The Health Benefits of Beans

Beans contain a wider variety of nutrients than most foods, including calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, magnesium, folate, and alpha-linolenic acid. Beans are also a great source of complete proteins which are necessary for the normal functioning of the body.
Beans are a fabulous source of fiber!  In fact, a cup of beans has twice as much fiber as a cup of most vegetables.  Beans provide a major source of soluble fiber, which, when passing through the digestive tract grabs and traps bile that contains cholesterol, removing it from the body before it’s absorbed.  Eating a cup of beans a day will lower cholesterol and decrease risk for heart disease by as much as 22%.  The high fiber also makes you feel full so you eat less throughout the day, helping with weight maintenance.  The soluble fiber in beans also helps to decrease insulin resistance, the starting point for Type 2 Diabetes.  Beans are also a great source of insoluble fiber which increases stool bulk and decreases the risk of constipation and hemorrhoids.
Beans also contain compounds called isoflavins which help prevent normal cells from turning cancerous.  Soybeans contain phytoestrogens which are thought to decrease the risk of breast and prostate cancer.
Beans fill many dietary requirements, including 32%DV of folate, 9%DV of potassium, and are very high in protein and fiber but and low in fat. Dried or canned beans will give you the same benefit, but canned beans are high in sodium so be sure to drain and rinse well.
Parents are sometimes wary of giving their kids beans due to the “gas factor”.  Beans cause gas because they contain large amounts of a particular carbohydrate called raffinose.  Our GI tract can’t digest raffinose so it travels to the large intestine where it is rapidly fermented by the bacteria that naturally live in our intestines.  The end products of this fermentation are gasses, such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen.  The gases accumulate and eventually leave the body as flatulence.  Both the absorbance of gas and the composition of intestinal bacteria vary widely among people so some people experience more gas after ingesting beans than others.
Most kids love to eat hot dogs with baked beans.  My mom used to chop the hotdogs up and mix them right in with the baked beans.  Beans can also be easily served in Mexican dishes, such as tacos or fajitas.  Nobody can resist a hot bowl of chili topped with melted low-fat cheese!  My kids love to eat hummus.  In fact, that is how I first got my kids to eat raw vegetables!  Hummus is also delicious with pita bread.  There are lots of ways to get kids to eat beans without a fight!
A younger toddler (age 1 – 2) requires 2 oz of meat/beans each day.  An older toddler (age 3-4) requires 3 – 4 oz of meat/beans each day.  ¼ cup of dried beans is equivalent to 1 ounce.

1 cup of most beans 14 – 15
4 oz ground beef 28
4 oz chicken breast 30
1 egg 6
1 Tbsp peanut butter 4
1 oz cheese 6 – 10
1 cup milk 8
¼ cup almonds or peanuts 8 – 9
1 cup beans 13 – 15
1 medium apple 5
1 cup broccoli 4.5
1 cup sweet potato 6
1 cup bran cereal 20
1 cup whole wheat pasta 6
1 slice whole wheat bread 2
1 oz almonds 4
1 cup soybeans 261
1 cup white beans 160
1 cup navy beans 125
1 cup milk 300
1 cup spinach 272
1 oz most cheeses 220
8 oz low-fat yogurt 345

By Joanna Dolgoff, M.D.
Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right
Child and Adolescent Weight Management