The fava bean, alternatively known as broad bean, is a large, flat, green leguminous vegetable. The earliest record of its cultivation dates back to Old World agriculture prevalent in the Neolithic times, about 6000 years ago, probably in Persia and Egypt. Traces of fava beans have also been unearthed in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, indicating that these legumes enjoyed royal patronage even in that era. No wonder then that fava beans became somewhat of a staple food all over the in the region thereafter.
Fava beans, along with a wide array of other legumes such as lentils and chickpea, continue to dominate Mediterranean and North African cuisines. However, the acclaim for these beans that thrive in warm climates is no longer limited to their place of origin. In fact, a lot of people grow this winter season crop in their own backyard or kitchen garden. Today, fresh fava beans as well as their canned, frozen, dry, salted, and roasted variants are easily available on the global market. Easy-to-cook fava beans have a mildly sweet and earthy flavor and melt like butter in the mouth. It is on account of this understated texture and taste that fava beans make for a versatile addition to any diet as part of dips, salads, stews, and soups.
When buying fresh fava beans, look for tender, bright-green pods that have recently matured and are evenly shaped. Springtime, ideally between March and June, is the best season for buying fresh fava beans. Unlike regular green beans, fava beans cannot be consumed along with their thick indigestible peel. The first thing to do is to shuck the beans to remove their thick pods. Then, the beans need to be blanched in order to loosen the tough skins surrounding each individual bean. Once the broad, thick, and flat seeds have been unshelled, place them in a perforated plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator that has been set at relatively high humidity. It’s best to consume the refrigerated beans over the next week.
Nutritional Content of Fava Beans
Like all other beans and legumes, fava beans are a source of protein and provide essential amino acids required by the body. There’s much more to the nutrient-dense composition of fava beans, which accounts for the various health perks ascribed to these green legumes. Not only do they boast of rich fibrous content, but fava beans are also a source of minerals, B vitamins, and vitamins A, C, and K.
Nutritional value of mature, raw fava beans per 100 grams:
- Water – 10.98 g
- Energy – 341 kcal
- Protein – 26.12 g
- Total lipid – 1.53 g
- Carbohydrate – 58.29 g
- Fiber – 25.0 g
- Sugars – 5.70 g
- Calcium, Ca – 103 mg
- Iron, Fe – 6.70 mg
- Magnesium, Mg – 192 mg
- Phosphorus, P – 421 mg
- Potassium, K – 1062 mg
- Sodium, Na – 13 mg
- Zinc, Zn – 3.14 mg
- Vitamin C – 1.4 mg
- Thiamin – 0.555 mg
- Riboflavin – 0.333 mg
- Niacin – 2.832 mg
- Vitamin B6 – 0.366 mg
- Folate, DFE – 423 mcg
- Vitamin A – 3 mcg
- Vitamin K – 9.0 mcg
Preparing Fava Beans
Fava Beans Salad
You can simply add fresh fava beans to any salad. In particular, fava beans would pair well with a typical Italian spring salad, which includes cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, and a little hot pepper. Besides salads, fava beans can be enjoyed in many ways including the recipes below.
Fava Bean Purée
3 pounds fresh fava beans or about 2 cups of shelled beans
2 large cloves of garlic
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
½ teaspoon of red chili flakes (optional)
½ cup of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
- First, blanch the fava beans and then peel them to extract the kernels. Set aside ½ cup of unshelled fava beans, and roughly chop them.
- The remaining beans go into a food processor, along with the garlic cloves, parsley, mint, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes, if using.
- Pulse to combine.
- Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.
- While the processor is still running, gradually drizzle in the olive oil and purée until the contents mix together well and acquire a smooth consistency.
- Transfer the paste out of the processor into a bowl and garnish it with the roughly chopped beans that had been saved.
- Use the fava bean purée as a toast spread or as a dip with raw vegetables. You can even eat it by spooning the paste onto fresh mozzarella or burrata.
- Refrigerate the purée so it can last you up to five days.
Fava Bean and English Pea Panzanella
1 loaf of your favorite variety of bread, preferably a day old
1 cup of olive oil, set aside half of which to be used for dressing
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup arugula
½ cup English peas, which have been shelled and blanched
½ cup of shelled, blanched, and peeled fava beans
½ a bunch of green onions, sliced
3 large tomatoes, chopped
½ a bunch of basil, chiffonade
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat your oven to 350 F.
- Break the bread loaf into bite-size pieces and soak them in ½ cup of olive oil.
- Sprinkle the chopped garlic on top of the chunks, and then toast them in the oven for 10 minutes.
- Put all the veggies – the favas, arugula, peas, tomatoes, onions, and basil – in a bowl and give them a gentle mix.
- Add the toasted pieces of bread to the vegetable bowl.
- Use balsamic vinegar and the remaining ½ cup of olive oil as dressing
- Finish with a sprinkling of salt and pepper over the top of the dish, according to your taste.
Risks and Precautions with Fava Beans
- People suffering from a rare genetic disorder that goes by the name of favism are advised against consuming fava beans as it can cause potentially toxic side effects. One of the most commonly reported threats is acute hemolytic anemia, which essentially involves the destruction of your red blood cells at such an accelerated rate that your body can’t easily replace them. The sustained loss of oxygen-carrying red blood cells eventually paves the way for anemia. People grappling with this disease have insufficient amounts of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) enzyme in their body, which is required to counter the detrimental effects of certain unfavorable elements in fava beans responsible for this anemic effect.
- Infants and young children may not tolerate high doses of fava beans due to the high fiber content. Incorporate fava beans in small doses and as part of a balanced diet.
- Eating fava beans as part of a mixed meal may lower risk for any discomfort from bloating or flatulence from fava bean’s high fiber amount.
- People on monoamine oxidase (MAOI) inhibitors are advised against consuming fava beans due to its rich tyramine content.
- Fava beans contain significant amounts of levodopa (L-dopa), a chemical that can interfere with your body’s ability to metabolize vitamin B6. Thus, people who are already running low on this vital nutrient should stay off fava beans as it can worsen their condition.
Health Benefits of Fava Beans
Here are the top 10 benefits of fava beans for health.
1. Promote Heart Health and Reduce Cholesterol
Fava beans are celebrated by health enthusiasts as a rich source of dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Besides keeping your digestive system working smoothly, the fibrous nature of this mighty legume can benefit your cardiovascular health. There is enough research-based evidence that would suggest that the soluble fiber in foods, such as in fava beans, binds to low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad cholesterol) in the bloodstream and facilitates its elimination from the body. This mitigating effect was observed in both healthy adults and people with high cholesterol and can go a long way in keeping your heart healthy.
One animal study that lends support to these claims was published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Researchers fed a diet containing fava bean seeds or their protein isolate to hypercholesterolemic rat subjects, which led to a significant decrease in cholesterol levels without any effect on the high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or good cholesterol).
2. May Reduce Parkinson’s Symptoms
Parkinson’s disease is a progressively degenerative neurological disorder that compromises the motor system. This disease is associated with the death of dopamine-producing cells in the brain, which leads to difficulty in initiating, coordinating, and controlling movement. The conventional treatment for Parkinson’s rests primarily on drugs containing L-dopa, an amino acid that aids in the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Given that fava beans boast a bountiful supply of L-dopa, eating fava beans may help supplement this chemical in the blood and thereby relieve some symptoms of Parkinson’s in the early stages. It could also be beneficial for Alzheimer’s disease.
The potential efficacy of fava beans as a natural alternative to the synthetic drugs used for treating Parkinson’s has been corroborated to a certain extent by evidential research; however, further studies are warranted. One such study found that the inclusion of fava beans in the diet of patients with Parkinson’s can significantly improve their motor performance by increasing the levels of L-dopa and C-dopa in their blood, without engendering any harmful side effects.
Another study found that fava beans may help manage Parkinsonian motor oscillations in patients with Parkinson’s disease similar to L-dopa drugs.
3. May Help Prevent Birth Defects
The primordial importance of a wholesome and nutrient-rich diet to ensure a healthy pregnancy is not news to anybody. While all of us need a steady supply of folate and vitamin B12 for the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and red blood cells, expecting mothers are recommended additional supplementation of these critical nutrients.
Adequate folate intake around conception and during pregnancy is associated with a reduced risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly in the newborn baby.
For this reason alone, pregnant women are advised to eat a variety of folate-rich foods such as fava beans. Just 1 cup of cooked beans can make up for 44 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of folate for an adult man or woman. One hundred grams of fresh fava beans provides 106 percent RDA folate.
4. May Help with Weight Management
Fava beans are a weight-watcher’s delight in more ways than one. Not only do they help promote feelings of satiety, but these healthful legumes can also pave the way for weight loss. Fava beans have all the characteristics in order to be part of a nutrient-dense low-calorie diet. They have both soluble and insoluble fiber as well as plenty of proteins. Fiber and protein together help keep you full for a very long period of time, thereby staving off overeating or unnecessary snacking. If you want to indulge in a light snack between meals, just nibble on some smash-boiled fava beans without the guilt of a calorie overload. Eating more of fava beans is an easy way to meet your energy needs without piling on the extra calories and the extra weight. Such fibrous and protein-rich intake works better than the high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet model, as far as total fat loss is concerned. Moreover, people who regularly consume fava beans might even benefit from their cholesterol-lowering effects.
A study published in Advances in Nutrition supported the claim that legumes such as fava beans may help increase satiety, at least in the short term. The study also highlights the positive impact of pulse consumption on weight loss when coupled with energy restriction, but not without energy restriction. However, additional, longer-term (≥1 y), randomized controlled trials are needed to determine the optimal amount of pulses to consume for weight control.
Another 2018 study published in Nutrients compared the effects of meals based on animal and vegetable proteins on appetite sensations and ad libitum energy intake. The findings showed that the fava bean and split pea meal led to higher satiety and fullness ratings and lower prospective food intake and hunger ratings compared with the veal and pork meal. Furthermore, participants had a lower energy intake after the fava bean and split pea meal compared with the veal and pork meal at the ad libitum (as desired or needed) lunch served three hours after the test meal.
5. Source of Antioxidants and Immune Booster
Fava beans are replete with antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, copper, iron, and zinc, all of which enhance the functioning of the immune system in their respective ways. A substantial part of its antioxidant effects can also be attributed to the high contents of L-dopa and various compounds called kaempferol glycosides found in fava bean sprouts.
In general terms, these antioxidants help counter free radical activity that is at the crux of cellular aging and damage. Moreover, they play an important protective role by bolstering the body’s natural defenses against infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
6. May Help Combat Depression and Anxiety
Fava beans can also qualify as a feel-good food, all thanks to the concentrated amounts of L-dopa as well as B vitamins present in them. The former is a chemical agent that acts as a precursor of certain neurochemicals in the brain such as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. All these neurotransmitters play important roles in the facilitation of good mood and stress relief. Similarly, the high levels of B vitamins in fava beans may also contribute to positive mental health. A 2012 study concluded that a low intake of B vitamins in adolescents is associated with depressive feelings.
7. May Work as a Diabetic-Friendly Food
Beans are a godsend for people with problematic blood sugar levels as they check all the boxes for a diabetic-friendly food. They are considered low on the glycemic index, which means they release a slow steady source of glucose rather than the instant sugar high associated with the consumption of simple carbohydrates.
The high fibrous content only adds to the glycemic-control prowess of these mighty greens. Moreover, fava beans also boast impressive amounts of polyphenols, which may protect against the development of type 2 diabetes through their antioxidant effects.
In a 2012 study, diabetic subjects were asked to increase their legume intake by at least 1 cup/day. Their glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) values decreased by 0.5 percent. These results were more significant than those obtained by supplementing wheat fiber to the subjects, which recorded a decrease of 0.3 percent in their glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) values.
8. Help Improve High Blood Pressure
Broad beans are one of the best plant sources of potassium, an essential electrolyte that performs a number of vital functions within the body. Not only does potassium ensure the proper functioning of cells, nerves, and muscles, but it is also tasked with the responsibility of keeping our blood pressure in check by countering the effects of sodium. This balancing act is, in turn, is conducive to maintaining optimum kidney and heart functions. Moreover, fava beans also provide magnesium and fiber, both of which further help in the management of hypertension.
Fava beans are considered to be a good source of L-dopa, a chemical that gets converted into the neurotransmitter dopamine once it reaches the brain. This natriuretic agent can be potentially helpful in controlling hypertension, according to a 1991 study with young patients with hypertension.
Ways to add more fava beans to your diet include:
- A homemade sandwich spread using broad beans (like the fava bean puree) can be an easy way to increase your fava bean intake.
- Simply blend equal amounts of boiled broad beans and yogurt, following which add salt and spices to the mix according to your taste. This can be used as a sauce for meat, veggie, or grain dishes.
- Instead of using your regular sandwich spread, cheese, jam, or butter, smear your breakfast toast with this wholesome paste.
- Peel, boil, and store fava beans in the refrigerator. Add a handful of fava beans to your salads.
9. Help Preserve Bone Health
Fava beans may be a surprising source of bone-building nutrients, including copper and manganese. Inadequate intake of manganese and copper has been associated with reduced bone mass and increased calcium excretion. Eating more fava beans can supplement your body with manganese and copper, which can increase bone matrix strength, and collagen, which is needed to make bone cells.
10. Help Combat Anemia
Fava beans are a source of iron, which is an essential prerequisite for hemoglobin synthesis. Hemoglobin is a protein that allows red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body and to the cells. Thus, it is essential for you to maintain an adequate intake of iron to keep your cells and body sufficiently energized and active. On the contrary, if your diet runs insufficiently low on iron, you run the risk of developing anemia, which is characterized by constant sluggishness, fatigue, faint-headedness, and shortness of breath. Needless to say, eating more iron-rich foods such as this legume can help safeguard you from the potential threat of hemoglobin deficiency or anemia.
However, one must bear in mind that the iron found in fava beans is of the nonheme variant, which is not absorbed by the body as readily as the heme-form iron found in poultry, meat, and fish. In order to maximize its absorption, you are recommended to consume fava beans with meat or foods rich in vitamin C, such as tomatoes, peppers, citrus fruits, and berries.
Another factor to make note of is that eating broad beans can be detrimental if you suffer from glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency. Fava beans are said to contain considerable amounts of highly oxidative chemicals, namely, divicine, convicine, and isouramil, which can precipitate another form of blood disorder called hemolytic anemia in people with a preexisting glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency.
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