Herbs & Plants: Beans, a rich plant

Cauliflower Phaseolus vulgaris (Family Fabaceae), also known as the common bean, French bean or green bean, among other names, is a herbaceous annual plant, grown worldwide for its edible seeds or immature fruits. In Uganda, it is the most important plant based protein source for the people, providing between 20-25 % of proteins of the local diet and is grown all over the country.

Beans are a nutritionally and economically important food crop in every part of the world providing nutrients such as: multifaceted carbohydrates, elevated proteins, dietary fibre, minerals, vitamins and with a rich variety of polyphenolic compounds with prospective health benefits such as, decreasing the risks of chronically degenerative diseases.  Beans are rich in a number of important micronutrients including; potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and zinc, and are important sources of protein in vegetarian diets.

In particular, they are among the only plant foods that provide significant amounts of the indispensable amino acid lysine. They are also rich in soluble fibre as well as in resistant starch, all of which contribute to the low glycaemic index  which results in a lower and slower rise in blood glucose; an important benefit for those suffering from diabetes.

The large quantity of proteins in beans play a key role in a number of biological activities in the body and the folate is vital in preventing the neural tube defects in a foetus during pregnancy. Beans are rich in polyphenol antioxidants which are important in fighting the effects of free radical chemicals that affect a wide range of processes in the body ranging; from physical aging to cancer and inflammation.

Regular consumption of beans is known to be essential in weight loss and prevention of obesity. The fibre and healthy starches in beans make one feel fuller after consuming it hence preventing over eating and hence may result in weight loss over time. Additionally, the high fibre content in beans plays a vital role in stabilization of the blood glucose levels which is important in management of diabetes.

In fact, beans have a low glycaemic index which can’t cause blood sugar levels to spike the way refined grain products can, hence making one safe from diabetic conditions. People who eat more legumes have a lower risk of heart disease, and the phytochemicals found in beans might be partially to thank since they protect against it. Beans provide the body with soluble fibre, saponins and phytosterols which play an important role in controlling blood cholesterol levels hence keeping the heart healthy.

Although all bean varieties have very important health benefits, black beans seems to offer a more superior benefit due to their very high fibre, protein, and vitamins like vitamin A. Black beans also have high levels of flavonoids, particularly anthocyanin, which have antioxidant abilities. Furthermore, they contain omega-3 fatty acid, folic acid, and have abnormally high levels of the rare compound molybdenum, which is very difficult to find in any other foods. Molybdenum helps in cell energy production and the development of the nervous system, reduction of impotence and erectile dysfunction in men when regularly consumed.

Important to note is that it is unsafe to eat raw beans due to the fact that they contain proteins called lectins which can cause severe poisoning as they interfere with digestion and can lead to cyanide formation. Cooking the beans for at least 10 minutes is recommended to destroy the lectins so that they can be safely eaten.

Interesting to note is that the kidney bean leaf has been used in some communities to conquer bedbugs! Researchers have documented how microscopic hairs on kidney bean leaves spread around the floor of an infested room at night can effectively stab and trap the biting insects, which can then be collected and burnt. (Richard Komakech)