Benefits of Black Beans

Black Beans:


Black beans could not be more succinctly and descriptively named. They are commonly referred to as turtle beans, probably in reference to their shiny, dark, shell-like appearance. With a rich flavor that has been compared to mushrooms, black beans have a velvety texture while holding their shape well during cooking.

Black beans are actually a variety of the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) and belong to the popular legume family of plants. Black beans share many characteristics with their fellow bean family members, including red (kidney) beans, white (navy) beans, yellow beans, pinto (mottled) beans, pink beans, and anasazi beans.

Nutritional Benefits

Black beans are pretty popular in the cooking that you find in Latin American cuisine, and they are equally commonplace in the cooking of Creole and Cajun food, such as that which you can find in Southern Louisiana. Another name for the black bean is the black turtle bean. The black bean has a meaty and dense texture, as well as flavor that will recall mushrooms. Because of this characteristic of black beans, it is a favorite ingredient in vegetarian dishes, such as a black bean burrito.

Another popular use for the black bean is in soups, where it is eaten along with Cuban crackers in some cuisines. Black beans are mostly healthy for you, but they do pack quite the calorie punch.

High in Calories

While black beans are mostly good for your health, in the area of calories, they are quite high. A serving size of 4 ounces will get you a quantity of 140 calories. The principle of weight gain is based on you ingesting more calories than you subsequently burn off again through activities like physical exercise. So after eating only a half a cup of black beans (4 ounces), you already have to commit yourself to quite some exercise just to make certain that that calorie amount does not cause you weight gain.

For example, you already have to do 9 minutes worth of bicycling at a rate of 17 miles per hour; organ-playing for 52 minutes; or attend to patients by nursing them for 33 minutes.

High in Protein

Black beans are high in protein, which is excellent if you want to ward off muscular wasting. Protein is also a fundamental building block for developing your muscles; this is why bodybuilders and those who want to develop impressive muscles often use supplements of protein in their diet. Protein is so important to the body that if you experience a deficiency in this substance, you can be subjected to serious diseases and illnesses. For example, a lack of protein has been associated with mental retardation and a lowering of intelligence, as well as the disease called kwashiorkor. This disease is more common in third world countries and young children.

No Sodium

The best benefit of eating black beans is that they are totally sodium-free. That is excellent when you consider how eating excessive quantities of sodium has deleterious effects on your health. Because sodium is found in most foods and your daily intake recommendations of sodium are quite conservative, many Americans end up encroaching beyond their healthy, daily intake levels. With black beans, you get to avoid all these negative health effects.

Health Benefits

Among all groups of food commonly eaten worldwide, no group has a more health-supportive mix of protein-plus-fiber than legumes. Included here, of course, is the amazing protein-plus-fiber content of black beans. From a single, one-cup serving of black beans you get nearly 15 grams of fiber (well over half of the Daily Value and the same amount consumed by the average U.S. adult in one entire day of eating) and 15 grams of protein (nearly one third of the Daily Value and equivalent to the amount in 2 ounces of a meat like chicken or a fish like salmon). You won't find this outstanding protein-fiber combination in fruit, vegetables, grains, meats, dairy products, nuts and seeds, or seafood.

The almost magical protein-fiber combination in legumes including black beans explains important aspects of their health benefits for the digestive tract, the blood sugar regulatory system, and the cardiovascular system. Each area of systems benefit has a strong research basis.

Digestive Tract Benefits

Unlike dietary sugar, which can move very quickly through the digestive tract and out of the digestive tract into the bloodstream, or dietary fat, which can move very slowly through the digestive tract and out of the digestive tract into the lymphatic system or bloodstream, both protein and fiber can move through the digestive tract at a moderate pace.

In terms of digestion, both protein and fiber help to "steady" digestive processes. Movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine (called "gastric emptying") and movement of food through the small intestine and the large intestine can occur at a more desirable pace when foods are rich in protein and fiber.

This steadying of the digestive process helps lessen the burden on any one part of the digestive tract. This allows food to move along in a way that supports optimal chemical balances and populations of micro-organisms.

The idea of digestive tract support from black beans may sound surprising. Many people think about black beans (and beans in general) as problem-causing foods in the digestive tract, perhaps largely because of gas production. But recent research has shown that black beans actually provide special support in the lower large intestine (colon) where gas if often produced.

The indigestible fraction (IF) in black beans has recently been shown to be larger than the IF in either lentils or chickpeas. It is the perfect mix of substances for allowing bacteria in the colon to produce butyric acid. Cells lining the inside of the colon can use this butyric acid to fuel their many activities and keep the lower digestive tract functioning properly.

By delivering a greater amount of IF to the colon, black beans are able to help support this lower part of our digestive tract. Lowered colon cancer risk that is associated with black bean intake in some research studies may be related to the outstanding IF content of this legume.

Benefits for Blood Sugar Regulation

The landmark "protein-plus-fiber" combination in black beans and other legumes is also a key to their outstanding support for blood sugar balance and blood sugar regulation. As described earlier, protein and fiber can move through our digestive tract at a moderate pace. Unlike dietary sugar (which can move too quickly), or fat (which can move too slowly), both protein and fiber can move at a moderate pace. By steadying rate of movement through the digestive tract, protein and fiber help to steady the breakdown of food into component parts, including simple sugars.This better-regulated breakdown of food helps to prevent extremes with respect to simple sugar uptake from the digestive tract.

Too much simple sugar uptake all at once can result in an unwanted blood sugar spike. Too little simple sugar uptake can result in an unwanted blood sugar drop. Either extreme can work to destabilize blood sugar balance. The 15 fiber grams and 15 protein grams in one cup of black beans help prevent both extremes - excessive simple sugar release from the digestive tract, and also insufficient simple sugar release.

With respect to prevention of type 2 diabetes, researchers have become especially interested in some of the alpha-amylase inhibitory effects of black beans. Naturally occurring compounds in this legume slow down the activity of alpha-amylase enzymes. Since these enzymes are important for breaking down starch into sugar, their slowing down can result in less sugar release from food starches. We suspect that the alpha-amylase inhibitors in black beans work together with proteins and fibers to help steady blood sugar levels and make this legume especially valuable for blood sugar regulation.

Although we've seen numerous studies showing decreased risk of type 2 diabetes following increased intake of fiber from plant foods (and especially legumes), we have yet to see a large-scale human study showing particular benefits for type 2 diabetes prevention from increased intake of black beans (versus increased intake of plant fibers, including all legume fibers). But we would not be surprised to see a black bean study that showed this legume to be a standout in the area of type 2 diabetes prevention.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Much of the original research on bean intake and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease focused on the outstanding soluble fiber content of beans. One cup of black beans provides over 4 grams of soluble fiber, and this is precisely the type of fiber that researchers have found especially helpful in lower blood cholesterol levels.

Decreased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and myocardial infarct (MI, or heart attack) have both been associated with increased intake of soluble fiber from food. In particular, they have been associated with increased intake of soluble fiber from legumes. So it is anything but surprising to see black beans included in the list of legumes that provide us with cardiovascular benefits.

More recent research, however, has gone beyond this soluble fiber story and added new aspects of black bean nourishment to its list of cardiovascular benefits. Included here is the impressive variety of phytonutrients (both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory) contained within black beans.

While we tend to think about brightly colored fruits and vegetables as our best source of phytonutrients, black beans are actually a standout food in this phytonutrient area.

The seed coat of black beans (the outermost layer that we recognize as the bean's surface) is an outstanding source of three anthocyanin flavonoids: delphinidin, petunidin, and malvidin. These three anthocyanins are primarily responsible for the rich black color that we see on the bean surface. Kaempferol and quercetin are additional flavonoids provided by this legume. All of these flavonoids have well-demonstrated antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Also contained in black beans are hydroxycinnamic acids including ferulic, sinapic, and chlorogenic acid, as well as numerous triterpenoids. These phytonutrients also function as antioxidants and, in some cases, as anti-inflammatory compounds as well.

Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection is especially important for our cardiovascular system. When our blood vessels are exposed to chronic and excessive risk of oxidative stress (damage by overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules) or inflammation, they are at heightened risk for disease development. The prevention of chronic, excessive oxidative stress and inflammation is a key to decreased risk of most cardiovascular diseases. We expect to see increased attention to the phytonutrient content of black beans in future research on cardiovascular support from this special legume.

When addressing the issue of cardiovascular support, it would be wrong to ignore the rich supply of conventional nutrients in black beans. One cup of black beans provides nearly two-thirds of the Daily Value (DV) for folate--arguably one of the most important B vitamins for decreasing risk of cardiovascular disease.

Black beans also provide about 120 milligrams of magnesium per cup. That's nearly one-third of the DV for a mineral that is more commonly associated with cardiovascular protection than any other single mineral.Antioxidant minerals like zinc and manganese are also plentiful in black beans. Finally, black beans provide about 180 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per cup in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

Other Health Benefits

Given the impressive array of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in black beans, we have not been surprised to see numerous studies connecting black bean intake with reduced risk of certain cancers, especially colon cancer. Chronic excessive oxidative stress and chronic excessive inflammatory are both risk factors for the development of many cancer types. By increasing the body's supply of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, black beans may be able to help lower cancer risk.

Most of the studies we've seen have been studies on laboratory animals, or laboratory studies on different cancer cell types. (In other words, we have yet to see large-scale human studies showing decreased risk of cancer following increased intake of black beans.) But these preliminary animal and laboratory studies have been relatively consistent in their findings and have shown black beans to inhibit the development of certain cancers and especially colon cancer.

Breast cancer and liver cancer are two additional cancer types that have been studied in animals with respect to black bean intake, although the evidence here is not as strong as evidence in the area of colon cancer. As our knowledge of black bean phytonutrients increases, we expect to see increasing interest in this important area of health research.

Consumption Tips

Spread the black beans on a plate and remove the stones and debris, if any. Throw away the damaged beans also. Wash and rinse the beans thoroughly in a strainer allowing the cold water to run over them.

Beans need to be soaked in water for some hours before cooking. Soaking shortens the cooking time and also makes them easy to digest. Presoaking also helps prevent flatulence by reducing the raffinose-type oligosaccharides, sugars.

You can soak the beans in two ways. One of them is to cook the beans for two minutes in ample water and then allow them to stand for two hours. The other method is to soak the beans in cold water for eight hours or even overnight and keep in the refrigerator, to prevent them from fermenting.

Before cooking black beans, make sure that you drain off the water and clean the beans once again under cold running water.

You can cook the beans either in a pan or in a pressure cooker, though the later will cook the beans faster. Foam may be produced during the boiling, which you can skim off during the simmering process.

Whatever way you choose to cook beans, remember not to add any salty or acidic seasonings before they are cooked. If you add them before cooking, the beans will become tough and will need longer cooking time.

If you are in a hurry, go for canned beans, which are as nutritious as the fresh ones. You can wash off the unnecessary additions on the canned beans before eating them. Just heat the beans for a short time, before consuming them.


Black beans contain purines. Purines are naturally occurring substances found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called "gout" and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. Yet, recent research has suggested that purines from meat and fish increase risk of gout, while purines from plant foods fail to change the risk.

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