Foods That Fight Cancer™
Dry Beans and Peas (Legumes)
Dry Beans, Split Peas & Lentils
Kidney and black beans, yellow split peas and red lentils are among the thousands of colorful foods called pulses. Pulses - seeds of legumes that use nitrogen from the atmosphere to make protein - are an important protein source worldwide. So valuable in ancient Rome, prominent families derived their names from beans and peas; for example, Cicero is from the Latin word for chickpea.
What's in Beans and Peas?
Dry beans and peas are rich in fiber (20% of Daily Value) and a good source of protein (10% of Daily Value). They are also an excellent source of folate, a B vitamin.
Pulses contain other health-promoting substances that may also protect against cancer:
- Lignans and saponins
- Resistant starch, starch not digested in the small intestine, is used by healthful bacteria in the colon to produce short-chain fatty acids, which seem to protect colon cells.
- Antioxidants from a variety of phytochemicals, including triterpenoids, flavonoids, inositol, protease inhibitors and sterols.
Full Glossary for Foods That Fight Cancer
The Cancer Research
There are several ways in which legumes may act to prevent cancer.
A serving of legumes provide at least 20 percent of the recommended daily amount of folate and fiber. Dietary fiber can act in several ways to lower cancer risk, including helping with weight control. (Excess body fat increases the risk of eight cancers.) Gut bacteria feed on fiber, which produces compounds that may protect colon cells. And folate is essential for healthy DNA and maintaining control of cell growth.
Dry beans, split peas and other legumes also contain a variety of phytochemicals that scientists are studying for their anti-cancer effects.
Current Evidence: AICR/WCRF Expert Report and its Updates (CUP)
Dry beans and other legumes contain dietary fiber. After a systematic review of the global scientific literature, AICR/WCRF analyzed how these factors affect the risk of developing cancer. This comprehensive review concluded that there is strong – probable – evidence that:
- foods containing dietary fiber DECREASE the risk of colorectal cancer
Evidence categorized as "probable" means there is strong research showing a causal relationship to cancer – either decreasing or increasing the risk. The research must include quality human studies that meet specific criteria and biological explanations for the findings. A probable judgement is strong enough to justify recommendations.
”…Beans, rich in fiber and a variety of phytochemicals, can contribute to a diet that helps lower risk for cancer.”
- Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN.
Open Areas of Investigation: Laboratory Research
In laboratory studies, flavonoids found in legumes have slowed the development of cancers during several stages of development. Current research suggests that protection may come as much from directly affecting cell growth as from antioxidant activity. Lab studies suggest many phytochemicals in legumes may decrease growth factors and chronic inflammation, risk factors for many cancers, and increase self-destruction of cancerous cells. Animal and human studies show that healthful bacteria in the colon use fiber (resistant starch) in legumes to produce substances that seem to protect colon cells.
Animal studies related to the whole legume have primarily focused on cancers of the breast and colon. Relatively few studies show decreased colon cancer in animals fed dry beans. Even fewer studies suggest a potential link between beans and lower risk of breast cancer.
Open Areas of Investigation: Human Studies
Human studies include case-control studies, which compare groups of people with and without cancer checking for a difference in legume consumption. It also includes cohort studies that follow people without cancer for several years and then look at how many dried beans participants generally consumed.
Several studies link higher consumption of legumes with lower risk of colon cancer or the benign adenomas (polyps) that are the beginning of most colon cancer. But overall, human studies focusing on legumes and cancer risk have resulted in inconsistent findings. One reason may be that few Americans eat dry beans as a regular part of their diet, making comparison between groups that eat high and low amounts of beans difficult. Early data links regular bean consumption with a possible reduced risk of prostate and breast cancers, but more research is needed.
In the Kitchen
- Choose either uncooked or canned beans; nutritional quality is equivalent.
- Uncooked, dried beans are most economical, yet canned beans offer ready-to-eat convenience.
- To reduce sodium, drain canned beans in a strainer and rinse well, or better yet, choose beans canned with no added salt.
- Uncooked dry beans can be stored for a year or longer in the unopened plastic bag in which they are sold.
- Once opened, store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place (not the refrigerator).
- Before preparing, inspect and remove any debris or dirt.
- Dry beans and whole peas need to soak before cooking. Soak in a big pot of cold water overnight, or in hot water for one to four hours.
- To reduce gas-producing substances, soak longer, then discard the soaking water and use fresh water for cooking.
- Cook dry beans more quickly with a pressure cooker - they’re ready in 15 minutes once the presoaking is complete.
- Use beans in stews, soups, casseroles, combined with whole grains, in salads and pureed for dips.
Lentils and split peas are the “fast foods” in the pulses family; they need only about 30-40 minutes to cook, no pre-soaking required.
One cup of dry beans and peas equals about 2-1/2 to 3 cups cooked. When drained, one 15-ounce can equals about 1-1/2 cups of beans.
Three Bean Salad with Creamy Mustard Dill Dresing
- 1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup canned Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup canned kidney or red beans, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1 small red bell pepper, diced (optional)
- 1 small green bell pepper, diced (optional)
- 2 Tbsp. fat-free or 2 percent Greek yogurt
- 1 Tbsp. low-fat mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp. coarse seed mustard
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 2 dashes hot pepper sauce
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
- 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
In mixing bowl, combine beans with onion and peppers, if using.
For dressing, place in mini food processor the yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, hot sauce, salt and pepper and whirl to combine. With the motor running, drizzle in oil. Add dressing to beans and mix to combine. If serving immediately, mix in dill and parsley. Or, cover the dressed beans and refrigerate for up to 8 hours, adding herbs just before serving.
Makes 4 servings.
Per serving:230 calories, 5 g total fat (
Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we get asked.
Which fruits and vegetables should I be eating?
Eat as many different vegetables and fruits as you can. Variety is the key to obtaining the many protective phytochemicals. Each vegetable and fruit has its own profile of health-promoting substances.
The phytochemicals found in cantaloupe are different from those in broccoli or leeks or cherries. Try to include a lot of colors on your plate. Aim to eat some bright red, green, orange, blue, purple and yellow vegetables and fruits each day.
Should I buy organic foods whenever possible?
There are many reasons to eat organic foods, but currently, there is no convincing evidence that shows a difference between organic and conventionally grown foods related to cancer risk. Studies show pesticide residues on conventionally grown foods are almost always within safety tolerance limits.
If you are concerned about pesticide residues and can afford to spend more, organic produce may be a choice for you. Eating generous servings of a large variety of veggies and fruits - whether organic or not will benefit your health. The advantages of including more vegetables and fruits in your diet outweigh the potential risks from pesticides.
Can grilled meats really cause cancer?
Lab studies show that exposing meats to direct flame, smoke and intense heat (like when you grill or broil) can cause the formation of carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). Cooking methods that involve less heat, such as microwaving, baking, steaming and poaching, do not promote the formation of these substances.
Several strategies you can use to cut carcinogen formation on meat include marinating, flipping frequently, removing excess fat from meat before cooking, and microwaving for part of the cooking time. So for delicious and healthful options, try grilling vegetables, veggie burgers and fruit slices and cut down on meat, fish and poultry.