We’re coming into the season for broad beans and it’s well worth making the most of the abundance of these often-underrated beans. They have definitely earned a place as an important functional food – a food that has been proven to biochemically affect the body.
There are many nutritional qualities to broad beans:
- They’re a rich source of dietary fibre that helps keep the gut healthy and reduce cholesterol levels.
- They’re rich in phytonutrients including isoflavones for hormone balance and plant sterols
- They’re an excellent source of folate so great for pregnant and breast feeding women but also vital to cell division and DNA health
- They’re a great source of B vitamins in general
- They’re rich in minerals including iron, copper, manganese, calcium and magnesium and interestingly broad beans are one of the highest sources of potassium so they’re heart healthy and can help control blood pressure.
But, the reason I truly love broad beans is the impact they have on the brain. I remember years ago at nutrition school learning how powerful they are because they are a rich source of L-Dopa, the precursor of neuro-chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, adrenalin and noradrenalin.
Since then I regularly include broad beans into my diet because I like dopamine; it helps regulate your mood as it’s involved in the pleasure centre within the brain and influences wellbeing, alertness, creativity, attention and concentration.
Dopamine is also associated with smooth functioning of body movements and because eating broad beans has been shown to increase blood levels of dopamine, scientists have researched their use in patients with Parkinson’s disease and found that eating the beans improved the participants motor skills to a similar degree as L-dopa, the standard drug used in Parkinson’s. That’s a pretty powerful result.
Good levels of dopamine are also central to weight control. Research shows that dopamine plays an important role in hunger cravings and directly affects weight gain and loss. If your dopamine levels drop, you experience food cravings and can become irritable, anxious and depressed.
Although they’re not the fastest food to prepare (removing the husks can be really boring) it really is worth it as they’re one of the only food sources of L-Dopa and are great for controlling weight, boosting mood and helping us feel calm and happy. You can also buy them shelled and frozen which makes it much easier or if you grow your own, pick them young and they don’t need shelling.
Broad beans are really versatile and can be added to soups, risotto, omelettes and we have a healthy broad bean dip recipe. They’re also really delicious in salads. I love this zesty salad that’s become one of my summer staples as it’s so simple and can be a meal in itself with a chunk of sourdough or a perfect accompaniment to a summer barbecue. It also packs in lots of antioxidants from the lemon zest and pomegranate.
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