A New World bean named for Lima, Peru. There are two distinct varieties: the baby lima and the Fordhook. Both are pale green, plump-bodied and have a slight kidney-shape curve with a buttery flavor and creamy texture. The Fordhook is larger, plumper and fuller than the baby lima.
In the South, dried limas are frequently called butter beans. When mottled with purple, they are called calico or speckled butter beans. Lima beans should not be eaten raw. They contain linamarin, which releases a cyanide compound when the seed is opened; however, cooking deactivates this compound. Many countries, including the U.S., restrict commercially grown varieties to those with very low cyanogen levels. The lima beans grown in Java and Burma have 20 to 30 times the concentration allowed in most Western countries.
The popular combination of lima beans and corn is called “succotash.”
plural: lima beans
Season: June – September
How to select: Fresh lima beans are usually sold in their pods, which should be plump, firm and dark green.
How to store: Refrigerate fresh lima bean pods in plastic for up to 1 week.
How to prepare: Shell pods just before using.
Matches well with: bacon, butter, cheddar cheese, corn, dill, garlic, lemon, nutmeg, olive oil, onions, parsley, prosciutto, tomatoes, tuna
Substitutions: lima beans = soy beans = fava beans
Lima beans are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, as are most other legumes. In addition to lowering cholesterol, lima beans’ high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal, making these beans an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia. When combined with whole grains such as rice, lima beans provide virtually fat-free high quality protein. You may already be familiar with beans’ fiber and protein, but this is far from all lima beans have to offer.
Sensitive to Sulfites? Lima Beans May Help
Lima beans are an excellent source of the trace mineral, molybdenum, an integral component of the enzyme sulfite oxidase, which is responsible for detoxifying sulfites. Sulfites are a type of preservative commonly added to prepared foods like delicatessen salads and salad bars. Persons who are sensitive to sulfites in these foods may experience rapid heartbeat, headache or disorientation if sulfites are unwittingly consumed. If you have ever reacted to sulfites, it may be because your molybdenum stores are insufficient to detoxify them. A cup of lima beans will give you 86.5% of the daily value for this helpful trace mineral.
A Fiber All Star
Check a chart of the fiber content in foods and you’ll see legumes leading the pack. Lima beans, like other beans, are rich in dietary fiber. For this reason, lima beans and other beans are useful foods for people with irregular glucose metabolism, such as diabetics and those with hypoglycemia, because beans have a low glycemic index rating. This means that blood glucose (blood sugar) does not rise as high after eating beans as it does when compared to many other foods. This beneficial effect is probably due to two factors: the presence of higher amounts of absorption-slowing protein in the beans, and their high soluble fiber content. Soluble fiber absorbs water in the stomach forming a gel that slows down the metabolism of the bean’s carbohydrates. The presence of fiber is also the primary factor in the cholesterol-lowering power of beans. Fiber binds with the bile acids that are used to make cholesterol. Fiber isn’t absorbed, so when it exits the body in the feces, it takes the bile acids with it. As a result, the body may end up with less cholesterol. Lima beans also contain insoluble fiber, which research studies have shown not only helps to increase stool bulk and prevent constipation, but also helps prevent digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis. Just one cup of lima beans will give you 65.8% of the daily value for fiber.
Lower Your Heart Attack Risk
In a study that examined food intake patterns and risk of death from coronary heart disease, researchers followed more than 16,000 middle-aged men in the U.S., Finland, The Netherlands, Italy, former Yugoslavia, Greece and Japan for 25 years. Typical food patterns were: higher consumption of dairy products in Northern Europe; higher consumption of meat in the U.S.; higher consumption of vegetables, legumes, fish, and wine in Southern Europe; and higher consumption of cereals, soy products, and fish in Japan. When researchers analyzed this data in relation to the risk of death from heart disease, they found that higher consumption of legumes was associated with a whopping 82% reduction in risk!!
Lima beans’ contribution to heart health lies not just in their fiber, but in the significant amounts of folate, and magnesium these beans supply. Folate helps lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is an intermediate product in an important metabolic process called the methylation cycle. Elevated blood levels of homocysteine are an independent risk factor for heart attack, stroke, or peripheral vascular disease, and are found in between 20-40% of patients with heart disease. It has been estimated that consumption of 100% of the daily value (DV) of folate would, by itself, reduce the number of heart attacks suffered by Americans each year by 10%. Just one cup of cooked lima beans provides 39.1% of the DV for folate.
Lima beans’ good supply of magnesium puts yet another plus in the column of its beneficial cardiovascular effects. Magnesium is Nature’s own calcium channel blocker. When enough magnesium is around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessens resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart. Want to literally keep your heart happy? Eat lima beans. A cup of lima beans will provide you with 20.2% of the DV for magnesium.
Lima Beans Give You Energy to Burn While Stabilizing Blood Sugar
In addition to its beneficial effects on the digestive system and the heart, lima beans’ soluble fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels. If you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes, lima beans can really help you balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy. Studies of high fiber diets and blood sugar levels have shown the dramatic benefits provided by these high fiber foods. Researchers compared two groups of people with type 2 diabetes who were fed different amounts of high fiber foods. One group ate the standard American Diabetic diet, which contained 24 grams of fiber/day, while the other group ate a diet containing 50 grams of fiber/day. Those who ate the diet higher in fiber had lower levels of both plasma glucose (blood sugar) and insulin (the hormone that helps blood sugar get into cells). The high fiber group also reduced their total cholesterol by nearly 7%, their triglyceride levels by 10.2% and their VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein–the most dangerous form of cholesterol) levels by 12.5%.
Iron for Energy
In addition to providing slow burning complex carbohydrates, lima beans can increase your energy by helping to replenish your iron stores. A cup of lima beans contains 24.9% of the daily value for this important mineral. Particularly for menstruating women, who are more at risk for iron deficiency, adding to their iron stores with lima beans is a good idea–especially because, unlike red meat, another source of iron, lima beans are low in calories and virtually fat-free. Iron is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism. And remember: If you’re pregnant or lactating, your needs for iron increase. Growing children and adolescents also have increased needs for iron.
Manganese for Energy Production and Antioxidant Defense
Lima beans are a very good source of the trace mineral manganese, which is an essential cofactor in a number of enzymes important in energy production and antioxidant defenses. For example, the key oxidative enzyme superoxide dismutase, which disarms free radicals produced within the mitochondria (the energy production factories within our cells), requires manganese. Just one cup of lima beans supplies 48.5% of the daily value for this very important trace mineral.
Protein Power Plus
If you’re wondering how to replace red meat in your menus, enjoy the buttery taste of lima beans. Limas are a good source of protein, and when combined with a whole grain such as whole wheat pasta or brown rice, provide protein comparable to that of meat or dairy foods without the high calories or saturated fat found in these foods. And, when you get your protein from lima beans, you also get the blood sugar stabilizing and heart health benefits of the soluble fiber provided by these versatile legumes. A cup of lima beans will provide you with 14.7 grams of protein (that’s 29.3% of the daily value for protein), plus 52.6% of the daily value for fiber. All this for a cost of only 216 calories with virtually no fat.