The World's Healthiest Foods
Navy beans

Once a staple on U.S. Naval ships from whence they got their names, these small white beans are perfect for making baked beans. Dry navy beans are available year-round in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Canned navy beans are also available year round at local markets.

Navy beans are small, pea-sized beans that are creamy white in color. They are a mild-flavored bean that is dense and smooth. Like other common beans, navy beans are one of 13,000 species of the family of legumes, or plants that produce edible pods. Combined with whole grains such as rice, navy beans provide virtually fat-free high quality protein.

 


Health Benefits

Navy beans are a good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, as are most other beans. In addition to lowering cholesterol, navy beans' high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal, making these beans an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia. When combined with whole grains such as rice, navy beans provide virtually fat-free high quality protein. But this is far from all navy beans have to offer. Navy beans are a very good source of folate and manganese and a good source of protein and vitamin B1 as well as the minerals phosphorous, copper, magnesium and iron.

A Fiber All Star

Check a chart of the fiber content in foods; you’ll see legumes leading the pack. Navy beans, like other beans, are rich in dietary fiber. A cup of cooked navy beans provides 46.6% of the recommended daily intake for fiber. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract that combines with bile (which contains cholesterol) and ferries it out of the body. Research studies have shown that insoluble fiber not only helps to increase stool bulk and prevent constipation, but also helps prevent digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis.

Lower Your Heart Attack Risk

In a study that examined food intake patterns and risk of death from coronary heart disease, researchers followed more than 16,000 middle-aged men in the U.S., Finland, The Netherlands, Italy, former Yugoslavia, Greece and Japan for 25 years. Typical food patterns were: higher consumption of dairy products in Northern Europe; higher consumption of meat in the U.S.; higher consumption of vegetables, legumes, fish, and wine in Southern Europe; and higher consumption of cereals, soy products, and fish in Japan. When researchers analyzed this data in relation to the risk of death from heart disease, they found that higher legume consumption was associated with a whopping 82% reduction in heart attack risk!

Navy beans' contribution to heart health lies not just in their fiber, but in the significant amounts of folate and magnesium these beans supply: Folate helps lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is an intermediate product in an important metabolic process called the methylation cycle. Elevated blood levels of homocysteine are an independent risk factor for heart attack, stroke, or peripheral vascular disease, and are found in between 20-40% of patients with heart disease. It has been estimated that consumption of 100% of the daily value (DV) of folate would, by itself, reduce the number of heart attacks suffered by Americans each year by 10%. Just one cup of cooked navy beans provides 63.7% of the recommended daily intake for folate.

Navy beans' good supply of magnesium puts yet another plus in the column of its beneficial cardiovascular effects. Magnesium is Nature's own calcium channel blocker. When there is enough magnesium around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessens resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart. Want to literally keep your heart happy? Eat navy beans--a one cup serving provides over one-quarter 26.8%) of your daily needs for magnesium.

Potassium, an important electrolyte involved in nerve transmission and the contraction of all muscles including the heart, is another mineral that is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Navy beans are ready to promote your cardiovascular health by being a good source of this mineral, too. A one cup serving of navy beans provides 669.8 mg of potassium and only 1.82 mg of sodium, making these beans an especially good choice to protect against high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.

Navy Beans Give You Energy to Burn While Stabilizing Blood Sugar

In addition to its beneficial effects on the digestive system and the heart, the dietary fiber found in navy beans helps stabilize blood sugar levels. If you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes, navy beans can really help you balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy. Studies of high fiber diets and blood sugar levels have shown the dramatic benefits provided by these high fiber foods. Researchers compared two groups of people with Type II diabetes who were fed different amounts of high fiber foods. One group ate the standard American Diabetic diet, which contained 24 grams of fiber/day, while the other group ate a diet containing 50 grams of fiber/day. Those who ate the diet higher in fiber had lower levels of both plasma glucose (blood sugar) and insulin (the hormone that helps blood sugar get into cells). The high fiber group also reduced their total cholesterol by nearly 7%, their triglyceride levels by 10.2% and their VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein--the most dangerous form of cholesterol) levels by 12.5%.

Iron for Energy

In addition to providing slow burning complex carbohydrates, navy beans can increase your energy by helping to replenish your iron stores. Particularly for menstruating women, who are more at risk for iron deficiency, boosting iron stores with navy beans is a good idea--especially because, unlike red meat, another source of iron, navy beans are low in calories and virtually fat-free. Iron is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism. And remember: If you're pregnant or lactating, your needs for iron increase. Growing children and adolescents also have increased needs for iron. A one cup serving of navy beans provides 25.1% of the daily recommended intake for iron.

Copper & Manganese--More Help with Energy Production Plus Antioxidant Defenses

Navy beans are a very good source of manganese and a good source of copper, trace minerals which are essential cofactors of a key oxidative enzyme called superoxide dismutase. Superoxide dismutase disarms free radicals produced within the mitochondria (the energy production factories within our cells).

Copper is also necessary for the activity of lysyl oxidase, an enzyme involved in cross-linking collagen and elastin, both of which provide the ground substance and flexibility in blood vessels, bones and joints.

As explained above, iron is primarily used as part of hemoglobin, the molecule responsible for transporting and releasing oxygen throughout the body. But hemoglobin synthesis also relies on copper. Without copper, iron cannot be properly utilized in red blood cells. Fortunately, Mother Nature supplies both minerals in navy beans. Just one cup of navy beans supplies 50.5% of the DV for manganese, 27.0% of the DV for copper, and 25.1% of the DV for iron.

Maintain Your Memory with Thiamin (Vitamin B1)

Thiamin participates in enzymatic reactions central to energy production and is also critical for brain cell/cognitive function. This is because thiamin is needed for the synthesis of acetylcholine, the important neurotransmitter essential for memory and whose lack has been found to be a significant contributing factor in age-related impairment in mental function (senility) and Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease is clinically characterized by a decrease in acetylcholine levels. Don't forget to make navy beans a staple in your healthy diet: a one cup serving of navy beans provides 24.7% of the daily value for thiamin.

Protein Power Plus

If you’re wondering how to replace red meat in your menus, become a fan of navy beans. These hearty beans are a good source of protein, and when combined with a whole grain such as whole wheat pasta or brown rice, provide protein comparable to that of meat or dairy foods without the high calories or saturated fat found in these foods. And, when you get your protein from navy beans, you also get the blood sugar stabilizing and heart health benefits of the soluble fiber provided by these versatile legumes. A cup of navy beans provides 15.8 grams of protein--that's 31.7% of the daily value for protein.

Description

Navy beans are small, pea-sized beans that are creamy white in color. They are a mild-flavored bean that is dense and creamy.

History

Navy beans and other beans, such as pinto beans and black beans, are all known scientifically as Phaseolus vulgaris. They are referred to as “common beans” probably because they all derived from a common bean ancestor that originated in Peru.

From there, beans were spread throughout South and Central America by migrating Indian trades. Beans were introduced into Europe in the 15th century by Spanish explorers returning from their voyages to the New World. They were subsequently spread to Africa and Asia by Spanish and Portuguese traders.

As beans are a very inexpensive form of good protein, they have become popular in many cultures throughout the world. The navy bean got its current popular name because it was a staple food of the United States Navy in the early 20th century. Today, the largest commercial producers of dried common beans, including the navy bean, are India, China, Indonesia, Brazil and the United States.

How to Select and Store

Dried navy beans are generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins are covered and that the store has a good product turnover rate to ensure maximal freshness.

Whether purchasing navy beans in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure there is no evidence of moisture or insect damage and that beans are whole and not cracked.

Canned navy beans can be found in most markets. Look for ones that do not contain extra salt or additives.

Store dried navy beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place where they will keep for up to twelve months. Cooked navy beans will keep fresh in the refrigerator for about three days if placed in a covered container.

How to Enjoy

Tips for Preparing Navy Beans:

Before washing navy beans, spread them out on a dark colored plate or cooking surface to check for, and remove, stones, debris or damaged beans. Then place the beans in a strainer, rinsing them thoroughly under cool running water.

To shorten cooking time and make them easier to digest, navy beans should be presoaked. There are two basic methods for presoaking (presoaking has been found to reduce the raffinose-type oligosaccharides, sugars associated with causing flatulence.) For each, start by placing the beans in a saucepan with two to three cups of water per cup of beans.

The first method is to boil the beans for two minutes, take the pan off the heat, cover and allow to stand for two hours. The alternative method is to simply soak the beans in water for eight hours or overnight, placing the pan in the refrigerator so that the beans will not ferment. Before cooking the beans, drain the soaking liquid and rinse beans with clean water.

To cook the beans, you can either cook them on the stovetop or use a pressure cooker. For the stovetop method, add three to four cups of fresh water or broth for each cup of dried beans. The liquid should be about one to two inches above the top of the beans.

Bring the beans to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, partially covering the pot. If any foam develops, simply skim it off during the simmering process. Navy beans generally take about two hours to become tender using this method.

Navy beans can also be cooked in a pressure cooker where they take about one-half hour to prepare. Regardless of cooking method, do not add any seasonings that are salty or acidic until after the beans have been cooked, since adding them earlier will make the beans tough and greatly increase the cooking time.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Make a delicious sandwich spread by blending cooked navy beans in a food processor with olive or flax oil and your favorite herbs and spices.

Add a protein punch to tomato soup by serving it with some pre-cooked navy beans mixed throughout.

Mix cooked navy beans with olive oil, sage and garlic and serve on bruschetta.

Combine navy beans with cooked roasted buckwheat and healthy sautéed onions and shiitake mushrooms for a hearty main dish.

Use navy beans to make delicious and nutritious white chili.

Add cooked and cooled navy beans to a salad of leeks and chard and top with a rosemary vinaigrette.

Safety

Purines are naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems.

Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods.

For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as navy beans.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Beans, Navy, Cooked
1.00 cup
258.44 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
folate 254.62 mcg 63.7 4.4 very good
tryptophan 0.19 g 59.4 4.1 very good
manganese 1.01 mg 50.5 3.5 very good
dietary fiber 11.65 g 46.6 3.2 good
protein 15.83 g 31.7 2.2 good
phosphorus 285.74 mg 28.6 2.0 good
copper 0.54 mg 27.0 1.9 good
magnesium 107.38 mg 26.8 1.9 good
iron 4.51 mg 25.1 1.7 good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.37 mg 24.7 1.7 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • McIntosh M, Miller C. A diet containing food rich in soluble and insoluble fiber improves glycemic control and reduces hyperlipidemia among patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutr Rev 2001 Feb;59(2):52-5.
  • Menotti A, Kromhout D, Blackburn H, et al. Food intake patterns and 25-year mortality from coronary heart disease: cross-cultural correlations in the Seven Countries Study. The Seven Countries Study Research Group. Eur J Epidemiol 1999 Jul;15(6):507-15.
  • Queiroz Kda S, de Oliveira AC, Helbig E et al. Soaking the common bean in a domestic preparation reduced the contents of raffinose-type oligosaccharides but did not interfere with nutritive value. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo) 2002 Aug;48(4):283-9.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-20 17:56:59
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation