White bean is an umbrella term for a wide variety of beans that are commercially sold and covers any type that has a white color. These can come in various shapes and sizes, while the taste can also be slightly different, they have a similar nutritional content and can be used in the same cooking recipes without any problem. In stores, white beans are sometimes sold under their specific name, some of the most common are cannellini beans, navy beans or Great Northerns.
White beans have been domesticated and cultivated by humans for a very long time. In the wild, all types of beans are climbing plants. However, the cultivated varieties can be either pole beans (climbing) or bush beans, which have lost their climbing abilities. The four most important white bean cultivars are the navy bean, the pinto bean, the wax bean and particularly the kidney bean. Phaseolus coccineus (runner bean) and Vicia faba (broad bean) are also often found in gardens.
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Beans are native to the Americas and have been domesticated there for the first time. To this day, they are abundant in South and Central America but also cultivated in the USA and even Canada, all the way to the north of the continent. The beans tolerate a wide range of climates and have spread all over the world, being common in both Europe and Asia (in particular in the Middle East). They can also be found in Africa but not all varieties can survive in that climate.
Even if white beans actually consist of many different types, grouped together mainly due to their color, they have several common features. Usually, the beans are oval-shaped and have a small size between 0.5 and 1.5 cm in length, as opposed to red beans or fava beans that tend to be larger. They all have a slightly nutty taste.
Beans are a staple food in many cultures and can be cooked in a variety of ways. In the USA, baked beans made from white beans are a very common side dish that had a big impact on popular culture as well. Beans can also be cooked as stews and soups or mixed with grains or rice in numerous recipes. The most common way to prepare beans is by boiling them, which requires some time. Afterwards, the beans are an excellent pair for basically any type of meat (grilled, smoked or boiled) but also used in vegetarian dishes such as stewed or fried vegetables. Mashing the beans produces a dish very similar to the hummus of Arab cuisine.
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White beans have a very high fiber content, like most vegetables, but are also a major source of plant proteins. This has made beans a very common food for soldiers in all historical periods and a great choice for vegetarians today. In addition, white beans provide several vitamins and minerals, mainly vitamin C, vitamin B6, calcium, iron, folate and potassium.
An increasing number of doctors support eating white beans because of the general health benefits they provide, preventing diseases before they happen. Numerous studies have focused on the relation between beans consumption and heart attacks. The results show that people who eat white beans have a lower risk of heart issues, probably due to the combination of minerals found in beans, including the essential manganese. In addition, white beans can regulate the levels of sugar and cholesterol in the blood.
White beans have a complex composition, supporting human health in multiple ways. It is one of the best food sources for the rare essential metal molybdenum, which has an important role in eliminating toxins from the body. Beans are also rich in antioxidants and provide an optimal combination of proteins and fibers.
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As many other vegetables, white beans are very rich in fibers and a single cup contains half of the required daily quantity. White beans are actually excellent against constipation, even if the common beliefs claim otherwise and many people are afraid of excessive flatulence. This effect is very valuable to people who suffer from the irritable bowel syndrome.
One of the most important nutritional qualities of white beans is the significant content of the rare element molybdenum. Molybdenum is not a common metal and remains relatively poorly researched, even if it was discovered in 1778. While its role in human metabolism hasn't been fully researched, it seems to play a very important part in several processes. It is used in the synthesis of sulfite oxidase, aldehyde oxidase and other similar enzymes, which have a key role in eliminating toxins.
Aldehyde oxidase is very useful because it destroys acetaldehyde, which is one of the most common toxic compounds. In nature, acetaldehyde can be found as a by-product of alcohol and a metabolic waste of fungus. However, in the modern world it has become widespread, being a part of the exhaust gas of cars but also found in the smoke of cigarettes and marijuana. Modern humans need a much larger quality of aldehyde oxidase in order to counter its effects. Acetaldehyde irritates human tissues, boosts addition to tobacco and can even cause cancer. The second important enzyme that needs molybdenum is sulfite oxidase, which counters sulfites, another very common class of toxins of the modern world. This enzyme is soluble and works in the mitochondrial membrane by oxidizing sulfites, which can later be eliminated through urine. Sulfites are used in many products today, for example in the production of wine, and cause asthma, headache and high blood pressure.
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White beans are also rich in other essential minerals. They provide the components needed for the production of alpha-amylase inhibitors, which prevent the build-up of fat in the body. Beans are a major food source for magnesium and iron.
The rich iron content makes white beans a wise food choice especially for women. Iron is crucial in the production of red cells and acts like an overall energy boost. Women have a natural deficiency of iron and need to ingest increased amounts, this is critical during menstruation when they lose a lot of blood but also when they are pregnant. The low content of calories in white beans makes them an ideal food for this purpose.
White beans are also very valuable because of the low glycemic index. This index is a tool that shows the impact of food on the level of sugar in the blood. Beans have a low index score due to the high content of protein and fiber, carbohydrates are also present but only the more complex types. Some beans are rich in basic carbohydrates, which are digested very quickly in the stomach and cause a massive spike of both sugar and insulin in the blood, followed by a drastic drop. These variations are very bad for human health and the foods that cause them are considered to have a high glycemic index.
Foods with a low glycemic index, like white beans, are not processed as fast and don't cause big spikes in the level of blood sugar. This is of course very important for diabetic patients but low glycemic index foods can also prevent the onset of diabetes and heart diseases. At the same time, other problems related to the sugar spikes are avoided, such as sudden hunger, lack of energy or mood swings. All foods with a low glycemic index are also an excellent choice in diets since they help with weight loss, through the complex mechanisms of sugar assimilation.
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Whenever we eat food with a high content of carbohydrates, these are transformed into sugar and its level in the blood increases. In order to counter the sugar, the body responds by producing in the pancreas a polypeptide hormone named insulin, which is released in the blood. Insulin reduces the levels of sugar by speeding up the flow of glucose to the cells, where it is converted into pure energy. However, if there is more sugar in the blood than needed by the metabolism, insulin converts it into fat. Fats are the energy deposits of the body, stored for later usage, but have a lot of obvious drawbacks.
White beans and other low glycemic food types can cause the opposite reaction, keeping the blood sugar low and preventing the build-up of fat. At the same time, beans produce inhibitors of alpha-amylase, which slow down the action of several enzymes used to break starch into glucose. This effect can hamper the digestion of carbohydrates and help with weight loss.
Like other legumes, white beans are a great source of antioxidants. These compounds are a key focus of modern research and are believed to have a crucial role in health and disease prevention. Antioxidants neutralize the free radicals, a by-product of our metabolism that can cause massive damage to tissues and cells. Free radicals are considered to be the main cause for aging and cancer but they are also to blame for a wide variety of chronic and incurable diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, atherosclerosis, thrombosis, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, dementia and low immunity. A minor but very visible effect of antioxidants is the reduction of wrinkles. Combined with the zinc, copper and proteins found in generous amounts in white beans, antioxidants can actually prevent wrinkles from developing at all.
Finally, white beans are an important resource for magnesium. This essential mineral has numerous uses in the body but lately its effects on stress have been studied a lot, since it is one of the main issues of the modern world. Magnesium allows nerves to maintain their entire electrical charge, thus reducing stress and fatigue. It is also a key element in healthy muscles and bones.
A well-known side effect of beans consumption is flatulence. This happens because of the content of complex carbohydrates, some of them can't be fully digested and have to be eliminated. Flatulence is not actually a health problem but it can be embarrassing. One way around this problem is to eat fresh beans instead of dried or canned ones, since they don't cause this effect. Another useful advice is to rinse the beans with plenty of water several times.