa Jung from Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal (Reader's Digest Association)
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    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.

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    Health Benefit: Beans can fight cancer

    Beans contain a wide range of cancer-fighting plant chemicals, specifically, isoflavones and phytosterols which are associated with reduced cancer risk.

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    Health Benefit: Beans can lower cholesterol

    Beans provide the body with soluble fiber, which plays an important role in controlling blood cholesterol levels. Studies find that about 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 10 percent. Beans also contain saponins and phytosterols, which help lower cholesterol.

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    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. That should stave off hunger longer and give you a steady supply of energy.

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    Health Benefit: Beans can help manage diabetes

    Beans are a diabetes sufferer's superfood! 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.

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    Health Risk: Beans can cause migraines

    Some legumes can trigger migraines or an allergic reaction in some people. If this happens, talk to a doctor and eliminate the culprit from your diet.

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    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.

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    Health Risk: Beans can interfere with vitamin absorption

    Some beans, like soybeans, contain substances that interfere with the absorption of betacarotene and vitamins B12 and D. The heat from cooking inactivates most of these substances, making vitamin absorption more likely. But 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 betacarotene) and lean meat (for vitamin B12).

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    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. In susceptible people, purines increase levels of uric acid and can precipitate a gout attack.

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    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. 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 an acidic food, might also help prevent flatulence. 

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