You’re probably heard of fava beans before — whether you’re a movie fan, health nut or just familiar with these types of beans — but have you ever eaten them? Also known as broad beans, fava beans are pretty amazing given the amount of nutrition they contain. In addition to being a lean protein choice with lots of fiber, fava beans contain vitamin K, vitamin B6, zinc, copper, iron, magnesium and more.
If that isn’t enough, they’re also some of the top high-folate foods around. You gain 177 micrograms of folate in just one cup of cooked fava beans. Folate is useful for energy metabolism, support of the nervous system and healthy red blood cells, and naturally a good fit for moms-to-be.
And that’s not all. Some studies show a decreased risk of heart disease, cancer and depression for those who consume foods with such nutrient density as is found in fava beans.
Benefits of Fava Beans
1. May Reduce Risk of Birth Defects
While folate is great for providing energy, it’s been long known as an important nutrient for pregnant women as well. Folate has an association with helping reduce birth defects.
According the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Public Health Service, it’s best that all women between the child-bearing ages of 15 and 45 consume 0.4 milligrams (400 micrograms) of folic acid every day to help reduce the risk of birth defects, spina bifida and anencephaly. This is important because, most often, problems occur within the first few weeks of pregnancy, which is a period of time when many may not even know they’re pregnant.
A meta-analysis of research on folic acid supplementation’s effects on congenital heart defects published in Scientific Reports found that while “epidemiological studies have reported conflicting results regarding the association between maternal folic acid supplementation and the risk of congenital heart defects,” the researchers found positive association between maternal folate supplementation and a decreased risk of CHDs.”
Further studies published in the Saudi Medical Journal and National Academies Press show an association between folate consumption — including broad beans — and the reduction of birth defects and mortality from birth defects.
2. Help Prevent Osteoporosis
Just one cup of fava beans contains 36 percent of your daily recommendation of manganese. Adults require about 11 milligrams daily. Why is manganese important? It does a lot of things, but your bones love it since it helps increase bone mass. Additionally, it helps reduce calcium deficiency.
With about 99 percent of our calcium stored in the bones and teeth, this makes manganese a gem for strong bones, which is effective in the prevention of osteoporosis. The U.S. National Library of Medicine suggests that consuming forms of manganese along with calcium, zinc and copper may help reduce “spinal bone loss in older women.”
3. May Eliminate Hypertension and Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
Magnesium has a hot topic lately. That’s because most Americans are deficient in this important mineral, and this is important because magnesium plays a role in heart health. Hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Studies show that magnesium can lower blood pressure.
An analysis of 12 clinical trials demonstrated that magnesium supplementation for a period of eight to 26 weeks in 545 hypertensive participants resulted in a small reduction in diastolic blood pressure. However, another study concluded that magnesium supplementation for three to 24 weeks decreased systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure a bit more due to magnesium supplements combined with magnesium-rich fruits and vegetables as well as low-fat foods.
4. Support a Strong Immune System
Fava beans contain a good amount of copper, which helps maintain healthy blood cells. White blood cells are important because they destroy disease-causing pathogens, ultimately helping eliminate free radicals found in the body.
Copper plays a role in making sure these white blood cells function properly, but the body cannot produce enough of it on its own. Therefore, supplementation through foods, such as fava beans, may help. Additionally, it’s vital since without healthy white blood cells, your body is very susceptible to illness and infection, which is why copper deficiency is so dangerous.
This ability to fight free radical damage was demonstrated in studies out of Japan. The research, published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, showed that methanolic extracts from broad beans help antioxidant abilities as people age.