Northern Bean Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

northern beans

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Northern beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), also called great northern beans, are a medium-sized white bean developed long ago by South American Indian farmers. The beans have a mild, nutty flavor and firm texture. The bean is commonly added to soups and stews because they hold their shape better than other beans.

Great northern beans provide protein and fiber along with other important vitamins and minerals such as folate, phosphorus, and manganese. They are easy to find in most grocery stores and are a healthy addition to your diet, especially when you are looking for budget-friendly ways to boost the nutritional value of your meals.

Northern Bean Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for a 100 gram serving (about 1/2 cup) of great northern beans that have been fully cooked (boiled) without salt.

  • Calories: 118
  • Fat: 0.5g
  • Sodium: 2mg
  • Carbohydrates: 21.1g
  • Fiber: 7g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 8.3g

Carbs

A single serving of great northern beans provides 118 calories when cooked without added fat. It also provides just over 21 grams of complex carbohydrates. Most of the carbohydrates in northern beans are starch but there are also there are nearly 7 grams of fiber in a single serving. Carbohydrates in the form of starch provide the body with quick energy. Fiber helps to stabilize blood sugar, boosts satiety, and improves digestive health.

The estimated glycemic load of a single serving of great northern beans is 7, making them a low glycemic food. Glycemic load takes portion size into account when estimating a food's effect on blood glucose.

Fats

Great northern beans are naturally a low-fat food. There is less than 1 gram of fat in the beans when they are cooked with oil, butter, or lard.

Protein

Each serving of great northern beans provides 8.3 grams of protein. For this reason, many vegans and vegetarians use northern beans or other types of legumes to boost their protein intake. But great northern beans are not considered a complete protein.

Complete proteins provide all of the essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and therefore must be consumed in the diet. Many people who follow plant-based diets combine different proteins (called complementary proteins) such as beans and grains in order to get all of the amino acids that their bodies need. However, it is not necessarily important to consume complementary proteins at the same time.

Vitamins and Minerals

Great northern beans are packed with nutrients. You'll get just over 25% of your daily recommended intake of folate if you consume a serving of great northern beans and you follow a 2,000-calorie per day diet. Folate helps boost red blood cell production and provides other health benefits.

You'll also get 17% of your recommended daily intake of phosphorus, and 26% of your recommended intake of manganese, a vitamin that benefits the nervous system and brain health. The beans are also a good source of iron, thiamin, magnesium, and copper. They provide smaller amounts of calcium, vitamin B6, zinc, and selenium.

Health Benefits

Great northern beans are legumes. Legumes have been studied by nutrition researchers for years because they are nutrient-rich, easily grown, and commonly consumed around the world. Research suggests that increasing your intake of legumes including beans, lentils, and soy provides certain health benefits.

Helps Maintain a Healthy Weight

An evaluation of the nutritional value of legumes was published in Obesity Reviews in 2014. Study authors wrote that "replacing energy-dense foods with legumes has been shown to have beneficial effects on the prevention and management of obesity and related disorders, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome."

Study authors also suggested that we replace high-calorie, high-fat meaty foods (such as burgers or sausage) with beans. They also advised that combining meat with legumes can be beneficial when cooking to reduce fat and calorie content.

Lower Risk of All-Cause Mortality

Several studies have linked higher legume intake with a lower risk of all-cause mortality and/or lower risk of death from certain diseases, including cancer or cardiovascular disease. Although more studies are needed as the current body of evidence is relatively small.

In one study that looked specifically at cardiovascular disease, people who consumed more flavonoids (an antioxidant found in beans) had a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease. This was true even in people whose intake of flavonoids was relatively small.

Interestingly, another study published in 2018 showed a higher risk of cardiovascular mortality associated with legume intake, but yet another research review suggested that eating more legumes does not increase this risk.

May Improve Cholesterol Levels

A study published in 2015 found that regularly eating legumes may help lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. The meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials in which non-soy legumes were consumed for a minimum of 3 weeks revealed that eating legumes has a cholesterol-lowering effect.

In addition, a review published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that including beans in your diet can lower LDL cholesterol.

May Improve Diabetes Management and Prevention

A review study found that increasing your intake of beans, peas, lentils can help both people with and without diabetes improve long-term glycemic control in their diets. Other studies have had similar findings. A study, published in 2014, notes that the fiber content in beans helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

A 2013 study published evidence that flavonol, one of the antioxidants found in beans, may help lower the incidence of type 2 diabetes. And authors of a research review published in 2015 wrote that a diet higher in legumes but lower in refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, and processed meats has been shown to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and, for those who have diabetes, to improve both glycemic and lipid control.

Health Benefits From Fiber

A study involving over 1.75 million participants and published in the North American Journal of Medical Science suggested that high dietary fiber intake is associated with lower mortality rates and specifically, mortality due to heart disease, cancer, digestive disease, infectious diseases, and other inflammatory diseases. Fiber is also known to improve digestion and prevent constipation.

Allergies

Great northern beans are a legume like peanuts and soybeans—two of the top eight allergenic foods. Being allergic to peanuts or soy does not necessarily mean you will be allergic to other legumes. In fact, allergists generally don't tell all patients who are allergic to peanuts to avoid legumes, but you should still exercise caution. If you suspect that you have an allergy to peanuts or any other legume, speak with your healthcare provider to get a personalized diagnosis.

Adverse Effects

Legumes are known to contain antinutrients—compounds that interfere with nutrient absorption. All plants contain these compounds, but they only have an effect when consumed in extremely large quantities. And some nutrition experts believe that antinutrients may even provide certain benefits.

Even though some consumers are concerned about antinutrients in grains and legumes, the substances are greatly reduced by appropriate soaking and cooking of the beans. Cooking beans also increases their antioxidant activity and concentration.

If you have gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and if you follow a low-FODMAP diet to manage your symptoms, you may need to avoid great northern beans and other legumes.

Lastly, some people (even without a gastrointestinal disorder) find that eating beans causes indigestion or gas. If you are sensitive to beans, use them sparingly, gradually increasing your intake as your system adjusts You can also try cooking them with kelp as it may be able to help reduce the gas caused by beans.

Varieties

Several beans including the great northern bean, red kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, pink beans, and navy beans are all part of the Phaseolus vulgaris family. Great northern beans look similar to other beans such as cannellini beans and navy beans. These beans are often used interchangeably in recipes.

Northern beans can be purchased in dried form. Canned great northern beans can be found on most grocery store shelves. If you are watching your sodium intake, check the brand of canned beans that you buy to see if sodium has been added.

When They're Best

Both dried and canned (prepared) northern beans are available year-round.

Storage and Food Safety

If you buy in bulk, look for uncracked northern beans that have not been exposed to dust or moisture. You can also buy dried beans in pre-packaged bags. In that case, you may want to sort your beans to get rid of unsightly beans before preparation.

Store dried beans in an air-tight container in your pantry or another cool, dark place. If stored properly, legumes should stay good for up to 12 months. If you cook great northern beans, they will stay fresh for about three days when refrigerated in an airtight container.

How to Prepare

Before cooking any beans, rinse them to remove any dirt or dust. Remove any cracked or broken beans. Boil three cups of water and add one cup of beans. Some people also add a small amount of salt or oil to the pot. Simmer for about 20 minutes, although cooking time will depend on your taste preference.

Great northern beans tend to take on the flavor of whatever they are cooked with. Once they are boiled, you can saute them with onions or garlic or add them to your favorite recipe. Simply toss in a handful of cooked beans to your favorite soup, stew, or salad recipe. You can also use great northern beans instead of another bean in chili, bean salads, or other recipes.

Recipes

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