Protein is considered a macronutrient alongside carbohydrates and fats, and it plays a crucial role in virtually every process within our bodies — from the growth and repair of tissues to the production of enzymes and hormones.
One of the easiest ways to ensure that you’re getting enough protein in your diet is by consuming animal products. However, these foods are known to contain saturated fats, which can negatively impact cholesterol levels and blood pressure — and that’s not even mentioning the environmental impact and ethical concerns, as well as dietary restrictions.
Fortunately, animal products aren’t the only source of protein in the natural world. For example, fava beans are absolutely loaded with protein along with a variety of other beneficial nutrients. Here at iwi life, we're passionate about plant-based nutrition that supports overall health and well-being, and fava beans certainly fit the bill.
Let’s dive into the world of bean protein and learn more about these protein-packed pods.
What Are Fava Beans?
Fava beans, or Vicia faba, are a species of flowering plant in the Fabaceae family. Fava beans are classified as part of the legume family, which also includes peas, lentils, and peanuts. These beans are known by different names around the world, including broad beans, faba beans, and horse beans, among others.
It’s widely believed that fava beans originated in North Africa or the Middle East, and over the course of history, their cultivation slowly spread to Europe and Asia. Our ancestors recognized the benefits of fava beans long ago, as they’re one of the oldest plants under cultivation.
In terms of their physical attributes, fava beans are quite distinctive — they grow in large, leathery pods that are slightly curved and bulging with beans. The beans themselves are large, with a flattened oval shape, and are a vibrant green color when fresh. As they mature, they can turn a brownish hue.
The flavor of fava beans is unique and often described as slightly sweet, earthy, and mildly nutty. They have a creamy texture when cooked, which makes them a pretty versatile ingredient in a variety of dishes around the world.
What Are the Health Benefits of Fava Beans?
The health benefits of eating fava beans are plentiful, as these beans pack a powerful punch in terms of nutritional value. Let's take a look at some of the key benefits that these little green gems offer:
Muscle Growth and Repair
Fava beans are a fantastic source of plant-based protein, offering about 13 grams per cup. Protein is a fundamental nutrient needed for the growth and repair of muscles, making fava beans an excellent choice for a post-workout meal.
The benefits for muscle health don't stop there, though. Fava beans also contain high amounts of specific amino acids— leucine, lysine, and methionine, which play integral roles in muscle synthesis and recovery.
When it comes to supporting your digestive health, fava beans have a lot to offer. They are rich in dietary fiber, a nutrient that aids digestion by adding bulk to your diet and promoting regular bowel movements. This can help prevent constipation and support overall digestive health.
Fava beans are heart-friendly in several ways. For starters, they’re high in dietary fiber, which can help support healthy cholesterol levels. They're also a good source of potassium, a mineral that helps support healthy blood pressure, and magnesium, which plays a role in maintaining a healthy heart rhythm and overall cardiovascular health.
Your immune system is your body's defense against illness, and fava beans can help keep it strong. They’re a good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that supports your cell health during exposure to free radicals. Fava beans also contain zinc, a mineral that is crucial for the production of immune cells.
Fava beans can contribute to strong, healthy bones thanks to their calcium and phosphorus content. In addition, they provide vitamin K, which plays a role in bone metabolism and can help prevent bone-related conditions.
If you're focused on weight management or weight loss, fava beans can be a valuable addition to your diet. They're high in fiber and protein, both of which can help you feel full and satisfied, potentially helping to control your appetite. Plus, they're low in fat, making them a calorie-conscious choice.
Are There Any Downsides to Eating Fava Beans?
While fava beans are an excellent source of nutrients and offer numerous health benefits, it's essential to note that they can cause adverse effects in certain individuals due to a condition known as favism. This condition is a reaction to a compound found in fava beans, which can trigger a severe response in people who have a glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency.
Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, or G6PD, is crucial because it protects red blood cells from substances in the body that can damage them. When someone with a G6PD deficiency consumes fava beans, it can lead to a rapid breakdown of red blood cells (a condition known as hemolytic anemia). Symptoms of favism can range from mild to severe and may include fatigue, jaundice, shortness of breath, dark urine, and a rapid heart rate.
It's important to note that favism is relatively rare and mainly affects people of Mediterranean, African, and Southeast Asian descent. If you or your family have a history of G6PD deficiency, it would be wise to consult with a healthcare provider before incorporating fava beans into your diet.
In addition to favism, some people may experience gastrointestinal discomfort after eating fava beans. This is because they are high in fiber and contain a type of carbohydrate called oligosaccharides, which can cause gas and bloating in some individuals. However, these effects can often be reduced by soaking the beans before cooking and consuming them in moderation.
Do Fava Beans Have Enough Protein To Support a Plant-Based Diet?
Fava beans are a standout when it comes to plant-based sources of protein, offering a substantial amount of this vital nutrient, with about 13 grams of protein per cup when cooked. This makes them a particularly valuable food for those following a plant-based diet, where meeting protein needs can sometimes be a challenge.
What sets fava beans apart from many other plant-based protein sources is their amino acid profile. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. While the body can produce many of these, there are nine amino acids that it cannot make on its own. These are known as the essential amino acids, and they must be obtained through the diet.
Fava beans contain all nine of these essential amino acids, making them a complete protein source. This is quite rare amongst plant foods, many of which are missing one or more of these essential amino acids. The fact that fava beans are a complete protein makes them a particularly valuable part of a plant-based diet, as they provide all the amino acids your body needs to function optimally.
What Are Other Plant-Based Sources of Protein?
While fava beans are indeed an excellent source of plant-based protein, it's beneficial to incorporate a variety of protein sources into your diet to ensure you're getting a wide range of nutrients.
Here are some other plant-based proteins you might consider:
- Quinoa: Known as a "super grain," quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. With 8 grams of protein per cup, it's a great addition to salads, soups, and stir-fries.
- Lentils: These small but mighty legumes pack a serious protein punch, offering about 18 grams per cup. They're also a great source of fiber, helping to support digestive health.
- Chickpeas: Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas provide around 15 grams of protein per cup. They're versatile and can be used in everything from salads to hummus.
- Soy: Soybeans and soy products like tofu and tempeh are among the richest sources of plant-based protein. Tofu, for example, offers around 10 grams of protein per half-cup serving.
- Green Peas: These little green gems are surprisingly high in protein, offering around 8 grams per cup. They're also packed with vitamins A, C, and K, as well as several B vitamins.
- Lima Beans: These beans, also known as butter beans due to their creamy texture, provide around 15 grams of protein per cup. They're also high in fiber and a good source of iron.
- Algae: Algae such as Nannochloropsis, Spirulina, and Chlorella are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Spirulina, for example, is 60 to 70% protein by weight and is a complete protein source. It's also rich in vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids.
Fava beans are a nutritious, protein-rich addition to any diet, but they’re particularly beneficial for those following a plant-based lifestyle. Getting enough protein from plant sources can be challenging for many, but fava beans are a great option.
Here at iwi life, we’re committed to promoting the benefits of plant-based nutrition with our omega-3 supplements. It’s not just about improving our health as humans — it’s also about adopting a plant-based diet that can be beneficial for the planet.