You’re probably heard of fava beans before — whether you’re a movie fan, health nut or just familiar with these types of beans — but have you ever eaten them? Also known as broad beans, fava beans are pretty amazing given the amount of nutrition they contain. In addition to being a lean protein choice with lots of fiber, fava beans contain vitamin K, vitamin B6, zinc, copper, iron, magnesium and more.
If that isn’t enough, they’re also some of the top high-folate foods around. You gain 177 micrograms of folate in just one cup of cooked fava beans. Folate is useful for energy metabolism, support of the nervous system and healthy red blood cells, and naturally a good fit for moms-to-be.
Benefits of Fava Beans
1. May Reduce Risk of Birth Defects
While folate is great for providing energy, it’s been long known as an important nutrient for pregnant women as well. Folate has an association with helping reduce birth defects.
According the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Public Health Service, it’s best that all women between the child-bearing ages of 15 and 45 consume 0.4 milligrams (400 micrograms) of folic acid every day to help reduce the risk of birth defects, spina bifida and anencephaly. This is important because, most often, problems occur within the first few weeks of pregnancy, which is a period of time when many may not even know they’re pregnant. (2)
A meta-analysis of research on folic acid supplementation’s effects on congenital heart defects published in Scientific Reports found that while “epidemiological studies have reported conflicting results regarding the association between maternal folic acid supplementation and the risk of congenital heart defects,” the researchers found positive association between maternal folate supplementation and a decreased risk of CHDs.” (3)
Further studies published in the Saudi Medical Journal and National Academies Press show an association between folate consumption — including broad beans — and the reduction of birth defects and mortality from birth defects. (4, 5, 6)
2. Help Prevent Osteoporosis
Just one cup of fava beans contains 36 percent of your daily recommendation of manganese. Adults require about 11 milligrams daily. Why is manganese important? It does a lot of things, but your bones love it since it helps increase bone mass. Additionally, it helps reduce calcium deficiency.
With about 99 percent of our calcium stored in the bones and teeth, this makes manganese a gem for strong bones, which is effective in the prevention of osteoporosis. The U.S. National Library of Medicine suggests that consuming forms of manganese along with calcium, zinc and copper may help reduce “spinal bone loss in older women.” (7)
3. May Eliminate Hypertension and Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
Magnesium has a hot topic lately. That’s because most Americans are deficient in this important mineral, and this is important because magnesium plays a role in heart health. Hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Studies show that magnesium can lower blood pressure.
An analysis of 12 clinical trials demonstrated that magnesium supplementation for a period of eight to 26 weeks in 545 hypertensive participants resulted in a small reduction in diastolic blood pressure. However, another study concluded that magnesium supplementation for three to 24 weeks decreased systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure a bit more due to magnesium supplements combined with magnesium-rich fruits and vegetables as well as low-fat foods. (8)
4. Support a Strong Immune System
Fava beans contain a good amount of copper, which helps maintain healthy blood cells. White blood cells are important because they destroy disease-causing pathogens, ultimately helping eliminate free radicals found in the body.
Copper plays a role in making sure these white blood cells function properly, but the body cannot produce enough of it on its own. Therefore, supplementation through foods, such as fava beans, may help. Additionally, it’s vital since without healthy white blood cells, your body is very susceptible to illness and infection, which is why copper deficiency is so dangerous.
This ability to fight free radical damage was demonstrated in studies out of Japan. The research, published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, showed that methanolic extracts from broad beans help antioxidant abilities as people age. (9)
5. Provide Energy
Fava beans provide some much needed energy due to the iron they contain, with one cup providing about 14 percent of the daily recommendation. Here’s how it works. Iron is required to produce hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body and to your cells. If you’re low in iron, this will be a challenge and can leave you feeling tired and sluggish. Anemia may be the result. Eating iron-rich fava beans could eliminate fatigue and, ultimately, anemic symptoms. (10)
However, if you have glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency, consuming broad beans can actually be detrimental. That’s because they contain “high amounts of divicine, convicine, and isouramil—chemicals that are suspected to be highly oxidative,” which is why people with G6PD deficiency should avoid fava beans. (11)
6. May Improve Motor Function
Some studies suggests that fava beans may help control Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Research published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research focused on fresh fava beans with the outer shell, fava beans dissolved in alcohol and water, as well as dried sprouted fava beans. Because of the increase the levels of L-dopa and C-dopa in the blood from the fava beans, a marked improvement in the motor performance of the patients with Parkinson’s disease was noted without any side effects. (12)
A cup (170 grams) of boiled, mature seeds contains about: (13)
- 187 calories
- 33.4 grams carbohydrates
- 12.9 grams protein
- 0.7 gram fat
- 9.2 grams fiber
- 177 micrograms folate (44 percent DV)
- 0.7 milligram manganese (36 percent DV)
- 0.4 milligram copper (22 percent DV)
- 212 milligrams phosphorus (21 percent DV)
- 73.1 milligrams magnesium (18 percent DV)
- 2.5 milligrams iron (14 percent DV)
- 456 milligrams potassium (13 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram thiamine (11 percent DV)
- 1.7 milligrams zinc (11 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram riboflavin (9 percent DV)
- 4.9 micrograms vitamin K (6 percent DV)
- 1.2 milligrams niacin (6 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (6 percent DV)
- 61.2 milligrams calcium (6 percent DV)
- 4.4 micrograms selenium (6 percent DV)
How to Use and Cook
It seems that fava beans get a bad rap when it comes to preparing due to the time it takes to peel them. Their pods resemble a large sweet pea, but when looking to purchase, make sure you find the green pods that are tight and firm instead of bulging pods. Why? The bulging ones are probably too old and may give you a bitter taste. To yield a third of a cup of fava beans, you need about one pound of unpeeled ones.
To start the process, remove the beans from the pods similar to shelling peas. Simply run your finger up the seam of the pod to split it open. It should have four to five beans inside. Just when you thought that was easy, there is one more step. The beans contain a thick white skin around them that needs to be removed. You can do this by making a small slit using a knife along the edge of the bean. The bean should pop right out of its skin.
However, if you want an easier approach, put the fava beans in boiling salted water and blanch them for about 90 seconds, which helps soften the skin to make them easy to remove. Immediately remove the beans from the water and put them in ice cold water so they stop cooking. You should be able to squeeze the beans right out of their skin.
Now they’re ready to join your recipe of choice, and there are some easy ways to prepare them, such as steaming them to tenderness, then tossing them in a mixture of sea salt, organic olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Mashed fava beans are a hit used as a spread on bruschetta. They go beautifully in a mixed green salad too. (14)
Fava Bean Recipes
You can, of course, use fava beans in my Falafel Recipe, as is customary in Egypt. Also try the following recipe:
Fava Bean and Avocado Dip
- 5 pounds fava beans in the pod
- 1 ripe avocado
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 5 cloves minced garlic
- Pinch of crushed red pepper
- 1 teaspoon fresh basil
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped parsley
- Sea salt
- Remove fava beans from their pods.
- Once you have removed the your fava beans from their pods, place them in medium saucepan of boiling salted water for about 90 seconds until tender.
- Drain, then rinse well under cold water.
- Peel the white skin from the fava beans, then place them in a saucepan with the olive oil and lightly sauté. Add the red pepper, a pinch of sea salt and pepper to taste. Then set them aside to cool.
- Now, carefully peel your avocado. Chop the avocado, then place into a small bowl.
- Add your fava bean mixture and mash using a potato masher or fork.
- Add the lemon juice, fresh basil parsley and blend.
- Serve on fresh sourdough toast points like a bruschetta. Just put a tablespoon of your fava bean and avocado spread onto the toast points. You can garnish with a piece of basil, drizzle a little olive oil and top it off with a sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
Here are a couple more you can try:
A species of flowering plant in the vetch and pea family Fabaceae, vicia faba is the scientific name for the fava bean. Other names include broad bean, faba bean, field bean, bell bean, English bean, horse bean, Windsor bean, pigeon bean and tic(k) bean.
Similar to the garden pea, lentil and chickpea, the fava bean originated in the Mediterranean region or in southwestern Asia. It seems have been discovered as far back as the Neolithic period (6800 to 6500 B.C.E.) from Israel. For some time, fava beans were a common food for many Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations and eventually spread along the Nile Valley to Ethiopia, northern India and China.
The fava bean is found in its natural state as a stiffly erect plant standing from 0.5–1.8 meters tall, supporting stout stems. The leaves are anywhere from 10–25 centimeters long and grey-green in color. The flowers contain five petals with a black spot. There are also crimson-flowered broad beans, which have been saved from extinction. The flowers contain a sweet scent that attracts bees.
Risks and Side Effects
Fava beans have been suggested as a possible way to alleviate depression. The reason for this is that fava beans contain levodopa, also called l-dopa. Your body has the ability to convert levodopa into dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate your mood.
However, the amount of levodopa in fava beans varies, which means the benefits may be inconsistent. Some researchers suggest that the high amounts of levodopa can cause a vitamin B6 deficiency, which can cause depression. More studies need to be conducted. It’s been reported that you should avoid fava beans if you are taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs, for depression. (15)
As previously stated, fava beans should also be avoided for anyone with G6PD deficiency, as it can exacerbate the condition.
Additionally, the beans may cause an allergic reaction. Well-cooked fava beans can help reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.
Fava beans carry some amazing benefits from supporting the immune system to possibly preventing osteoporosis and even helping pregnant women obtain much-needed folate. Adding them to your diet may offer amazing benefits to you, along with aiding motor function, heart health and energy levels.
However, fava beans can cause both allergies and actually negatively impact those with depression or G6PD deficiency, so there are specific health issues that can be made worse by consuming broad beans. If you notice any issues with eating them, or know of a pre-existing condition that fava beans can negatively impact, avoid eating them completely. While this is rare, it is possible.
If you find you can handle them without issue, it’s a good idea to add them to your diet, particularly if you are a mother-to-be. The benefits really can make a difference for your child — and for you as well.