Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Are Navy Beans Bad For You?

Also Known As: Haricot, Boston beans, Pea Beans, White Pea Beans



Short answer

Navy beans are highly nutritious, offering substantial protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals, promoting heart health and aiding in weight management. They have a low GI score, beneficial for blood sugar control. However, they contain phytates, which may affect mineral absorption, and oligosaccharides, which can cause bloating. Soaking, cooking, and pairing with Vitamin C-rich foods can mitigate these issues. Rarely, they may cause allergies in sensitized individuals, but they are generally safe and healthy for most people when included as part of a balanced diet.



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Long answer

Nutritional Profile of Navy Beans

Navy beans, also known as haricot beans, are a variety of the common Phaseolus vulgaris bean, which is revered for its nutrient density and potential health benefits. Replete with essential nutrients, navy beans are a staple in various cuisines around the world and are often recommended as part of a balanced diet.

To better understand the implications of incorporating navy beans into one’s diet, it’s crucial to dissect their nutritional profile. Below, a comprehensive analysis of the nutrients found in a standard 1-cup (approximately 182 grams) serving of cooked navy beans is presented:

  • Calories: A moderate 255 calories, making it a substantial addition to meals without being overly calorific.
  • Protein: Navy beans provide a substantial 15 grams of protein, which is ideal for muscle repair and growth.
  • Carbohydrates: With 47 grams, the majority of which are complex carbohydrates, these beans are an excellent source of sustained energy.
  • Fiber: High in dietary fiber at around 19 grams, potentially aiding digestion and promoting a feeling of fullness, which can be beneficial for weight management.
  • Fats: Containing only 1.1 grams of fat, navy beans are low in fat, which is primarily the healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated types.
  • Vitamins: They boast a range of B vitamins including folate (B9), thiamine (B1), and riboflavin (B2), which are crucial for energy production and various metabolic processes.
  • Minerals: Rich in important minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc, supporting many functions such as enzyme activity, bone health, and oxygen transport in the blood.

Additionally, navy beans contain various phytonutrients and antioxidants, which contribute to overall health by combatting oxidative stress. Their low glycemic index is also noteworthy as it indicates a slower impact on blood sugar levels, which is particularly beneficial for individuals with diabetes or those aiming to control blood sugar spikes.

The American Heart Association recommends consuming legumes like navy beans regularly as part of a heart-healthy diet due to their beneficial effect on serum cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Furthermore, research published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" has highlighted the role of dietary fiber from beans in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.

When evaluating the nutritional content, it is important to consider the preparation and cooking methods as they can influence the final nutritional profile. For instance, navy beans can be soaked and cooked without added fats or salt, preserving their natural nutrient density, while also keeping sodium and calorie intake in check.

In summary, the nutritional profile of navy beans is characterized by their low fat, high fiber, and protein content, alongside a rich spectrum of vitamins and minerals. This profile underlines the potential health benefits of these beans when they are integrated sensibly into a diversified diet.

The Potential for Bloating and Gastrointestinal Discomfort

Navy beans, like many other legumes, contain oligosaccharides, which are complex sugars that are not easily digested by the human body. This can lead to an increased production of gas in the gastrointestinal tract, which may cause bloating and discomfort in some individuals. The primary oligosaccharides in navy beans are raffinose and stachyose, and they require the action of bacteria in the colon to break them down. This fermentation process produces gas as a byproduct.

Additionally, navy beans are high in dietary fiber, providing about 19 grams per cup when cooked. While dietary fiber is an essential component of a healthy diet, contributing to digestive health and regularity, a sudden increase in fiber intake can upset the digestive system. Those who are not accustomed to high-fiber diets may experience bloating, cramping, and changes in bowel habits as their gut adapts to the increased fiber load.

To minimize potential digestive discomfort when consuming navy beans, consider the following tips:

  • Gradual Introduction: Slowly increase your intake of navy beans over several weeks to allow your digestive system time to adjust.
  • Thorough Cooking: Ensure that navy beans are cooked thoroughly, as this can help to break down some of the oligosaccharides that can cause gas and bloating.
  • Soaking: Soak dried navy beans in water for several hours or overnight before cooking, then drain and rinse them. This can help to reduce the oligosaccharide content.
  • Beano and Alpha-galactosidase supplements: Consider using over-the-counter products that contain the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, which helps break down oligosaccharides before they reach the colon.
  • Combination with Other Foods: Pair navy beans with easily digestible foods and herbs that may aid digestion, such as rice, fennel, and ginger.

It's important to note that individual tolerance can vary widely, and some people might find that they can comfortably enjoy navy beans without any adverse effects, while others may be more sensitive. Persistence with a navy bean-inclusive diet can lead to improved tolerance over time, as the gut microbiota adapt to the increased fiber and oligosaccharide content.

Research suggests that a gradual and consistent inclusion of legumes like navy beans in the diet can enhance the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, which may eventually reduce gas production and discomfort. A study published in the Nutrition Journal demonstrated that although some individuals might experience discomfort initially, the consumption of beans is well tolerated by most and gas levels will normalize with regular bean consumption after a few weeks.

If gastrointestinal symptoms persist, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional to rule out other causes of digestive distress, such as food intolerances, allergies, or underlying gastrointestinal disorders. Maintaining open communication with your healthcare provider is essential in managing and understanding dietary concerns related to navy bean consumption.

Phytic acid in Navy Beans: Impact on Mineral Absorption

Phytic acid, a natural substance found in plant seeds, including navy beans, has a strong binding affinity to important minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Understanding this compound's role is crucial for evaluating the nutritional profile of navy beans.

Scientifically referred to as inositol hexaphosphate, phytic acid is often considered an "anti-nutrient" due to its potential to impair mineral absorption in the human gut. Here's a closer look at how phytic acid can impact your body's ability to utilize the minerals found in navy beans:

  • Calcium: Phytic acid can decrease the bioavailability of calcium, a mineral essential for bone health and other cellular functions. Calcium binds to phytic acid, creating a complex that is less readily absorbed.
  • Iron: Phytic acid is one of the main inhibitors of iron absorption, particularly of non-heme iron, which is the form found in plant sources like navy beans. This could be especially concerning for individuals at risk of iron-deficiency anemia.
  • Magnesium: Essential for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, magnesium's absorption can also be hindered by phytic acid. This may impact energy levels, muscle function, and nerve signaling.
  • Zinc: Zinc is crucial for immune function, DNA synthesis, and wound healing. Phytic acid can significantly reduce zinc absorption, potentially affecting these vital bodily processes.

However, the influence of phytic acid doesn't present a black-and-white scenario. Research suggests that with regular consumption, the human gut may adapt to enhance mineral absorption despite the presence of phytic acid (ref: Lopez et al., "Phytic acid: Is it a real concern for the bioavailability of iron and zinc in human nutrition?", 2002). Moreover, certain food preparation techniques, such as soaking, sprouting, and fermenting, can significantly lower phytic acid levels in navy beans, thereby improving mineral absorption (ref: Hefni et al., "Effect of traditional household processes on iron, zinc and copper bioaccessibility in black bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.)", 2010).

For those concerned about phytic acid's impact on mineral absorption, it is advisable to consume navy beans alongside vitamin C-rich foods. Vitamin C has been shown to counteract phytic acid's effect on iron absorption, enhancing its bioavailability (ref: Hallberg et al., "The role of vitamin C in iron absorption", 1989).

Individual dietary variations, overall dietary composition, and specific health conditions should be considered when assessing the impact of phytic acid on one's health. In general, a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrients can mitigate the potential downsides of phytic acid in navy beans.

Benefits of Fiber and Protein in Navy Beans for Weight Management

Navy beans, a variety of common beans, are not just a staple food in various cuisines but also bring a wealth of nutritional benefits to the table, particularly when it comes to weight management. These benefits stem largely from two key components found in navy beans: dietary fiber and protein. Let us delve into how the fiber and protein in navy beans can contribute positively to weight management.

Impact of Dietary Fiber on Satiety and Caloric Intake

Dietary fiber is recognized for its ability to promote feelings of fullness, which is crucial for controlling appetite and reducing overall caloric intake. A single cup of cooked navy beans contains approximately 19 grams of dietary fiber, which is roughly three-quarters of the daily recommended intake. This high fiber content can

  • Increase satiety: The soluble fiber in navy beans absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance in the digestive system, slowing the emptying of the stomach and providing a prolonged feeling of fullness.
  • Stabilize blood sugar levels: By slowing digestion, fiber helps prevent rapid spikes in blood glucose levels post-meal, curbing sugar cravings that can lead to overeating.

Research published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that an increased intake of dietary fiber is associated with lower body weight. The study points to fiber's role in reducing food intake, likely due to the slower digestion and attendant feeling of satiety.

Role of Protein in Metabolism and Muscle Maintenance

Protein is another nutrient navy beans are rich in, providing about 15 grams per cup. The benefits of protein for weight management are well documented and include:

  • Boosting metabolic rate: Protein consumption can increase the number of calories burned because the body expends more energy to digest protein compared to fat and carbohydrates.
  • Preserving lean muscle mass: During weight loss, it's important to lose fat rather than muscle. High-protein foods like navy beans support muscle maintenance, even in a caloric deficit.

Studies, such as one in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, have shown that high-protein diets can lead to greater weight loss and body composition improvements in comparison to lower-protein diets. Incorporating navy beans into a balanced diet can, therefore, aid in optimizing protein intake for effective weight management.

Additionally, navy beans contain a variety of vitamins and minerals that further support metabolism and overall health. The combined effects of fiber and protein from navy beans can thus play a pivotal role in a holistic approach to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Navy Beans and Blood Sugar Control: The Glycemic Index Factor

Navy beans, like other legumes, are a complex carbohydrate which impacts blood sugar levels. The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking system that measures how much a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose levels compared to pure glucose, which has a GI of 100. Foods are classified as low, medium, or high glycemic foods based on their score. Navy beans boast a low GI score, generally falling below 55 on the index, which signifies a slower release of sugar into the bloodstream. This slow absorption is beneficial for blood sugar control, making navy beans an excellent choice for individuals with diabetes or those managing their blood sugar levels.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that eating high amounts of beans and other low-GI foods may improve glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes. This is partly due to the fiber content found in navy beans. The indigestible fiber slows down carbohydrate absorption, providing a steady energy release rather than a quick spike in blood sugar levels.

  • High dietary fiber content contributes to the low GI score
  • Stabilizes blood glucose levels
  • Minimizes risk of diabetes-related complications
  • Can improve long-term glucose control measured by HbA1c levels

Navy beans have another significant benefit for blood sugar control. They contain resistant starch—a type of starch that isn't fully broken down and absorbed by the body. A study featured in the Nutrition Journal concluded that resistant starch could also aid in managing blood glucose response.

Consuming navy beans along with high-GI foods can help reduce the overall glycemic impact of a meal. This can be especially important in meal planning for individuals looking to manage their glycemic load—a measurement that takes into account the GI of food and the amount of carbohydrates in a portion. Including navy beans in a balanced diet may have a moderating effect on blood sugar levels, which is particularly beneficial for those watching their glycemic intake.

Food Glycemic Index
Pure Glucose 100
Navy beans 31-35
White wheat bread 75

It's important to note that the preparation of navy beans can affect their GI. For instance, canned navy beans may have a higher GI compared to those that are slowly cooked at home due to the differences in cooking processes and added ingredients that can impact the overall GI of the food product.

Considering their low GI, high fiber, and resistant starch content, navy beans can be part of a healthy diet aimed at blood sugar control. However, portion sizes and overall dietary context still matter. It is important for each individual to monitor their body's response to navy beans, particularly if they are using them as a tool for blood sugar management.

Allergens and Sensitivities: Are Navy Beans a Common Allergen?

While navy beans, like other legumes, are not among the top eight allergens that are most commonly known (such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish), they can still cause allergic reactions in some individuals. The incidence of legume allergies, including navy beans, is more prevalent in certain populations and regions. For those with a sensitivity or allergy to legumes, consuming navy beans could trigger an immune response varying from mild to potentially severe.

It's important to distinguish between true allergies and other gastrointestinal discomforts, which are often caused by oligosaccharides in beans. These are complex sugars that can lead to gas and bloating, but these symptoms are not indicators of an allergic reaction. An actual navy bean allergy would involve symptoms such as:

  • Hives or skin rash
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Respiratory issues
  • Itchy throat or mouth
  • Anaphylaxis (in severe cases)

According to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, legumes like navy beans may cause cross-reactivity in individuals allergic to peanuts, a more common legume allergen. As peanut allergies are prevalent, especially in children, it is crucial to be aware of the potential for cross-reactivity.

For those with known legume allergies, it's recommended to consult with an allergist before incorporating navy beans into their diet. Moreover, individuals who have experienced unexplained allergic symptoms after consuming navy beans should also seek professional advice to determine the underlying cause. An allergist can perform tests, like a skin prick test or a blood test, to confirm a navy bean allergy.

In cooking and food preparation, cross-contamination can also be a concern, as navy beans might be processed or prepared alongside other allergens. Those with allergies should always check product labels and be cautious of the environments in which their food is prepared.

Care should also be taken with regards to sensitivity issues. Unlike allergies, sensitivities to navy beans may not involve the immune system and can usually be managed with dietary adjustments. Symptoms of sensitivities can include gastrointestinal distress, such as:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Stomach pain

It is advisable for individuals with known sensitivities to either eliminate navy beans from their diet or to prepare them using methods that may reduce potential discomfort, such as soaking beans before cooking and thoroughly cooking them. For most people without allergies or sensitivities, navy beans can be a healthy part of their diet.

Frequently asked questions

Navy beans have a high carbohydrate content, with roughly 47 grams per cup of cooked beans, most of which are complex carbohydrates. As a result, they are generally not suitable for a ketogenic diet, which typically requires limiting carbs to 20-50 grams per day to maintain a state of ketosis.

Navy beans are naturally gluten-free and can be safely included in a gluten-free diet. They can be used as a nutritious protein and fiber source in salads, soups, purees, or as a substitute for pasta or rice. Always ensure that any additional ingredients or seasonings used are also gluten-free to prevent cross-contamination.

Soaking navy beans before cooking is not strictly necessary, but it is highly recommended to enhance digestibility and reduce cooking time. Soaking for 4-6 hours or overnight can effectively reduce the presence of gas-causing oligosaccharides and phytic acid. Be sure to drain and rinse the beans thoroughly after soaking before cooking them.

Start by adding small amounts of well-cooked navy beans to familiar dishes, like mashed into soups or mixed into rice. Gradually increase the quantity as the child gets accustomed to the texture and flavor. Ensuring the beans are cooked until very soft can help ease digestion and make them more kid-friendly.

Ask a question about Navy Beans and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • gas
  • bloating
  • cramping
  • digestive discomfort
  • allergic reactions

Ingredients to be aware of

  • oligosaccharides
  • phytic acid


  • nutrient-rich
  • high in protein and fiber
  • low gi
  • blood sugar control
  • heart health
  • weight management

Healthier alternatives

  • soaked navy beans
  • sprouted beans
  • fermented beans
  • vitamin c-rich foods for improved iron absorption

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Organic Navy Beans

  • Rich in protein
  • Organic certified
  • High in fiber
  • Heart-healthy food
  • BPA-free packaging
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-23-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-23-2024

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