Beans are heart-healthy for a number of reasons in addition to their fiber content:
- They are a good source of potassium, which may help reduce your risk of high blood pressure and stroke. More than 80 percent of American adults do not consume the daily value for potassium (3,500mg), and just 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans contains as much as 480mg, with no more than 5mg of sodium.
- Dry beans are a good source of folic acid, which protects against heart disease by breaking down an amino acid called homocysteine. (One cup of cooked dry beans providing about 264 mcg of folate, or more than half the recommended daily intake of 400mcg.) High levels of homocysteine in the blood, or inadequate amounts of dietary folate, can triple the risk of heart attack and stroke. Folate is also key in preventing birth defects, and may help reduce the risk of several types of cancer because it plays an important role in healthy cell division and is crucial to the repair of damaged cells.
- In a large study of almost 10,000 men and women, those who ate beans four or more times a week cut their risk of coronary heart disease by about 20 percent, compared with those who ate beans less than once a week. It appears that this health benefit was independent of other health habits, since adjustments to account for other important cardiovascular disease risk factors produced minimal change in the risk estimates.
- Other studies show that within two to three weeks, diets high in either canned or dry beans (3 to 4 ounces per day) reduce blood cholesterol levels by 10 percent or more: an effect that can result in a 20 percent decrease in the risk of coronary heart disease.
- Beans and lentils have the same potent anti-inflammatory antioxidants—flavonoids and flavonals—found in tea, fruits, grapes, red wine and cocoa beans. In particular, the reddish flavonal pigments in bean and lentil seed coats exert antioxidant activity 50 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 among the richest food sources of saponins, chemicals that help prevent undesirable genetic mutations.