Health benefits of faba beans
Humble faba beans are a legume enjoyed throughout the world for their fresh, delicious taste and versatility.
Not only are they a favourite ingredient of salads, risottos, soups, and more, they also come with an amazing range of reputed health benefits.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the top five health benefits of faba beans and explain a little of the science behind them.
1. The nutrient provider
Faba beans are dense in a whole range of nutrients. They’re a valuable source of plant protein, which is great news for anyone who follows a vegetarian or vegan diet. They also contain folate, also known as vitamin B9, which helps your body make red blood cells and promotes the healthy growth of all cells, as well as other B vitamins.
They’re rich in minerals too. For example, 170 grams of cooked faba beans contains 36% of the RDI (recommended dietary intake) of manganese, which is vital for bone health, and 22% of the RDI of copper, which can help guard against anaemia and osteoporosis.
And the soluble fibre in faba beans helps digestion and to keep your cholesterol levels low.
2. The immune system booster
Research (1) supports the idea that faba beans can help boost your immune system when consumed regularly.
This is partly due to their high level of compounds that can help stimulate antioxidant activity. This, in turn, strengthens your body’s immune system as the antioxidants protect against the free radicals (unstable molecules) that can harm cells and cause disease.
With a boosted immune system, your body has the best chance of guarding against minor ailments such as colds, and more serious diseases like deadly viruses and cancers.
3. Can alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
Research has shown that faba beans may have the ability to play a key role in relieving the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
In Parkinson’s disease, the brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine die off. This results in trouble walking, tremors, and difficulties with motor function.
Faba beans contain high levels of a compound called L-dopa, which your body transforms into dopamine.
A small but significant study (2) got 11 people living with Parkinson’s disease to consume 250 grams of faba beans after 12 hours with no medication for their condition. The results found that the level of dopamine in their blood and their motor function was the same as if they had taken their regular medication.
4. Can help prevent birth defects
Pregnant women are often advised to take supplements of folic acid (a synthetic form of folate) to help lower the risk of foetuses developing neural tube defects, which affect the development of the spinal cord and brain.
A study (3) that analysed the diets and vitamin intake of over 23,000 women in early pregnancy over a three-year period found that issues concerning the development of the spinal cord and brain were 77% lower in the children of mothers who had the highest daily consumption of folate, compared to mothers with the lowest.
What’s interesting to note here is that faba beans are a rich source of folate. In fact, 170 grams or one cup of faba beans contains 40% of the RDI of folate, so they make a healthy and delicious way to get some of the additional nutrients pregnant women need.
5. Can help lower cholesterol
Increasing your intake of faba beans is believed to be an easy way to help get your cholesterol levels down to healthy levels.
The key to this extraordinary ability of the faba bean is that it contains soluble fibre, which is believed to stick to cholesterol in your body and remove it.
A review (4) that looked at studies exploring the impact that legumes rich in fibre had on cholesterol revealed that eating them did indeed reduce levels in the body.
Thus, increasing the amount of soluble fibre in your diet is an excellent idea — and what better way to do this than by eating more delicious faba beans?
The mighty faba bean
It’s hard to overstate the nutritional importance of the faba bean. Its small size belies its mighty dose of vitamins, minerals, and other substances that promote health and well-being.
And we’ve only covered a few of the main benefits here. Faba beans are also believed to promote bone health, thanks to their copper and manganese content. They can also help improve anaemia because of their iron levels and lower blood pressure, thanks to magnesium and potassium, which relax blood vessels. They may also help you lose weight since they are so dense in protein and fibre, which give you a feeling of fullness.
One thing is for sure: nothing could be simpler than adding this powerfully nutritious legume to your diet through a variety of recipes and enjoying both its delicious flavour and the boost to your health.
(1) OkadaM, Okada Y, Inaba R, Iwata H, 1998. ‘Scavenging effects of methanolic extracts of broad beans on free-radical species’, Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 3(1): 6-11.
(2) RabeyJ, Vered y, Shabtai H, Graff E, Harsat A, Korczyn A, 1993. ‘Broad bean (Vicia faba) consumption and Parkinson’s disease’, Advances in Neurology, 60:681-4.
(4) L A BazzanoL, Thompson A, TeesM, NguyenC, WinhamD, 2009. ‘Non-soy legume consumption lowers cholesterol levels: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials’, Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 21(2):94-103.