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are butter beans good for you

Health benefits of butter beans

23 Nov 2022 • 4 min read

Butter (Lima) Beans: Benefits, Nutrition & Types | Holland & Barrett


These unassuming little beans are nutritional powerhouses. But what are butter beans?

What makes butter beans so good for you? And what can you do with them?

Here, we’ll explore the benefits of butter beans, their nutritional value, some butter bean FAQs and some delicious ways to incorporate them into your diet.

What are butter beans?

These creamy white beans – also known as lima beans – are native to South America which have been cultivated for at least 9000 years.1

The butter bean – or lima bean - is an ivory-coloured pulse with a flat crescent shape. Larger than most other beans, butter beans develop a creamy, buttery texture when cooked which gives them their name.

Are butter beans and lima beans the same thing?

In other parts of the world, butter beans are known as lima beans. They were originally named after the city of Lima in Peru.

Different varieties of butter beans may be speckled, slightly smaller or greenish in colour. In the UK, almost all of the butter beans available commercially (i.e. not home-grown) are of the pale beige variety.

Different types of butter beans

Below are the different types of butter beans available - who knew there were so many! 

  • Dried butter beans

Dried butter beans are smaller than the cooked variety and are firm in texture. They aren’t edible when dry – they require soaking, rinsing and cooking.

Dried butter beans are widely available in the UK at larger supermarkets and health food shops.

  • Tinned butter beans

The most common variety of butter bean you’ll encounter in the UK, tinned butter beans are found on most grocery shop shelves.

Usually packed in either water or salted water, these beans have been cooked but not flavoured (unless specified).

  • Organic butter beans

Organic butter beans are ones grown without the use of chemical pesticides or artificial fertilisers.2

  • Baked butter beans

Baked butter beans are found in either tins or glass jars. They have been pre-cooked and usually come in a tomato sauce or olive oil with herbs or other seasoning.

Are butter beans good for you?

Yes – butter beans are good for you!

Packed full of vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates and protein, butter beans are a healthy addition to any diet.

9 butter bean health benefits

Here we'll go through 9 top health benefits of adding butter beans to your diet. 

  1. They keep you satisfied for longer

Butter beans contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, which can promote a feeling of satiety (fullness), reducing the likelihood of overeating.

This is because fibre adds bulk in your stomach, which signals to the brain that it’s getting full.3

Further, soluble fibre dissolves in your digestive system, creating a gel-like substance which slows down the rate at which food is digested – again, making you feel full.4

Adults should be getting 30g fibre a day, but most in the UK only eat 18g a day.5 Adding butter beans to your plate will help you on your way to your daily 30g target.

  1. They’re a source of vegan protein

Protein is important for the building and repair of strong muscles and bodily tissues. It’s also a source of energy.6

Most adults need a minimum of 0.75g protein per kg of bodyweight each day. For the average woman this is around 45g, for the average man 55g.7

Vegetarians and vegans who may struggle to make up their daily protein should include butter beans in their regular plant-based meal rotation. Be sure to combine protein from pulses with other vegan protein sources to ensure the protein is ‘complete’.

  1. They can help reduce the risk of anaemia

Eating butter beans can help protect you against developing some types of anaemia.

They’re are rich in folate – also known as vitamin B9.

This is needed to make normal red blood cells as well as to convert carbohydrates into energy.8

Being low in folate is a risk factor for folate deficiency anaemia, which causes extreme tiredness.9

Butter beans are also a good source of iron, which your body uses to create haemoglobin which carries oxygen around your body.

Iron is important for energy, and low levels cause iron deficiency anaemia which is characterised by fatigue, exhaustion and shortness of breath.10

  1. They’re amazing for energy

Butter beans are rich in starchy complex carbohydrates, which are a great source of energy.

Not only this, but because complex carbohydrates digest more slowly than refined carbohydrates, the energy they provide is longer-lasting and won’t leave you hungry again in half an hour!11

  1. They’re a top diet food

Low in both calories and fat, butter beans are a dieter’s dream. In fact, only around 3% of calories in beans derive from fat, most of which is unsaturated.12

They make a filling side dish – the perfect alternative to chips or fries – and thanks to their high fibre content, you may just be too full for dessert.

  1. They are a source of antioxidants

Butter beans contain plant compounds called polyphenols.

These polyphenols act as antioxidants, helping to protect the body against harmful free radicals, which can cause cell damage.13

  1. They’re packed full of nutrients

Butter beans are rich in vitamins and minerals, which are important for overall health.

A source of potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and zinc, they also contain calcium and protein. 14

Both plant-based foodies and meat-lovers can really benefit from adding butter beans to their diet.

  1. They can help control blood sugar

Butter beans are high in complex carbohydrates. Your body breaks down this type of carbohydrate into glucose at a slower rate than ‘simple’, refined carbs like potato, white pasta and white rice.


  1. They can help lower cholesterol

High levels of LDL cholesterol make it more likely you’ll have heart problems or a stroke.16 But butter beans can help!

One study found that when people ate 120g beans five times per week alongside their usual diet, they experienced a reduction in LDL cholesterol.17

Summary

  • Butter beans are a pulse – available tinned/ jarred and pre-cooked, or dried
  • They’re incredibly nutritious – a source of fibre, protein, complex carbs and minerals
  • Butter beans can help with weight loss, high cholesterol and anaemia

Butter beans nutrition

One portion of butter beans is 80g, which is equivalent to around 3 heaped tablespoons of cooked pulses, or around a third of a tin.18,19

How many calories in butter beans?

There are 68 calories in 80g of butter beans.

How much protein in butter beans?

There is 6.2g protein in 80g butter beans.

How many carbs in butter beans?

There are 9.8g carbohydrates in 80g butter beans.

How much fat in butter beans?

There is 0.4g fat in 80g butter beans, with 0.1g being saturated fat.

How much iron in butter beans?

There is 0.6mg iron in 80g butter beans.

How much calcium in butter beans?

There is 20mg calcium in 80g butter beans.

How much sodium in butter beans?

There is 8mg sodium in 80g butter beans. Varieties packed in saltwater will have higher sodium.

How much potassium in butter beans?

There is 176mg potassium in 80g butter beans.

How much sugar in butter beans?

There is 0.4g sugar in 80g butter beans.

How much fibre in butter beans?

There is 5.1g fibre in 80g butter beans.

Butter beans versus other beans

How do butter beans stack up to other beans in terms of nutrient content?20

  Protein Iron Zinc Calcium Potassium Magnesium Folate
Butter beans (94g) 7.3g 7.3mg 0.9mg 16mg 478mg 40mg 78mcg
Adzuki beans (115g) 8.6g 2.3mg 2mg 32mg 611mg 60mg 150mcg
Black beans (86g) 7.6g 1.8mg 0.96mg 23mg 30gmg 60mg 128mcg
Chickpeas (82g) 7.5g 2.4mg 1.2mg 40mg 239mg 39mg 141mcg
Kidney beans (88.5g) 7.7g 2mg 0.9mg 31mg 358mg 37mg 115mcg
Lentils (99g) 8.9g 3.3mg 1.3mg 19mg 365mg 35mg 179mg
Haricot (navy) beans (85.5g) 7.5g 2.15mg 0.9mg 63mg 354mg 48mg 127mcg
Pinto beans (85.5g) 7.7g 1.8mg 0.8mg 40mg 373mg 43mg 147mcg
Cannellini beans (88.5g) 7.5g 1.9mg 0.78mg 60mg 346mg 44mg 90mg

 

Are butter beans poisonous?

Raw, dry butter beans contain a compound called linamarin, is a cyanogenic compound which potentially releases small amounts cyanide when processed.21

Don’t panic, though – the butter beans you buy in tins have already been processed and cooked to remove all traces of linamarin.

With dried butter beans, rinsing and soaking them before cooking will destroy the cyanogenic enzymes.

Further, the varieties of dried beans available in Europe generally have levels of cyanide below the dosage known to be toxic to humans.22

Are butter beans better than potatoes?

Potatoes and butter beans come from different plants and have different nutritional compositions.

However, they’re both starchy carbohydrates containing a similar amount of calories.

Butter beans are higher in protein and fibre, and lower in carbohydrates than potatoes.23

Do butter beans give you gas?

All beans and legumes have the potential to cause a bit of flatulence. This is down to the undigestible carbohydrates they contain.24

Don’t let that put you off, though.

Introduce them to your diet slowly, rinse them beforehand and drink plenty of water, and your body will adjust, minimising your symptoms.

How to cook butter beans

  1. Heated in a pan – the simplest way to prepare tinned, pre-cooked butter beans is to warm them in a pan alongside their water or brine for around 4 minutes or until steaming hot (but not boiling). Then drain, and rinse if desired before serving.
  2. In the microwave – microwave pre-cooked butter beans in water or brine in a loosely covered ceramic bowl for around a minute. Stir and re-cover, then heat for a remaining minute until piping hot. Drain, rinse if desired, and serve.
  3. In a slow cooker – rinse dried butter beans and cover them with cold water in a slow cooker. Add a teaspoon of salt and cook low and slow for around five hours until the beans are tender.
  4. Soaked and simmered - soak rinsed dry butter beans in a pan of cold water for between 8 – 12 hours (no longer). You don’t have to do this, but it tenderises them and helps them cook better. Cover with fresh water in a large pan and simmer for around 30 minutes.
  5. Quick-soaked and simmered – add rinsed butter beans to a pan of water, boil for 3 minutes then leave the beans to soak in the hot water for an hour. Then, change the water and simmer them for around 45 minutes.
  6. Roasted in the oven – preheat oven to 230C and line a baking tray with foil. Drain a rinse pre-cooked butter beans and spread on prepared tray, before seasoning. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, tossing halfway through.
  7. Pan-fried – shallow fry pre-cooked butter beans with a little olive oil and herbs of your choice. Garlic, chilli and rosemary all work well. Serve with crumbled feta.
  8. Baked – for a macaroni cheese-inspired butter beans recipe, bake pre-cooked butter beans, vegetable stock, cheese and breadcrumbs in an ovenproof dish for 25 minutes.
  9. From the tin – not a cooking method, but butter beans and be enjoyed straight from the can. Try scattering them in a salad or alongside a sharp, salty cheese with a drizzle of olive oil and herbs.

Summary

  • Butter beans are a good source of fibre, protein, potassium, iron and folate
  • Some varieties of dried butter beans contain traces of linamarin, a cyanogenic compound - soaking and cooking destroys this compound
  • There are plenty of different ways to cook and prepare butter beans - from dried, you should rinse and soak them before simmering until tender
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 13 July 2021

Sources

  1. https://aihd.ku.edu/foods/lima_beans.html
  2. https://www.soilassociation.org/take-action/organic-living/what-is-organic/
  3. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1467-3010.2007.00603.x
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614039/
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-get-more-fibre-into-your-diet/
  6. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html
  7. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/protein
  8. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/147323000703500301
  9. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamin-b12-or-folate-deficiency-anaemia/
  10. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/iron-deficiency-anaemia/
  11. https://www.wsh.nhs.uk/CMS-Documents/Patient-leaflets/Physiotherapy/6355-1-Nutrition.pdf
  12. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/100/suppl_1/437S/4576589
  13. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281759816
  14. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/100/suppl_1/437S/4576589
  15. https://www.diabetes.co.uk/nutrition/carbohydrates-and-diabetes.html
  16. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-cholesterol/cholesterol-levels/
  17. https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/do
  18. https://www.eatthismuch.com/food/nutrition/butter-beans,153250/
  19. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/beans-and-pulses-nutrition/
  20. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/100/suppl_1/437S/4576589
  21. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/ask-expert/featured/should-i-worry-about-cyanide-lima-beans
  22. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/linamarin
  23. https://www.sugarnutritionresource.org/news-articles/beans-vs-potatoes-carbohydrate-totals-for-each
  24. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/beans-and-pulses-nutrition/
 
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