What Are Lima Beans?
Lima beans are a type of legume. They're green or cream-colored and have a flat, rounded shape. Their mild flavor and smooth texture make them good choices for many different dishes.
Lima beans get their name from Lima, the capital of Peru. For centuries, people in Central and South America have prized lima beans for the energy and nutrients they offer. Peru's ancient Moche civilization (circa AD 100-800) used the large, flat beans in their cooking.
Lima beans grow in pods like other legumes, including beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. Fresh lima beans are harvested in the fall, but most people use dried, frozen, or canned beans.
Lima beans vs. butter beans
Lima beans and butter beans are the same thing. Lima beans have several different names, including double beans, gigante beans, butter peas, Madagascar beans, and chad beans.
Health Benefits of Lima Beans
Beans are packed with protein, fiber, and other nutrients, making them a superfood.
Lima beans are an especially good source of iron. One cup of lima beans contains roughly one quarter of your daily recommended iron.
Other health benefits of lima beans include:
Legumes such as lima beans are a low-glycemic food, making them a great choice for people with diabetes. Beans are rich in soluble fiber, which helps your body absorb carbohydrates more slowly and regulates your blood sugar levels. Beans also contain high levels of resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that isn't digested and further lowers the impact of foods on blood sugar.
Lima beans also contain a type of fiber called insoluble fiber, sometimes referred to as roughage. Your body can't digest this type of fiber. Instead, it adds bulk to stool to help it pass through your gut more quickly. A diet that's high in fiber can prevent constipation, which can lead to hemorrhoids. Also, the resistant starch in lima beans feeds "good" bacteria in your intestines, which improves digestive health. A healthy balance of microorganisms in your gut can lower your risk of colon cancer and other chronic illnesses.
As a plant food, lima beans don't contain saturated fats or cholesterol. Most of the fat found in lima beans is polyunsaturated fat. When you regularly choose foods with polyunsaturated fats over saturated fats, you can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. The soluble fiber in lima beans can also improve your heart health by helping lower the levels of LDL cholesterol, the unhealthy type of cholesterol that can clog your arteries. And research shows that fiber may help lower blood pressure and fight inflammation in your body that can contribute to heart disease and other chronic illnesses. Also, lima beans are rich in antioxidants called polyphenols that can help improve the way your heart and blood vessels work, boost levels of healthy HDL cholesterol, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, and fight inflammation.
Anemia is a blood disorder that can be caused by not getting enough iron in your diet. People with anemia don't have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout their body, which can lead to fatigue, shortness of breath, and even organ damage. If you're having your period, you have a greater risk of anemia. The iron found in lima beans can help prevent iron deficiency anemia.
Lima beans are rich in the mineral manganese, a key nutrient in brain development. It's necessary for the creation of neurotransmitters that help brain cells communicate, and its antioxidant properties protect against brain cell damage.
In addition to fiber, lima beans are high in plant-based protein. Protein and fiber can help fill you up on fewer calories. Because they digest slowly, they can also help you feel full for longer and prevent overeating. Research shows that eating a diet high in protein and fiber can help you stay at a healthy weight and improve metabolic health.
Lima Beans Nutrition Information
Besides protein, fiber, manganese, and iron, lima beans are also a good source of:
- Molybdenum: Helps your body break down proteins and process toxins
- Copper: Important for energy production and making blood vessels and connective tissue
- Folate (vitamin B9): Helps make genetic material and prevents neural tube defects in babies
- Phosphorus: Crucial for development of bones and teeth and helps with kidney function and muscle contraction
- Thiamine (vitamin B1): Helps your body make energy from food and promotes nervous system health
Nutrients per serving
The nutritional value of lima beans will be somewhat different depending on what kind you buy. Keep in mind that canned lima beans tend to have a lot more sodium than fresh, dried, or frozen lima beans. Eating too many high-sodium foods can increase your risk of heart disease.
A 1-cup serving of cooked lima beans contains:
- Calories: 209
- Protein: 12 grams
- Fat: 0.5 grams
- Carbohydrates: 40 grams
- Fiber: 9 grams
How to Buy Lima Beans
Most people buy frozen, canned, or dried lima beans. You can find these in supermarkets year-round. Canned beans aren't the best choice because they typically have lots of sodium added as a preservative. One serving of canned lima beans can give you more than a third of the recommended daily limit for sodium. If you do buy canned beans, rinse them in a colander to remove some of the salt. When choosing frozen lima beans, avoid varieties with added salt and sugar. It's easy to season them at home with fresh, healthy ingredients.
In late summer and early fall, you may be able to find fresh lima beans. They come shelled or in pods. Look for pods and shelled lima beans that are firm and whole without cracks, discoloration, or soft spots.
How to Use Lima Beans
Lima beans can be used in a variety of dishes. Here are a few ways to prepare them:
- Boil them until soft; then lightly sauté them in a pan with garlic and olive oil.
- Combine them with corn, bell peppers, and other vegetables to make succotash.
- Top salads or pasta dishes for added protein.
- Use a food processor to blend them into a creamy hummus.
Frozen and canned lima beans can be used as is. Dried lima beans can be used as is, too; however, you can also soak them overnight in the refrigerator. This will shorten cooking time and may improve their texture. Shell fresh lima beans and throw out the pods. Rinse the beans and add them to soups or boil them until tender to use in other recipes.
Lima Bean Risks
Lima beans are a nutritious food and safe for most people when prepared correctly. However there are a few things to be aware of:
Gas and bloating
Some people may find that eating lima beans gives them gas and makes them feel bloated. This is because of their high fiber content. They also contain a particular type of fiber that, although helpful for gut health, is tough for your digestive system to break down. You can cut down on the gas by cooking them well. If you're using dried lima beans, it helps to soak them in room temperature water for at least 4 hours or soak them in the fridge overnight.
People who are allergic to legumes, including peanuts, soy, lentils, and chickpeas, should avoid lima beans and any foods that may be cross-contaminated with them. Ask your doctor whether it's safe for you to have lima beans.
Antinutrients are compounds found naturally in some foods that can interfere with how your body absorbs minerals. For most people who eat a varied, nutrient-rich diet, moderate amounts of antinutrients shouldn't cause problems. You can get rid of most of them by soaking and cooking beans. But you should also avoid eating a lot of lima beans and other foods containing antinutrients in one meal. People who are at a risk of mineral deficiencies, like those with osteoporosis or anemia, should ask their doctor whether they need to take extra precautions.
Lima beans, like many other legumes, contain a compound called linamarin, which can break down into cyanide when the beans are eaten raw or undercooked. However, if you cook them properly, they're safe.