Did you know that green beans are one of the top five foods to increase your intelligence?
A favorite scene of summer is sitting in a porch swing while snapping green beans for dinner. Picking them from the garden is fun, too, from either pole beans, requiring a stake for support, or bush beans, which don’t. Bean varieties include pinto, kidney, lima, black, red, or white, and yellow wax beans. French beans, sliced lengthwise, stay in the pod and are long and slender, while many others are shelled and dried for later use.
Research reveals that beans originated in South America, where they were cultivated by the Mayans and Inca Indians. But they’ve been part of the Mexican diet for over 7,000 years. Beans migrated northeast with the Spaniards, who carried them back to Europe. Today, of course, beans are grown on several continents, including Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and throughout the Americas.
Almost 60 percent of the world’s green beans (sometimes called string beans) are grown in the U.S. While frozen and canned beans are finer, fresh – whether steamed or sautéed with butter to a bright green – is always best. Luckily, the protein and B-vitamins aren’t greatly diminished by freezing or canning.
When canning green beans at home, blanching for just a couple minutes beforehand will help the beans retain their “snap” quality. A half-teaspoon of salt added to home-canned beans helps retain the flavor.
Health Benefits of Green Beans
If you’re looking for a vegetable with stellar amounts of antioxidants and flavonoids, green beans certainly fit the bill. Flavonoids like catechins (also found in green tea) in green beans help reduce body fat and can prevent obesity. Epicatechins improve heart health and help prevent cancer and diabetes, and the procyanidins in beans provide even more antioxidants.
Green beans also are a great source of vitamin A and antioxidants, such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and betacarotenes, which neutralize harmful free radicals. Vitamin C helps fight infection, such as in colds or flu, fiber helps keep your system flushed from toxins, and the carotene zeaxanthin protects eye health from UV rays by absorbing into the retina and helping to protect against macular degeneration.
B-vitamins are significant, too. High folate levels in green beans team up with vitamin B12 to keep DNA production and cell division at optimum levels. Before conception and during pregnancy, folate helps prevent neural defects. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B1 (now known as thiamin) help convert the foods you eat into energy. On ships where sailors couldn’t eat right, historical accounts attribute thiamin deficiency to the condition beriberi, causing loss of severe weakness and loss of muscle function.
Green beans also contain iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and potassium, which are essential for body metabolism. They also contain kaempferol and quercetin, which are flavonoids that are essential but not very common in vegetables.
Studies on Green Beans
Studies have shown flavonoids to play an important role in the prevention of diseases like cancer and heart disease, while offering a wide range of pharmacological benefits, such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, neuroprotective, and antidiabetic effects, to name a few.1 Emphasizing the “green” in green beans, another study shows that green and yellow vegetables may lower the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Note that while heat processing tests lowered the vitamin C in sweet corn and tomatoes while raising the antioxidant activity, scientists tested two other types of vegetables – a root (beets) and a legume (green beans).
The antioxidant activity of beets stayed constant despite an 8 percent loss of vitamin C and 30 percent loss of dietary folate. The interesting result came with the green beans: the vitamin C and folate content in the green beans remained, while noting a 32 percent reduction in phenolic compounds during processing, including a 20 percent decrease in antioxidant activity.3 Researchers concluded that a variation of foods and preparations is the best way to optimize the diet.
A generous array of antioxidants, flavonoids, minerals, vitamins, and plain old Heartland flavor explain the goodness of green beans, one of America’s favorite vegetables. Who hasn’t tasted the most requested Thanksgiving side dish, green bean casserole?
The unique blend of catechins, epicatechins, procyanidins, lutein, and zeaxanthin in green beans combine to provide just the right cocktail of nutrients the body needs, especially when combined with other plant-based foods. Green beans are best when cooked to “tender-crisp” to retain most of the vitamins and mineral, the vibrant green color, and flavor. Try adding a handful of slivered almonds into your green bean stir-fry for a yummy, satisfying crunch.