IF there’s one food item you’re almost guaranteed to find stashed away in every kitchen cupboard, it’s the humble tin of baked beans.
Typically in tomato sauce, this long-life food staple is a go-to on toast, poured over a jacket potato and topped with grated cheese, or as part of a Full English breakfast.
It truly is a British classic.
But there’s more than meets the eye to the unpretentious bean.
In fact, beans are big business right now thanks to the multitude of health benefits they offer at the fraction of the cost of pricier ‘superfoods’; a 420g tin of Tesco baked beans currently costs just 32p!
Packed with fibre, protein and essential nutrients such as folic acid, potassium, zinc and magnesium, we’re dubbing baked beans the most low-key superfood going.
Alex Glover, senior nutritionist at Holland & Barrett explains that healthy food certainly doesn’t need to be expensive, and that baked beans can contribute to a nutrient dense meal for a bargain price.
“Top a jacket potato (approx. £1 per kg) with baked beans, some frozen vegetables and low-fat cheese and you have a nutrient dense meal for under £2.”
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Before you go diving into a can of the good stuff though, Alex says it’s best to be savvy when picking your tin of choice at the supermarket.
“Baked beans are perfectly safe to eat every day, so long as you look out for brands which have a moderate salt content, as this is the key factor you need to consider when considering beans as a part of your daily lifestyle.
“Check the label and track down ones with no added sugar or salt,” he says.
THE BENEFITS OF BEANS
1. Full of fibre
The F word everyone needs to know more about, fibre is essential to keeping our gut healthy and happy, in turn keeping us, ahem, regular.
In the UK, it’s recommended that adults eat 30g of fibre every day, however, studies have shown that the average fibre count is a measly 12g.
A tin of beans tends to pack an impressive 14g-16g of fibre, nearly half the recommended amount.
The only flipside to fibre? Too much, too quickly can lead to intestinal gas and bloating, so if you don’t currently eat much fibre, build it up slowly to avoid the annoying side effects!
2. Could help boost longevity
Eating a diet filled with fibre has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and even stroke, all illnesses that can shorten our life span.
Plus, as Alex explains, fibre is an important factor in keeping our gut microbiome diverse.
Our gut microbiome – the microorganisms that live in our digestive system – feed on the different types of fibre we eat.
“Fibres in different foods feed different species of beneficial bacteria, which is why it’s so important to eat a varied diet.
“Diets rich in fibre have been linked to reductions in many metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease as fibre can help to lower our blood glucose and bind to cholesterol, which helps reduce bad cholesterol.”
We’re always on the hunt for any foods that can help hurry along the process of shedding unwanted weight and interestingly, beans could be one such food.
Alex reveals baked beans are a very satiating food thanks to their high fibre and protein count, so could stop us reaching for calorie packed, sweet snacks later in the day.
What’s more, fibre’s beneficial effects on our gut can also help us to stop snacking as research has shown a healthy gut microbiome could help control our appetite.
Alex adds that beans are also fairly low in calories and saturated fat. A 100g portion of baked beans contains just 155 calories.
4. Packed with protein
A tin of baked beans contains an impressive 18g of protein.
Alex explains that typically, humans need approximately 0.8g of protein per kilo of bodyweight, so for a 60kg human this would be 48g of protein.
A tin of beans makes a pretty impressive dent in the protein requirements then.
Essentially, proteins make us; from our hair and nails, to the tissues in our body through to our skin.
It’s needed for virtually every chemical reaction to take place in our body.
“Protein also contributes to the growth and maintenance of muscle mass, helping to grow and repair our muscles.
“The majority of our immune cells are made up of proteins too, so protein is very important for many different aspects of our biology,” says Alex.
Although everybody needs protein, Alex explains the elderly require more protein due to a condition called sarcopenia, which is the gradual loss of skeletal muscle mass as we age.
“Due to this, people who are older require more protein on a per meal basis to get a similar response in their muscles to those who are younger.”
Combining beans with rice helps create a ‘complete’ protein; beans alone don’t contain all the essential amino acids found in animal-based protein (such as chicken and eggs), so need to be paired with another food source that contains complementary amino acids.
5. Contribute towards your five-a-day
The UK’s NHS recommends that everyone eats at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
However, this doesn’t have to mean just chomping on apples, carrots and green veg.
Alex explains that 80g of baked (or haricot) beans also count towards one of your five-a-day. So a portion of beans on toast is far healthier than you might have thought.
6. Immune health
One of the many minerals found in baked beans is zinc.
“Zinc is a key micronutrient our body needs for a number of roles, from supporting growth and development to helping neurological functions.
“It is also essential for our immune system, as it affects how our cells respond to infections, and can help keep inflammation under control,” says Alex.
He explains that if you are low in zinc, you may find cuts and scrapes take longer to heal, you may have diarrhoea, and you are more prone to getting ill.
“Women need 7 milligrams (mg) of zinc a day; men need 9.5 mg.
“Zinc can be found in whole grains, seafood, meat, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds.”
Just one half cup of baked beans contains an impressive 2.9mg of zinc.
7. Energy boost
Magnesium is another essential mineral found in baked beans. Alex says that as our body can’t make magnesium, it’s essential we get it from the food we eat.
“Magnesium is an essential mineral which has several important functions within your body.
“Your body uses magnesium in over 300 biochemical reactions, and helps build bones, generate energy, keep your nerves functioning, keep your blood sugar steady and fuel electrical activity within the heart and the brain,” says Alex.
8. Heart helper
Baked beans could also have an impact on the health of our ticker.
Alex explains that potassium, found in baked beans, is essential for a number of important functions in the body, including maintaining a healthy nervous system and regulating blood pressure.
“Studies show around one in five UK women aren’t getting enough potassium,” he adds.
Up your intake with fruits (especially dried), vegetables, beans, nuts, meats and seeds.