Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you … fight inflammation, according to a new study.

The research was conducted jointly by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and CIATEJ in Guadalajara, Mexico, and has shed new light on the extraordinary health benefits of common beans.

In particular, the study—recently published in the scientific Food Research International—explored the composition of seed coat extracts from black and pinto bean varieties unique to the Chiapas region of Southern Mexico.

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Their findings? Pinto and black beans have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, respectively, and can contribute to improved skin health. These findings might justify a few extra orders of vegan bean burritos, crunch wraps, and chalupas from Taco Bell

New health benefits of pinto and black beans

Bean seeds contain phenolic compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can promote health. 

The researchers discovered that these compounds have the capability to control oxidation and inflammation, potentially reducing the risk of chronic health issues such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. This finding highlights the significant role that common beans can play in supporting overall well-being.

“We found the black beans had high quantities of anthocyanin, in particular delphinidin, petunidin, and malvidin glucosides, which have antioxidative properties,” David Fonseca Hernández, a doctoral student at CIATEJ and lead author of the paper, said in a statement. 

“The pinto beans had the highest total content of phenolic compounds and showed great potential for inhibiting enzymes that contribute to inflammation,” Fonseca said. 

The potential of common bean extracts extends beyond their health benefits in the realm of food and cosmetics industries. The researchers found that the seed coat extracts can serve as additives, enhancing the nutritional content and antioxidant properties of various food products. 

Additionally, the enriched extracts, with their concentrated anthocyanins and phenolic compounds, hold promise for applications in cosmetic formulations.

“My research focuses on skin health, because there is a lot of interest in new ingredients with bioactive properties to use in formulations for creams,” Fonseca said. “One of the main issues with aging skin is the oxidative stress that results from environmental factors.” 

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These discoveries open doors for the food and cosmetic sectors to harness the potential of common beans to create products with enhanced health benefits and antioxidative properties.

Beyond their nutritional and industrial significance, the unique bean varieties from the Chiapas region hold cultural and environmental importance. Preserved among Mayan communities and grown by indigenous farmers, these beans are heirlooms passed down from past generations, contributing to biodiversity. 

The research project, supported by Mexico’s National Science Foundation (CONAHCYT), not only advances scientific understanding but also helps provide regional support by promoting wellness and developing Mexico’s southern region.

As the University of Illinois and CIATEJ continue their collaboration, the next steps involve testing the extracts on cell tissue cultures and eventually moving towards clinical trials. 

Eating beans for longevity

Beans and legumes that have been a dietary staple in various cultures for centuries, are now being recognized as nutritious foods that could contribute to a longer and healthier life. In addition to the new study, scientific experts have observed that communities in the “blue zones” regions worldwide, where people live remarkably long lives, often have a diet rich in beans and other legumes. 

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In Sardinia, where researchers studied one of the first groups of centenarians, garbanzo and fava beans are the legumes of choice. The Melis family of Perdasdefogu, Sardinia, known as the “longest living family in the world,” consumes chickpea-based minestrone multiple times a day. 

Beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas—all part of the legume family—offer a wide array of essential nutrients like copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, folic acid, zinc, lysine (an essential amino acid), protein, and fiber, which are beneficial for overall health. These legumes provide several advantages, including better blood sugar control, lower cholesterol levels, and improved gut bacteria balance, mainly due to their high fiber content.

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Beans are an excellent plant-based protein alternative that offers essential nutrients with fewer calories than animal protein. By replacing meat with beans, one can obtain similar nutrients without the risks associated with consuming cholesterol, saturated fat, and heme-iron, which are linked to chronic diseases. 

Beans versus beef

As evidence emerges about the health benefits of beans, these plant-based protein sources are also emerging as a way to mitigate the climate crisis.

Animal agriculture continues to use exorbitant amounts of resources while simultaneously emitting the bulk of the food system’s greenhouse gasses, and a refocus on these plant proteins can alleviate some of this environmental damage. 

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That’s because beans are cost-effective and can be grown at home in various soils, making them an ideal food choice for economically disadvantaged populations. Both canned and dried beans offer the same health benefits, which makes them economical, sustainable nutrition sources.

But will people embrace beans over beef? That’s the goal of the new “Beans Is How” campaign. Supported by Google and Bezos Earth Fund, the new campaign aims to promote beans as a nutritious and affordable protein, with the potential to fix the global food system and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

This global initiative is supported by more than 40 organizations, including the SDG2 Advocacy Hub and Alliance of Biodiversity International, among others, working together to make beans a more popular protein source.  

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And if you’re already sold on beans, you’re not alone. Back in 2019, Billie Eilish’s go-to order at Taco Bell was revealed in an Instagram video of the then-17-year-old musical artist at the drive-thru. 

“I’m going to get 18 bean burritos with only beans, nothing else, only beans inside,” Eilish said “Only beans. 18 burritos, and only beans. You know what? Make that 20.”

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