Beans are a large group of arable food crops of the botanical family, Leguminosae. There are thousands of species of beans that grow across various regions, globally. The Leguminosae, collectively known as legumes, is a family of plants that includes peas, beans, pulses, lupins, groundnuts, and lentils.
Beans are a staple food in many countries, comprising a dominant portion of various diets in many parts of the world. Varieties of beans are consumed in all parts of Nigeria and are also used as ingredients in various meals.
Children in every generation are taught that eating beans would make them grow tall. But are beans really protein? What do we really know about beans?
Well, experts insist that beans are nutritious and an excellent source of protein. Yes, beans contain carbohydrates, but the kind of carbohydrates here are complex carbohydrates, called oligosaccharides. Oligosaccharides are complex-chained biomolecules that form the dietary fibre in beans. These complex carbohydrates are not easily be broken down during digestion, and only a very small fraction of it is absorbed into the body.
Research by the U.S Dry Bean Council and the United States Department of Agriculture show that the amount of carbohydrates in beans is more than the amount of protein; however, this carbohydrate cannot be easily digested. So, it is usually passed out as waste products. The percentage of carbohydrates in beans is 52 per cent while that of is 40 per cent, but the rate of digestion complex carbohydrates is slower. This is why beans are generally regarded as a protein.
In addition, beans contain iron, magnesium, potassium, folic acid, vitamins and minerals that are great for enhancing metabolic activities and for boosting the immune system.
Furthermore, beans are not just rich in protein and micronutrients, they are also rich in variety. Variety, they say, is the spice of life, and beans have quite an assortment of species.
Native species of beans found in Nigeria include the common pinto beans (sandy brown beans), soya beans (soybeans), honey beans (‘oloyin’ as it is called in Yoruba), navy beans (white beans), runner beans and green beans.
Beans are also used to create rich native cuisines, like akara, moin-moin, gbegiri, ekuru, (in Yoruba land) and warra, soybean cake, kosai (in Hausa land).
Other varieties of beans found globally include: kidney beans, jack beans, black beans, red beans, baby lima beans, adzuki beans, fava beans, velvet beans, and cranberry beans, among others.
Beans, regardless of the variety, are healthy. Beans are valued for their protein content and nutritious value. Beans are a great source of protein, folate and riboflavin.
Eating more beans may reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. This is because proteins regulate the amount of blood sugar in the circulatory system. Beans also contain antioxidants, which are good for the heart and the body. These antioxidants hunt free radicals in the body cells and tissues, preventing cellular damage caused by oxidation. Beans also provide the body with amino acids which bolster the immune system, synthesize hormones and create white blood cells in the blood serum.
A big appeal of beans is that they are budget-friendly. It is no surprise therefore that beans are among the most versatile and frequently eaten foods in Nigeria. They are also a great source of plant protein, compared to other, more expensive, counterparts such as milk, fish, cheese and meat. Beans are more affordable than meat or milk, and they are useful in improving our overall diet and health.
It is not that other protein sources like meat and milk are not valued. They are, but beans are economical. So, add beans to your diet to save yourself some money and gain more nutrients.
Moreover, beans are used in many products as savoury ingredients. Soybeans are used in the preparation of seasoning cubes, mayonnaise and tofu. Kidney beans are used in the preparation of baked beans and syrup. Honey beans are used to make soups and potages.
Beans are a remarkable source of protein. They should be included in everyone’s meal plan.