New research suggests great northern bean could prevent weight gain, high cholesterol

Ph.D graduate student Nguyen Tien An (left), graduate student Haowen Qiu, research technologist Richard Zbasnik and graduate student Sami Althwab conducted research showing that adding great northern beans to a diet rich in fatty foods may prevent weight gain, fatty liver and high cholesterol.

October 25, 2016

Lincoln, Neb. — New research from the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln has determined that adding great northern beans to a diet rich in fatty foods may prevent weight gain, fatty liver and high cholesterol.

With funding provided by the Nebraska Dry Bean Commission, Associate Professor Vicki Schlegel conducted the research using hamsters as the clinical model because they have similar cholesterol regulation to humans. Two diets were developed for the test, one lower in fat than the other.

“We wanted to study dry edible beans because they are rich in nutrients,” said Schlegel. “Many components of dry beans have shown to reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol; however, the research on cholesterol lowering properties of dry beans in response to a high fat diet has not been established.”

Nebraska produces approximately 1 billion servings of dry beans per year. The great northern bean is a dry bean widely cultivated in the state, primarily in the Panhandle region. In fact, Nebraska is the number one producer of great northern beans in the U.S. It belongs to the “white bean” family and is most often used in soups, stews and cassoulet.

The research demonstrated that supplementing the fatty diet with just 5 percent great northern bean resulted in a weight similar to that of the low fat diet, which did not contain the great northern bean. Additionally, consumption of the great northern bean was able to reduce the level of plasma lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides in the model testing the high fat diet. 

According to Schlegel, strong negative correlation of the liver and plasma total cholesterol with "neutral sterol excretion" suggests that the cholesterol produced in response to the high fatty diet with the great northern bean is recycled back into the intestine and excreted out.  Characterization of the great northern indicate that the fiber and other micronutrients present, such as the phenols, are most likely acting together to produce the cholesterol lowering benefit and to stabilize weight.

Initial studies were conducted using raw great northern beans, so further studies will be conducted using cooked beans. This information could potentially be shared with bean breeders or processors so they can recreate the favored composition. Similar studies are also being conducted on pinto beans.

This research comes during the International Year of Pulses, proclaimed by the United Nations. A “pulse” is the edible seed of certain legumes such as dry beans, peas and lentils. Pulses were chosen, according to the UN, to heighten public awareness of their nutritional benefits as part of sustainable food production aimed toward food security and nutrition.

Food science and technology Ph.D. graduate student Nguyen Tien An managed the project and will be the lead with the pinto beans research, while graduate students Sami Althwab and Haowen Qiu assisted in daily care of the animals.  Richard Zbasnik, a research technologist in the Department of Food Science and Technology, aided in characterizing the beans. The beans were grown in the Nebraska Panhandle by Carlos Urrea, associate professor in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center.

Vicky Schlegel
Associate Professor
Department of Food Science and Technology