Lima beans are among our prized comfort foods. They co-star with corn in Native American-inspired succotash, and they impart a lovely hue and creamy texture to a host of other dishes. Lima beans are full of flavor and nutritional value. Research suggests they contain powerful phytochemicals that fight free radicals, toxins, microbes, and inflammation. These tasty legumes help build cells and promote heart health while checking cancer growth. Lima beans are certainly worthy of their worldwide popularity and a regular showing on your plate.
Lima beans (Phaseolus limensis or Phaseolus lunatus) are legumes, related to kidney beans, lentils, and other common beans. They have grown in the fields of Peru for over 7,000 years, and the country's capital city is where they most likely got their name. However, recent research suggests that the beans originated in Guatemala. They appear in literature as far back as the 16th century. Various cultivars grow around the world in pole vine and bush varieties. Lima beans are also called butter beans due to their smooth, buttery texture. Other cultures call them Madagascar beans and sieva beans. The seeds are typically light green or cream in color, and some varieties come in white, brown, black, purple, and red.
One cup of cooked lima beans carries a massive load of nutrients that perform a myriad of reparative and regenerative physiological functions. These compounds help strengthen bones, blood, nerves, skin, hair, and the immune system. Here is a glimpse of the health-promoting riches found in lima beans:
Our bodies need protein to form and rebuild cells, muscles, and tissues. Lima beans are a significant source, for women who generally require 46 grams daily and men who need 56 grams each day. Lima beans are not a complete protein, but they can be easily combined with rice, corn, or lentils to round out the protein profile of a meal.
Oxidative damage, inflammation, and microbes wreak havoc in the body. They contribute to premature aging and the development of ailments such as gastrointestinal illness, arthritis, asthma, autoimmune disorders, and cardiovascular disease. In 2018, researchers at an Ecuadorian university published a study citing proteins in baby lima beans possess potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. The researchers are hopeful the legumes will prove to have applications in the nutraceutical field.
Sulfites are a common preservative present in many wines and prepared foods like salads, dried fruits, and delicatessen products. Sulfites cause headache, rapid heartbeat, and disorientation in individuals who are sensitive to them. Lima beans are an excellent source of the trace mineral molybdenum, a key component of enzymes that detoxify sulfites and acetaldehyde, a potential carcinogen.
Research discussed in Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology noted that a peptide in the large lima bean induced cell death in human nerve cancer and liver cancer cells. A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules reported that lectin, a type of protein in lima beans, may inhibit angiogenesis, the development of blood vessels that feed tumors. However, some medical experts worry that the copper in lima beans could encourage angiogenesis in some cancers.
Homocysteine is a byproduct of protein metabolism that, at high levels, appears to correlate to higher risk of heart attacks, strokes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies suggest individuals who eat few plant-based foods have elevated concentrations of homocysteine. Lima beans are rich in folate and other B vitamins that help the body eliminate this compound.
Fresh lima beans are not commonly available, although specialty stores and farmers’ markets may carry them in season. Look for firm, dark green pods that are not wrinkled or yellowed. Shelled beans should not look moldy or shriveled. Most grocery stores carry dried lima beans in packages or bulk bins. Check to see that the beans are stored properly and that the store turns them over often to maintain optimal freshness. Look for and avoid indications of cracks, insect damage, and moisture. Store dried beans in a dry, dark place away from heat and moisture for up to six months. Refrigerate fresh lima beans in their pods for up to three days. You may also find frozen and canned lima beans. Shake frozen packages to check for clumping; they may have been thawed and refrozen. You do not need to thaw frozen beans before cooking them.
Check the beans for debris and damage while you rinse them in a strainer under cool water. Presoak your lima beans to help reduce the sugars that cause gastric upset. This will also reduce the cooking time. Drain the soaking water and rinse the beans again with cool water. Add three parts water or broth and one part dried lima beans in a pot. Bring to a boil; reduce to simmer for 45 minutes. Do not add acidic or salty seasonings until the beans are done; otherwise, they may become tough and require longer cooking. These beans tend to produce foam, so it is best to avoid pressure cooking.
Lima beans should not be eaten uncooked, nor should dried beans be ground into flour. Soaking and cooking lima beans deactivates cyanide compounds that, if consumed, inhibit digestive enzymes and cause clumping of red blood cells. One of these compounds is amygdalin, a component of laetrile; eating raw lima beans in combination with laetrile treatment may increase the risk of cyanide poisoning.
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