The health benefits of beans: How they help to prevent dementia and boost longevity

There are many reasons why beans are good for you, from enhancing your gut health to reducing your risk of cancer. Two leading experts reveal how.

Beans, beans, good for your heart, the more you eat, the more you… stave off dementia. The evidence on the brain-boosting power of beans and their ability to prevent neurodegenerative illnesses is well established.

And supporting brain health isn’t the only health benefit of beans. Whether canned or dried, they can reduce your risk of cancer, aid your gut health and support longevity overall. So if you don’t already include the pulse as part of your diet, you might want to think about starting. 

Such is the potential power of the humble bean, nutritionist and psychologist Kimberley Wilson boldly declared “beans are the future” during an exclusive chat with Saga Exceptional.

A bowl of cooked beans on a table laid out next to a spoon, pot of dip and tortilla chips.Credit: Shutterstock / Anna_Pustynnikova
Adding more beans to your diet – such as with a warming bean stew – has many health benefits.

However, we aren’t just referring to baked beans or one type of bean in particular. Variety is the spice of life,” says Dr Linia Patel, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.

“Aim to include a variety of beans (chickpeas, butter beans, cannellini beans, kidney beans, baked beans) in your diet for optimal health.”

She adds that while there are no specific guidelines for the intake of beans in your diet in the UK, a portion – which is equivalent to three heaped tablespoons or 80g of beans – counts as one of your five a day.


How healthy are baked beans?

Bear in mind that baked beans are classed as an ultra-processed food so should only be eaten in limited quantities; buy lowsugar or sugarfree varieties when you do have them 

Why are beans good for you?

Beans are a plant-based source of protein, fibre, iron and vitamins that support our health in many ways, and might even help us to live longer. 

The health benefits of beans include:

  • Decreased risk of heart disease
  • Improved gut health
  • Healthier brain ageing
  • A reduced risk of various cancers
  • Management and prevention of type 2 diabetes

Decreased risk of heart disease

Indeed, beans, beans really are good for your heart. Patel says: “Recent evidence shows there is a clear link between eating beans and a lower risk of coronary heart disease, which is a leading cause of death in the UK.”  

The high fibre content of beans plays a role in this. For example, a portion of cannellini beans provides around 9g (a third of an ounce) of fibre, which is almost one third of an adult’s daily recommended intake of 30g (one and a half ounces). “[A higher intake of] fibre helps to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease,” says Patel. However, Wilson explains: “According to government health surveys, there isn’t a single age group in the UK that is meeting the fibre-intake recommendations.” This could mean that our hearts “are missing out on important protection”. 

Promote gut health

More diverse gut bacteria mean the gut is considered healthier, which supports our overall health. But as we age, our gut microbe diversity decreases. Don’t worry though, because beans are on hand. “Eating a variety of beans has been shown to increase the number of beneficial bacteria and improve intestinal function,” says Patel.  

That said, it’s also true that the more beans you eat, the more gas and stomach discomfort you may experience. Patel says these are common unpleasant or painful symptoms of eating beans. “Dried beans are thought to cause more bloating,” she adds. So how can we gain the gut benefits without the gut discomfort? Patel suggests: “Soaking the dried beans in hot water and draining them before cooking can help to reduce the digestive symptoms. 

Support healthy brain ageing

So, beans support the gut, and the gut-brain axis – a two-way communication system between the gut and the brain – helps them to aid our brain health.

This is because certain types of gut bacteria break down the fibre in beans, which “produce compounds that help to support the integrity of the blood-brain-barrier (BBB) – the primary structural barrier between the brain and the blood that prevents unwanted toxins and pathogens from crossing into the brain”, says Wilson. 

“It is well known that compromised BBB integrity can result in neuroinflammatory, neurodegenerative illnesses and disorders, such as dementia,” she continues. Again, owing to most of us not getting enough fibre, this could be risking the health of our guts and brains. 


What is the difference between beans, pulses and legumes?

These terms are often used interchangeably, but they are different. A legume refers to any plant from the Fabaceae family (a particular species of plant), which includes its leaves, stems and pods. A pulse is the edible seed from a legume plant. Pulses include beans, lentils and peas. For example, a bean pod is a legume, but the bean inside the pod is the pulse. 

Reduced risk of various cancers

In a recent study by Patel and other researchers, “findings showed that including two portions or 200g [seven and a half ounces] of legumes [80g (3oz) dried legumes] could reduce your risk of several types of cancer, including colon, ovary and kidney,” she says. Just as it can help to protect our hearts, the high fibre content of beans could also be protecting us from these chronic diseases; high-fibre diets have been found to reduce the risk of certain cancers, including bowel cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer 

Some research has also shown that beans act as antioxidants and have anti-cancer properties, although more research is needed.  

Manage or prevent type 2 diabetes

If you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, beans may be able to help. Once again, it’s the fibre in beans that is responsible for this. “It keeps you fuller for longer, which can be good for helping you to maintain your weight,” says Patel.

Eating more fibre also helps to keep your blood sugar levels in check, which is a challenge as you get older.Managing both of these factors is key to helping to avoid or control type 2 diabetes and prevent complications. 

How to eat more beans

Patel shares some easy ways to reap the health benefits of beans:

  • Try swapping half the meat in your favourite dish for a tin of beans; for example, spaghetti bolognese or shepherd’s pie. 
  • Add beans to soups, salads, stews and curries.
  • Add beans to your baking – yes, really! You could give the BBC’s black bean brownie recipe a go. 

When upping your intake of beans, Patel advises increasing the amount gradually to give your gut time to adjust and avoid intestinal discomfort. 

Gemma Harris

Written by Gemma Harris she/her


Gemma Harris has been a journalist for over seven years and is a self-confessed health and wellbeing enthusiast, which led her to specialise in health journalism. During her career, she has worked with top editors in the industry and taken on multiple high-discipline fitness challenges for certain outlets. She is particularly passionate about nutrition; after being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in 2016, she discovered her fascination for gut health and founded – a dedicated space for providing a hopeful outcome for people with gut issues. Gemma’s core aim is to help others through her writing.

Previously a freelance journalist, Gemma has written about topics including combatting the spread of health misinformation on social media, how to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet with a stoma and probiotics for gut health. Her work has been published within leading health journals such as Gastrointestinal Nursing and the British Journal of Healthcare Management, as well as multimedia health and lifestyle platforms, including, StomaTips, Fit&Well, LiveScience and

She is the proud owner of two adorable guinea pigs who are far too spoilt and have become her writing companions. When she is not writing, Gemma can be found making a colourful and nutritious meal in the kitchen, walking in nature, at a yoga or spin class, swimming, doing an at-home YouTube workout, snuggling up with a self-help book or meditating. These experiences help to influence and shape the content she creates. And because life is all about balance, Gemma also enjoys having cocktails with friends.

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