Beans have been cultivated across the globe since time immemorial and have been one of the most ancient foods for man. Native to Africa, Asia and the Middle East, beans have spread all over the world by wandering tribes who carried it from one place to another. Normally, beans sprouted and flourished in the wild. According to reports, beans were first cultivated in the Americas and today most of the dried beans commonly consumed by the people in North America are progenies of the beans initially cultivated in Central and South America some 7000 years in the past. Significantly, beans are easy to transport, delicious, extremely nourishing, not easily perishable as well as adjustable to any gastronomic fare. In fact, beans are so popular worldwide that they can be found in the most important cuisines of several countries. For instance, the resourceful use of beans can be found in the 'dal' from India, 'hummus' from the Middle East and 'rice and beans' from Latin America.
Also known as legumes or pulses, beans together with lentils, peas and peanuts form the legume family. In other words, beans are "the edible seed or young seed cases of leguminous plants". Beans belong to a widespread family of plants that can be differentiated owing to their seed-bearing pods or cases. There are various varieties of beans and they are eaten in different ways too. For instance, while string beans are consumed newly picked along with their pods, soybeans too are a part of the beans family and they are used in different cuisines. Although beans are often referred to as the 'poor man's meat', they are not only meant for vegetarians as they form one of the richest source of protein gifted by nature to mankind. Ever since there has been an alarming rise in the disorders like heart disease, different types of cancers and diabetes that linked with animal proteins, people are turning more and more towards beans. Hence, the modest bean is now considered to be a prized diet.
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Although each variety of bean, pea or lentil has its own exclusive dietary and nourishment value, on the whole they are the richest basis of vegetable protein and are a good source of both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. When added with grains, nuts or seeds, a whole protein can be formed that can effectively substitute meat, fish, poultry, eggs or dairy. While the legumes provide a low-fat protein alternative to animal products, soybeans and especially peanuts have rich fat content than the other types.
In addition to their protein and fiber contents, beans are also rich in calcium, thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), and several protective phytochemicals. Beans also provide traces of a number of minerals including iron, molybdenum, manganese, zinc, and carotene. In addition, legume shoots are rich in vitamin C. As a result of such inherent features, beans form a vital part of many special diets like gluten-free, low-sodium, low-fat, low-cholesterol, and high fiber.
Beans are among the most vigorous as well as inexpensive sources of protein available; it is evident from the fact that while one cup of lentils provides 17 gr of protein with only 0.75 gr of fat, two ounces of extra-lean sheared sirloin steak comprise an equal amount of protein, but six times more fat.
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While a great fraction of plant proteins do not possess lysine - a prominent amino acid, the majority of the beans have rich concentration of lysine. This makes beans the ideal balancing protein diet when compared to other available vegetable proteins. Beans are probably the best choice among all other plant proteins as the presence of lysine - one of the two crucial amino acids that are practically indispensable for the amalgamation or synthesis of carnitine. It may be mentioned here that carnitine is necessary for effectual production of energy in the cellular mechanism in the body called the mitochondria.
When compared to animal proteins, consumption of plant proteins results in loss of calcium in lesser amount. This feature of plant protein is highly beneficial for all those suffering from osteoporosis. It has been found that usually people are free to enhance their protein ingestion, while also increasing the quantity of calcium loss from their bones. Significantly, ingestion of animal protein like meat often leads to acidity in the digestive system consequently increasing the loss of calcium from the body. This is comparatively lower in the case of plant proteins. In addition, plant proteins endow the body with phytonutrients along with different vitamins and minerals that are affable for bones.
Several studies have established that beans are good for the heart. One such study relating to the nutritional prototypes for over 25 years scrutinized the threat of death owing to coronary heart ailments among over 16,000 people in their prime in the United States, the Netherlands, Italy, Finland, former Yugoslavia, Greece and Japan. According to the distinctive food patterns found by the researchers conducting the study, people in Northern Europe consumed higher proportions of dairy products, while in the United States consumption of mean was on the higher side. In Southern Europe, people consumed more of vegetables, fish, legumes and wine, while in Japan cereals, soy products (also soy bean sprouts) and fish was high. When the information collected during the research was analyzed, the scientists found that legumes were largely responsible for reducing the risk of deaths from heart diseases.
In addition, the researchers found that people who consumed beans very regularly also had the advantage of low blood pressure and the presence of total cholesterol in their system was much lower and hence they were most unlikely to suffer from diabetes.
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Regular consumption of beans is directly linked with lower cholesterol levels in the system and this is not just owing to the protein content in beans adequately replaces the animal proteins that enhances the intensity of cholesterol in the meals. It may be noted here that cholesterol is a fatty matter produced by the body and it is also present in food stuff that are rich in fat content. Significantly, cholesterol is only present in non-vegetarian food or food that is based on products of animals. There is a general conception that if one intakes plenty of cholesterol in their food, they are likely to suffer from high levels of cholesterol in their blood. This is, however, not the truth. The fact remains that different people react differently to the cholesterol ingested through their diet. As mentioned earlier, cholesterol is only present in animal food or fats. Thus, if one concentrates on the amount of over ingestion of fats and somewhat on hydrogenated oils in his or her eating habits while endeavoring to aptly replace the animal protein with beans and other proteins derived from plants, they would be on the right tract to lessen the cholesterol intensity in their blood. Consequently, they would be working towards picking up their physical fitness in general.
All said and done, it is always advisable to work towards keeping the cholesterol levels in your system as low as possible. Try increasing the intake of plant protein by consuming half a cup of beans daily as beans also form a rich source of fiber. It may be noted that the fiber contributed by the beans are beneficial in keeping the 'bad' cholesterol levels low. At the same time, they help in raising the levels of the 'good' cholesterol in the system.
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In addition to the above mentioned properties, regular eating of beans also has other advantages. They are particularly rich sources of vitamin B folate, especially lentils are rich in both folate and fiber content. It may be mentioned here that folate has a crucial role in lowering the homocysteine levels in the body and the homocysteine levels are bound to go up without the presence of folate. As homocysteine is detrimental for the blood vessel walls, when this lethal substance builds up in the blood vessels inside the body it enhances the danger of cardio-vascular disorders. Studies have shown that increased homocysteine levels are usually found in 20 to 40 per cent of the patients suffering from the coronary artery ailment. Anyone keen on avoiding the risk needs to intake one cup of cooked garbanzo beans daily as this alone provides 70.5 per cent of the folate requirement of the body every day.
Besides folate, beans also provide a substantial amount of different minerals. Intake of beans makes available potassium, calcium and magnesium - an important mineral as well as an electrolyte blend that helps in reducing heart diseases as well as hypertension.
Abundance of soluble fiber in beans is beneficial for people suffering from high blood sugar. Anyone suffering from insulin resistance, diabetes, or hypoglycemia can gain from beans intake as it will help in neutralizing the blood sugar levels in the system and also offer a stable, but unhurried burning of the energy. In fact, the presence of fiber in beans helps to maintain the blood sugar levels from increasing very fast after any meal.
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During a recent study, researchers evaluated two groups of patients suffering from type II diabetes. These two groups were fed dissimilar quantities of foods rich in fiber. While one group consumed food that comprised 24 gr of fiber daily, the other group was provided with a diet that contained 50 gram of fiber each day. It was found that people who consumed the higher fiber diet reported reduced levels of blood sugar as well as insulin. This group also showed a lower level of cholesterol by around seven per cent. Besides, the triglyceride levels were found to be lower by about 10.2 per cent, and the very low density was reduced by 12.5 per cent.
It is interesting to note that the beans have a crucial role in managing your weight or neutralizing it. This is primarily owing to the fact that beans are very filling. They supply plenty of volume, but comparatively not too much of calories. Thus, when you add lots of beans to your eating habits, you tend to get filled before you can accumulate much fat. The fiber content in beans restricts the blood sugar levels in the system thereby helping to keep hunger away. At the same time, intake of beans helps in preserving the energy intensity.
Even as scientists carry on with their fight against cancer, there is increasing proof that beans may assist in thwarting the lethal disease, especially the pancreatic cancer and the cancers of the breast, prostate and colon. One such study examined the cancer rate and consumption of beans among people in as many as 15 countries. The scrutiny of the information collected during the study revealed that increased intake of beans was directly linked with the reduced threats of colon, prostate and breast cancers. In fact beans enclose phytoestrogens known as 'lignins' and these are reported to have exhibited remarkable properties like that of the estrogens. And this has led the scientists to contemplate that plentiful consumption of foods that are rich in lignins are likely to diminish the dangers of cancers that are particularly lined to estrogen levels - especially cancer of the breast.
Some researches have found that lignins present in the beans may well have chemo deterrent result even on the cancers of the male reproductive system. In addition to lignins, beans also comprise additional amalgams known as 'phytates'. The phytates are also believed to assist in preventing particular types of cancer of the intestines. According to epidemiological studies, the rate of cancer was lower among people who devoured higher amounts of beans.