At just a dollar a can, baked beans are a quick, inexpensive choice when you’re stuck for meal ideas, however there is also evidence that baked beans can lower cholesterol and reduce your overall risk of heart disease.
A study, published in 1990 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved the study of 24 men with an average age of 58 who all suffered from high cholesterol levels. The men had their cholesterol levels and body weight measured at the beginning of the study and were then put on one of three diets for 21 days.
The first diet contained one can of baked beans with tomato sauce to be consumed in one serving each day, the second diet divided the baked beans into two servings to be eaten at noon and in the evening. The third diet contained a higher proportion of baked beans and a lower proportion of tomato sauce also divided into two servings. No other changes to the men’s diet were made.
At the conclusion of the 21 days, the researchers found that the men’s cholesterol levels dropped by 8.7%, 11.6%, and 10.3%, for the three diets respectively. Furthermore, the body weight of the men dropped by an average of 1.3kg despite no changes in total energy intake.
Several mechanisms may be responsible for the cholesterol lowering abilities of baked beans. Beans are high in soluble fibre which may reduce the absorption of cholesterol from the small intestine. Navy beans, which are normally used in canned baked bean products are also a rich source of folate and manganese which are important for heart health. One serving of baked beans provides more than half the recommended daily intake of these two nutrients. Baked beans are also rich sources of phosphorous, iron, vitamin B1, copper, potassium, and magnesium.
The tomato sauce used in canned beans is a rich source of lycopene, an antioxidant found in red and orange foods such as tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, and papaya. The tomato sauce is cooked during the canning process which increases the bio-availability of the lycopene. One study found that women with the highest lycopene levels were as much as 34% less likely to develop heart disease than women with lower levels.
Navy beans belong to the legume family and studies of legume consumption and heart disease risk add further evidence in favour of baked beans. One such study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2001, found that those who consume legumes four or more times a week had a 22% less chance of developing coronary heart disease than those who eat legumes less than once a week. The researchers concluded that: “increasing legume intake may be an important part of a dietary approach to the primary prevention of CHD in the general population.”
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