If these beans are a musical fruit, it’s because they’re music to your ears! If you haven’t tried the hearty taste of cannellini beans, it’s time to.
Beans such as cannellini are an incredible part of a healthy diet because they provide you with a high protein and fiber content without overloading a meal with calories. A part of the legume family, cannellini beans are most often found dried and can be used in a broad variety of dishes. Nutritionally, they’re impressively effective in aiding weight loss and even potentially preventing certain cancers.
To find out why these are such a staple in many countries around the world, keep reading and fall in love with creamy cannellini beans.
What Are Cannellini Beans?
Cannellini beans are part of the Phaseolus vulgaris classification of beans, which also includes green beans, navy beans and a long list of others. When you begin researching cannellini beans, you’ll find they go by many names, including white kidney beans, Italian kidney beans, northern beans or fasolia beans. Specifically, they belong to the kidney bean family.
For centuries, cannellini beans have been extremely popular in Italian cuisine. They’re about half an inch long with a traditional kidney shape and tough seed coat. Most of the time, cannellini beans are found dried.
1. Help You Lose Weight
Many common bean varieties are well-known for their role in weight loss. One reason for this is that they act as alpha amylase inhibitors. These inhibitors stop your body from absorbing carbohydrates quickly by blocking the enzymes responsible for their digestion.
The white bean (another name for cannellini beans) has been used to develop a weight loss supplement known as Phase 2. Researchers from Medicus Research LLC in California found that this supplement caused no serious side effects and successfully helped participants lose weight. The participants’ blood sugar noticeably did not spike after meals in the same way as those taking the placebo. (1)
Further research published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences also indicates that similar supplements and extracts from the white bean are responsible for other body changes, such as a reduction in body mass index and reduced body fat, while maintaining lean body mass. (2)
On a very practical note, cannellini beans have a very low calorie count while increasing satiety (the feeling of being full). This makes them a great addition to the diet of anyone desiring to lose weight.
2. Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
I already mentioned in the study above that scientists discovered a drop in blood sugar in study participants taking a white bean extract supplement. Additional research has also been conducted on the ability of cannellini beans to help maintain healthy, normal blood sugar levels. Healthy amounts of blood sugar are common, as a spike in blood sugar is commonly one of the symptoms of diabetes, a destructive disease that impacts more than 3 million people each year in the U.S. alone.
The amylase inhibitor in cannellini beans can help fight this. Various studies have been done on their role in blood sugar levels, including a 2006 study on diabetic and non-diabetic rats. According to this and other research, orally administered doses of the amylase inhibitor from white beans was extremely effective in reducing blood sugar levels and regulating elevated disaccharidase levels, enzymes that break down into sugar. (3)
Cannellini beans also help reduce the risk of diabetes because of their fiber content. Although the recommended daily intake of dietary fiber is between about 25 to 38 grams (depending on gender and body mass), only about 5 percent of people in the U.S. consume as much fiber as they should each day.
However, proper fiber consumption is vital to the prevention of disease, including diabetes. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics highly recommends a high-fiber diet including whole grains, legumes (beans), veggies, fruits and nuts in order to help prevent disease. (4)
3. Contribute to a Healthy Heart
The study I just mentioned also includes heart disease on the list of diseases a high-fiber diet can help prevent. Another large analysis of studies involving more than 672,000 participants found that high fiber intake is very closely linked to the prevention of coronary heart disease. (5)
The alpha amylase inhibitor extract of white beans also have various heart-healthy effects, including the reduction of triglycerides. These fat cells found in your blood are produced when your body has calories that it doesn’t have to use for energy right away. Your body stores the triglycerides in fat cells, and then hormones trigger their release when you need more energy.
It’s an efficient system, but if you consistently consume more calories than you ever burn, triglycerides build up in the bloodstream and increase your risk of heart disease. In the first in a series of studies on the impact of this white bean extract, researchers found that not only was weight loss achieved, but triglyceride levels also dropped in subjects taking the supplement. (6)
Another way these dry beans help protect your heart is by lowering LDL cholesterol levels (considered “bad” cholesterol). (7) It’s very possible to regulate your cholesterol levels by eating a healthy diet, and it’s much safer than dangerous medications many doctors may prescribe, all of which have significant side effects.
Other beans in the Phaseolus vulgaris classification have shown preliminary results in helping reduce high blood pressure. (8) As many of the beans in this group have similar health benefits, it’s possible that cannellini beans could play a role in lowering blood pressure as well (although this has not yet been proven).
4. May Help Fight Cancer
Like all Phaseolus vulgaris beans, cannellini beans have a high level of antioxidants, fighting the oxidative stress caused by free radicals you encounter in your diet and environment. (9) They also contain polyphenols, a type of antioxidant commonly known for decreasing the risk for heart disease and cancer, making cannellini beans potential cancer-fighting foods. (10)
While research is limited on the exact content of antioxidants in cannellini beans, they’re very closely related to navy beans, which contain one of the highest levels of antioxidants of dry beans in their class. Specifically, navy beans (and by extension, cannellini beans) contain ferulic acid, which is known for its role in fighting cancer. (11)
Ferulic acid has shown promising impact in therapeutic treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer, causing apoptosis (cell death) of hepatoma cells. The same study also found caffeic acid, an antioxidant found in many healthy foods (and coffee), to have similar effects. (12) Ferulic acid also has the ability to inhibit the growth of some types of breast cancer cells. (13)
5. Protect from Skin Damage
Antioxidants in cannellini beans also play a role in protecting your skin. Because of the way it protects against oxidative stress, ferulic acid helps prevent sun damage. In fact, when added to a topical solution of vitamins C and E in a study conducted at the Duke University Medical Center, ferulic acid doubled the protection sunblock offered and greatly reduced the amount of skin cell death when exposed to excessive UV rays. (14)
Because one in five people develop skin cancer at some point in their lives, it’s important to protect your skin from damage caused by the sun and many chemicals you’re regularly exposed to.
6. Good for Crohn’s Disease Patients
Surprisingly, another benefit of the high fiber content of cannellini beans may be the ability to benefit Crohn’s disease sufferers. While it has long been believed that a high-fiber diet is undesirable in the treatment of Crohn’s, recent research indicates that plant-based dietary fiber may actually help treat this disease. (15)
The best thing about these great beans is that they’re a valuable source of several nutrients, including almost 25 percent of the daily recommended fiber intake. Between that and their high antioxidant load, cannellini beans are a delicious and nutritious way to eat Italian.
One serving of white cannellini beans (about a half cup) contains about: (16)
- 90 calories
- 19 grams carbohydrates
- 7 grams protein
- 6 grams fiber
- 80 milligrams calcium (8 percent DV)
- 270 milligrams potassium (7.7 percent DV)
Cannellini Beans vs. Black-Eyed Peas
If you’re wondering how cannellini beans compare to other beans nutritionally, one similar bean they’re often compared to is the black-eyed pea.
- Both of these beans are rich in fiber content, helping with digestion, feeling full and weight loss.
- They’re each potassium-rich foods, one of the qualities that makes both of these beans so heart-healthy.
- Black-eyed peas, unlike cannellini beans, contain a lot of vitamin A (valuable, in part, for its role in skin and eye health), while cannellini contains none. However, cannellini beans have a significant amount of antioxidants, which can help protect skin and eyes in different ways.
- Both cannellini beans and black-eyed peas take an average of 45 minutes to prepare.
How to Cook
Among white beans, there are a few varieties, such as Great Northern beans, navy beans and cannellini beans. Of these three, cannellini are well-suited for salads and other dishes in which a full bean shape is required. Their taste is mildly earthy with a nutty undertone, and their rich flavor and texture add much needed substance to a light salad. They also taste great as a side dish on their own and added to thicker, warm dishes.
When buying these beans, look for shiny, off-white cannellini with firm skins. I like to store them in a glass jar at home, and they last for quite some time before cooking. You can also find canned cannellini beans if you prefer not to soak or sprout them first.
Cooking dry cannellini beans requires first soaking them, usually overnight. If you don’t have the time to allow an overnight soak, try a rapid soaking method by placing them in a pot with four times the amount of water as you have beans, then boiling the water, allowing to simmer for 10 minutes then removing from heat and allowing to sit for one hour. However, the best, creamy cannellini is achieved by allowing your beans to soak overnight — and make sure to rinse them first.
White beans, such as the cannellini, take about 45—60 minutes to cook, a relatively short period of time. Once cooked, be sure to salt the beans to avoid toughening. They’re good for several days after cooking.
In many dishes, cannellini beans are used to replace various meats, especially for people on a completely plant-based diet. Another interesting substitute cannellini may serve as is as a shortening substitute in baking. One study found that pureed cannellini beans can replace up to as much as 50 percent of the shortening used in brownies, providing a much healthier dessert without sacrificing taste or texture. (17)
If you’re looking for something to warm you up and that you can eat for days, try this White Chicken Chili Recipe. It only takes about 90 minutes to make, which is an incredibly short period for a hearty chili dish.
If you’re on a plant-based diet, cannellini beans can help you on your way to creating a delicious veggie burger. On a list of 43 of my favorite post-workout meals, I include a Quinoa Veggie Burger with Red Pepper Relish, great for a tasty, protein-rich meal.
Ready to pair hearty cannellini beans with a crisp salad? Try my Zesty Turkey Salad with Beans and Walnuts. This particular salad actually tastes even better when left to sit for a day, as the flavors have had time to meld together.
Cannellini Beans Interesting Facts
Cannellini beans, as part of the larger bean family, originated in South America, most likely in Peru or Argentina. Like all beans, they were imported to Europe in the 15th century by Spanish explorers. Beans are a high source of protein and fiber while maintaining a low calorie count, and they’re inexpensive to buy. They’re also staple items in many parts of Asia, Europe and North America.
Today, cannellini beans are commercially produced almost exclusively in Italy and used in a variety of popular Italian dishes, such as minestrone, pasta e fagioli, and a common side dish of bean stew with garlic and rosemary. Residents of Tuscany have been affectionately nicknamed “mangiafagioli,” which means “bean eaters.”
Side Effects and Allergies
As with all foods, cannellini beans can potentially cause allergic reactions in rare cases. (18) However, they have no known side effects otherwise and are not known to interact negatively with any medications.
- Cannellini beans are most popular in Italy and are a vital part of several traditional Italian dishes.
- Mostly purchased dry and cooked by soaking in water overnight, cannellini beans have a nutty, earthy flavor and are creamy and savory.
- Eating these beans can help you lose weight because of the way they inhibit your body from absorbing excess carbohydrates.
- The antioxidant content of cannellini beans allows them to keep your heart healthy while also protecting your eyes.
- Cannellini effectively regulates blood glucose levels.
- Beans like cannellini are recommended as a regular part of a healthy diet to avoid several chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and cancer.