New research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Food Science and Technology has determined that adding great northern beans to a diet rich in fatty foods may prevent weight gain, fatty liver disease and high cholesterol.
With funding provided by the Nebraska Dry Bean Commission, Associate Professor Vicki Schlegel conducted the research using hamsters as the clinical model because they have cholesterol regulation similar to humans. Two diets were developed for the test, one lower in fat than the other.
“We wanted to study dry edible beans because they are rich in nutrients,” Schlegel said. “Many components of dry beans have shown to reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol; however, the research on cholesterol-lowering properties of dry beans in response to a high-fat diet has not been established.”
Nebraska produces about 1 billion servings of dry beans per year. The great northern bean is a dry bean widely cultivated in the state, primarily in the Panhandle region. In fact, Nebraska is the number one producer of great northern beans in the United States. It belongs to the white bean family and is most often used in soups, stews and cassoulet.
The research demonstrated that supplementing the fatty diet with just 5 percent great northern bean resulted in a weight similar to that of the low-fat diet, which did not contain the great northern bean. Additionally, consumption of the great northern bean was able to reduce the level of plasma lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides in the model testing the high-fat diet.
According to Schlegel, the research suggests that the cholesterol produced in response to the high-fat diet with the great northern bean is recycled back into the intestine and excreted out. Characterization of the great northern bean indicates that the fiber and other micronutrients present, such as the phenols, are most likely acting together to produce the cholesterol-lowering benefit and to stabilize weight.
Initial studies were conducted using raw great northern beans, so further studies will be conducted using cooked beans. This information could potentially be shared with bean breeders or processors so they can recreate the favored composition. Similar studies are also being conducted on pinto beans.
Food science and technology doctoral student Nguyen Tien An managed the project and will be the lead with the pinto beans research, while graduate students Sami Althwab and Haowen Qiu assisted in daily care of the animals. Richard Zbasnik, a research technologist in the Department of Food Science and Technology, aided in characterizing the beans. The beans were grown in the Nebraska Panhandle by Carlos Urrea, associate professor in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center.