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Green Beans Nutrition Helps You Fight Cancer and Improve Digestion
August 23, 2016
Remember when your mom told you to finish all your vegetables? If she liked to make you green beans (and you listened to her), you’re going to be pretty happy about all the good green beans nutrition does for your health. From helping prevent many types of disease to supporting the health of your digestive system, green beans nutrition is a dynamic fighter to add to your healing diet because green beans are some of the best high-antioxidant foods on the planet.
Unlike many green veggies, you can even freeze green beans and maintain their nutritional value. Plus, they’re extremely common and can be found at your local farmers market or grocery store year-round, although they’re considered “in season” and least expensive from summer to early fall.
So, don’t forget to call your mom and say “thanks” — especially once you’ve read the incredible power that green beans nutrition provides.
What Are Green Beans?
There are over 130 different varieties of green beans, divided into two categories: bush and pole. The bush varieties grow on short plants that need no assistance to remain straight (between eight and 20 inches at full height), while pole green beans must be supported by trellises or other means and can grow up to seven feet long.
Green beans seem to have originated in the country of Peru about 7,000 years ago but are produced all over the world today. The top producers of green beans as of 2012 were Indonesia, India and China, although green beans are produced in large quantities in the U.S. as well.
While the beans and pods from green beans are the edible parts of the plant, they aren’t the only parts of a green bean plant. Green bean leaves can be green or purple, and the flowers of the green bean plant are white, pink or purple and often pollinated by insects.
Green beans are also known as string beans or snap beans, although the string found in some types of green beans is not very tasty. In 1894, botanist Calvin Keeney successfully removed the string of some green bean species through selective breeding, earning him the nickname “father of the stringless bean.”
In addition to their many health benefits for humans, green beans also help plant health by killing fungi that are commonly responsible for various types of plant death.
Green beans belong to the Phaseolus vulgaris classification of bean, one type of legume. This classification originates from the Fabaceae family, genus vicia. While Phaseolus vulgaris is the scientific name for green beans, this exact name refers to several different types of beans, including kidney, red, white, pinto and other types of beans. Together, the Phaseolus vulgaris beans are often referred to in research as “common beans.”
Specifically, what you recognize as green beans may also be divided into multiple categories. All green beans are the unripe fruit inside protective pods of various types of common beans. One prevalent type of green beans is known as the haricot vert or French green bean, and it’s classified by a longer, thinner and more tender pod.
In addition to the incredible nutrient content that you may recognize from a typical nutrition Facts list, green beans nutrition also contains high levels of several proteins, carotenoids and other antioxidants that make it a veritable mine of nutrition. (1)
Many experts agree that one of the factors that makes green beans so good for your health is the level of starch and fiber. Instead of being totally processed right away by your digestive system, some nutrients in green beans are absorbed and continue to have great impact on your health, long after the rest of the bean has been digested and expelled.
One serving of raw green beans (about half a cup or 100 grams) contains about: (2)
- 31 calories
- 7.1 grams carbohydrates
- 1.8 grams protein
- 0.1 gram fat
- 3.4 grams fiber
- 16.3 milligrams vitamin C (27 percent DV)
- 14.4 micrograms vitamin K (18 percent DV)
- 690 IU vitamin A (14 percent DV)
- 0.2 mg manganese (11 percent DV)
- 37 micrograms folate (9 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram thiamine (6 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram riboflavin (6 percent DV)
- 1 milligram iron (6 percent DV)
- 25 milligrams magnesium (6 percent DV)
- 209 milligrams potassium (6 percent DV)
1. Helps Fights and Prevent Cancer
Green beans have long been regarded as a healthy food that supports various areas of the body. One of the most heavily researched benefits is in the ability of green beans nutrition to help prevent and stop the spread of several cancers throughout the body.
While one of the reasons for this is the high antioxidant load in green beans nutrition, which help scavenge free radicals in the body responsible for many diseases, one overview study that compiled decades of research on the health benefits of green beans (and other varieties of Phaseolus vulgaris beans) found that: “The anticarcinogenic activity of beans is related to the presence of resistant starch, soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, phenolic compounds, as well as other microconstituents such as phytic acid, protease inhibitors, and saponins.” (3)
Basically, this refers to the fact that nutrients present in green beans help exert anticarcinogenic properties in the body, independently from the antioxidant activity found from green beans nutrition. This places green beans among the strongest cancer-fighting foods. Research also supports that in addition to preventative measures, peptides in green beans can also slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. (4)
Regular consumption of green beans is associated with a lower risk of breast, colon and prostate cancer. (5) Eating varieties of Phaseolus vulgaris is also associated with slowed or inhibited growth of leukemia, breast cancer and lymphoma cells.
Several nutrients in green beans have cancer-fighting properties on their own. Lutein, one of the types of antioxidants known as carotenoids, is found in large quantities in green beans. It’s suggested that people who consume high quantities of dietary lutein have a lowered risk of breast, colon, cervical and lung cancer, and green beans is No. 8 on the list of foods highest in lutein.
Vitamin C is also a commonly known anticancer vitamin, as it has been known, in large doses, to treat cancer. Many health practitioners also use vitamin C to supplement chemotherapy drugs, as the vitamin helps the drugs target only the cancerous cells, rather than the entire body. One serving of green beans contains over a quarter of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C.
The amount of vitamin K in a serving of green beans provides over half of one day’s recommended intake as well. Guess what else has been proven to protect the body against cancer? That’s right, vitamin K has had success in reducing the risk of prostate, colon, stomach, nasal and oral cancer.
2. Slows the Spread of HIV in the Body
A fascinating study out of Hong Kong in 2010 studied the effect of a specific nutrient found in French green beans on tumors, fungus and HIV. It found positive effects in all three subsets, but most interestingly was its effect in inhibiting HIV.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is an incurable virus spread by the exchange of certain bodily fluids. Unlike other viruses, HIV cannot be completely removed from the body. Left untreated, it can develop into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV/AIDS is associated with a number of health risks because it attacks T cells that normally help your body fight off infection.
The HIV virus works by a process known as reverse transcription, in which the viral cells use an enzyme, reverse transcriptase, to create what’s known as complementary DNA, or cDNA, from RNA templates. This cDNA is bound to the body’s DNA and creates a long-term infection that can’t be separated from the body.
To slow this process, doctors often prescribe antiretrovirals, medications that try to stop reverse transcription so the virus can’t integrate into the body as fast as if left untreated. While these medications can greatly improve the life expectancy of patients with HIV and stave off the virus’ progression into AIDS, researchers have been interested for some time about the effects of nutrition on HIV.
The study from Hong Kong found that the green beans nutrition from French green beans significantly inhibited reverse transcription in HIV-1 cells, the more common form of HIV found throughout the world. These findings suggest that green beans, along with antiretroviral therapy and other HIV/AIDS-fighting foods like spirulina, may be a long-term treatment solution for patients suffering from these viruses. (6)
3. Decreases Risk for and Helps Manage Diabetes
When you consume whole-grain foods, such as beans and other legumes, three or more times in one week, you can decrease your risk of diabetes up to 35 percent. Other risk reduction methods for this disease include consuming foods with a low glycemic index.
Due to of the type of dietary fiber and carbohydrates found in green beans nutrition, these veggies are considered a low glycemic index food because the carbohydrates release slowly in your system and help avoid spikes and dips in glucose levels in your blood. Beans are among the best whole-grain foods to eat, especially if you’re monitoring your glucose levels and are already at risk for obesity or diabetes, because other popular whole-grain foods like baked potatoes and rice often have a high glycemic index, usually somewhere between 50 and 85, whereas beans score a low 20 on the scale.
Not only do foods like green beans affect your potential risk of diabetes, but if you already have diabetes, your diet is crucial to managing this chronic condition. That’s why green beans should be part of any diabetic diet plan.
Low glycemic index diets are strongly associated with decreased insulin sensitivity and regulate the diet-insulin responses of people with diabetes and prediabetes, and can also help your body properly process insulin. In fact, hypoglycemic foods, including Phaseolus vulgaris, have been shown to decrease the glucose tolerance curve (a measurement tool used by physicians and researchers to observe the progression of glucose intolerance) by almost 5 percent more than the most commonly prescribed drug for diabetes. (7)
Patients with diabetes have damaged β-cells, or beta cells, in their pancreas. These damaged cells cause the body to underproduce insulin and fail to release the insulin already present in the body. In 2013, researchers in Mexico discovered that a cooked “common bean” given to diabetic rats caused a significant drop in glucose, triglycerides, overall cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, consistent with protection of beta cells in the pancreas. Their findings show that various Phaseolus vulgaris beans, including green beans, can be used as one way to nutritionally control diabetes. (8)
Other studies focus on the inflammation associated with diabetes and have found species of Phaseolus vulgaris beans play a key role in reducing this inflammation. (9)
4. Helps Maintain Healthy Eating Habits
As I just mentioned, green beans are an excellent food for managing glucose levels in people at risk for obesity because they’re a whole grain that scores very low on the glycemic index scale. This is not just for people at risk for diabetes.
Adding green beans to a balanced meal is clinically proven to help you lose weight by reducing your blood glucose levels, making you feel full and slowing the secretion of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, that causes your brain to desire to eat again. (10)
5. Protects Your Heart from Disease
Lowering cholesterol in your blood is good for more than just your weight and diabetes risk — it also keeps your heart beating strong. Beans help support heart health by managing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions associated with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Again, this can be explained in part by the resistant starch and dietary fiber content of beans, because they delay the use of glucose from foods, change the way your body uses fat and increase satiety (the satisfied feeling you have after eating) to control the appetite.
Consuming legumes four times or more a week can decrease the risk of heart disease up to 22 percent versus eating them once a week. Similarly to their mechanism for helping maintain healthy eating and treating diabetes, this is because legumes like green beans are whole-grain, high-fiber foods that score low on the glycemic index scale. (11)
Another study found an inverse association between legume consumption and coronary heart disease, discovering that eating just ¾ cup of beans daily decreased the risk of heart attack by an astounding 38 percent. (12)
Green beans are especially powerful in protecting the heart due to their vitamin K and lutein content. Vitamin K carries calcium out of your arteries, preventing it from forming large plaque deposits and eventually calcifying those arteries. Getting enough vitamin K in your diet helps protect the lining of your arteries and other body tissues, as well as reduces inflammation to maintain healthy blood pressure and reduces your risk of heart attack.
Low levels of lutein are also associated with hardening of the artery walls, and high lutein in the bloodstream is connected with a reduced risk of coronary disease and heart attack, although the reasons why are still unclear.
6. May Improve Fertility and Protect Newborns
Infertility affects between 13 percent and 17 percent of couples of reproductive age around the world. It’s such a high percentage that the World Health Organization has recently recognized it as a social disease, meaning it’s caused by various social and economic factors.
Lifestyle and proper nutrition greatly affect fertility and have the potential to correct a large majority of the issues that cause infertility. Green beans and other legumes are excellent sources of nutrition for those at risk for infertility, as they’re low on the glycemic index and also contain significant levels of folate and iron, three factors specifically indicated in nutrition-based research on improving fertility and beating infertility. (13) Folic acid and other antioxidants play a large role in this process. (14)
Folate, or folic acid, doesn’t only help both males and females experience higher levels of fertility — it’s good for babies, too. Dietary folate decreases the risk of a large number of birth defects. (15) This is why you want to avoid folate deficiency, something you can do with green beans nutrition.
7. Supports a Healthy Digestive System
The fiber in green beans also helps your digestive system maintain optimal health, as it prevents many digestive problems. (16) One method by which they help your digestive system is by protecting the lining of your gastrointestinal tract from becoming damaged.
That protection, combined with a regular dietary intake of vitamin B12 and vitamin C, helps your body absorb iron (also found in green beans nutrition), which also impacts digestive health. (17)
8. Keeps Bones Strong
Because of its high vitamin K content, green beans nutrition can also help your body build and maintain strong bones. From the elderly at risk for osteoporosis to athletes, consuming high levels of vitamin K helps your body maintain bone density, reduce the risk of bone fracture and even help heal broken bones.
How to Use and Cook
The best way to get green beans is to find them loose at a local farmers market where you can buy organic. Choose green beans with a smooth texture and vibrant green color, free from brown spots and bruising. Good green beans are firm and should make a “snapping” sound when opened. You can keep unwashed, fresh green beans in a plastic bag in your refrigerator’s crisper for about seven days.
Green beans may also be frozen and still maintain a lot of their nutritional value. You can freeze the fresh beans you purchase for up to six months without decreasing their nutrition, although green beans nutrition at three months does start to decline somewhat by the time they get to six months frozen. It’s a good idea to steam the fresh green beans, allow them to cool and dry, then place them in the freezer. You can also purchase frozen green beans if buying fresh isn’t always an option.
When using green beans for cooking, run them under cold water, then snap or cut off the ends. One of the most common methods of preparation is to steam your green beans.
You can use green beans in many ways, but one recipe sure to be a party favorite is my Green Bean Casserole, packed with vitamin K and vitamin A. I also recommend Lemon Pepper Green Beans if you’re looking for a side dish with a complex flavor profile.
Another one I enjoy is Green Beans and Carmelized Shallots, especially around the holidays — you’ll be shocked how flavor-filled just four ingredients can be!
Risks and Side Effects
While they have many benefits, there are a few cautions to consider when eating green beans regularly, one being the presence of oxalic acid (common in many green vegetables). This acid can crystallize and cause stones in the urinary tract. Always drink plenty of water to help reduce your risk, and consult your doctor if you have a history of oxalate urinary tract stones before consuming large amounts of green beans.
If you have conditions that cause mineral deficiency, you may want to limit your intake of green beans due to their small amount of phytic acid. You can also decrease phytic acid greatly by cooking your green beans and avoiding them raw if you suffer from one of these conditions.
It’s also possible to be allergic to green beans, as is true of all legumes. If you suspect you have a green bean allergy, stop eating them and consult your physician immediately.
- Everyone can benefit from green beans, from the infant to the athlete, the elderly and everyone in between.
- Green beans exhibit strong antioxidant activity that protects from various diseases, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
- Two more qualities of green beans that make them so helpful are their indigestible carbohydrates and dietary fiber content, which contribute to many of their benefits.
- Green beans are part of the Phaseolus vulgaris classification, known as “common beans,” which also includes a large variety of other bean types.
- You can find green beans almost anywhere, year-round, and can freeze them for three to six months without losing significant nutritional value.