23 Nov 2022 • 5 min read
These unassuming little beans are nutritional powerhouses. But what are butter beans?
What makes butter beans so good for you? And what can you do with them?
Here, we’ll explore the benefits of butter beans, their nutritional value, some butter bean FAQs and some delicious ways to incorporate them into your diet.
These creamy white beans – also known as lima beans – are native to South America which have been cultivated for at least 9000 years.1
The butter bean – or lima bean - is an ivory-coloured pulse with a flat crescent shape. Larger than most other beans, butter beans develop a creamy, buttery texture when cooked which gives them their name.
In other parts of the world, butter beans are known as lima beans. They were originally named after the city of Lima in Peru.
Different varieties of butter beans may be speckled, slightly smaller or greenish in colour. In the UK, almost all of the butter beans available commercially (i.e. not home-grown) are of the pale beige variety.
Below are the different types of butter beans available - who knew there were so many!
Dried butter beans are smaller than the cooked variety and are firm in texture. They aren’t edible when dry – they require soaking, rinsing and cooking.
Dried butter beans are widely available in the UK at larger supermarkets and health food shops.
The most common variety of butter bean you’ll encounter in the UK, tinned butter beans are found on most grocery shop shelves.
Usually packed in either water or salted water, these beans have been cooked but not flavoured (unless specified).
Organic butter beans are ones grown without the use of chemical pesticides or artificial fertilisers.2
Baked butter beans are found in either tins or glass jars. They have been pre-cooked and usually come in a tomato sauce or olive oil with herbs or other seasoning.
Yes – butter beans are good for you!
Packed full of vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates and protein, butter beans are a healthy addition to any diet.
Here we'll go through 9 top health benefits of adding butter beans to your diet.
Butter beans contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, which can promote a feeling of satiety (fullness), reducing the likelihood of overeating.
This is because fibre adds bulk in your stomach, which signals to the brain that it’s getting full.3
Further, soluble fibre dissolves in your digestive system, creating a gel-like substance which slows down the rate at which food is digested – again, making you feel full.4
Adults should be getting 30g fibre a day, but most in the UK only eat 18g a day.5 Adding butter beans to your plate will help you on your way to your daily 30g target.
Protein is important for the building and repair of strong muscles and bodily tissues. It’s also a source of energy.6
Most adults need a minimum of 0.75g protein per kg of bodyweight each day. For the average woman this is around 45g, for the average man 55g.7
Vegetarians and vegans who may struggle to make up their daily protein should include butter beans in their regular plant-based meal rotation. Be sure to combine protein from pulses with other vegan protein sources to ensure the protein is ‘complete’.
Eating butter beans can help protect you against developing some types of anaemia.
They’re are rich in folate – also known as vitamin B9.
This is needed to make normal red blood cells as well as to convert carbohydrates into energy.8
Being low in folate is a risk factor for folate deficiency anaemia, which causes extreme tiredness.9
Butter beans are also a good source of iron, which your body uses to create haemoglobin which carries oxygen around your body.
Iron is important for energy, and low levels cause iron deficiency anaemia which is characterised by fatigue, exhaustion and shortness of breath.10
Butter beans are rich in starchy complex carbohydrates, which are a great source of energy.
Not only this, but because complex carbohydrates digest more slowly than refined carbohydrates, the energy they provide is longer-lasting and won’t leave you hungry again in half an hour!11
Low in both calories and fat, butter beans are a dieter’s dream. In fact, only around 3% of calories in beans derive from fat, most of which is unsaturated.12
They make a filling side dish – the perfect alternative to chips or fries – and thanks to their high fibre content, you may just be too full for dessert.
Butter beans contain plant compounds called polyphenols.
These polyphenols act as antioxidants, helping to protect the body against harmful free radicals, which can cause cell damage.13
Butter beans are rich in vitamins and minerals, which are important for overall health.
A source of potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and zinc, they also contain calcium and protein. 14
Both plant-based foodies and meat-lovers can really benefit from adding butter beans to their diet.
Butter beans are high in complex carbohydrates. Your body breaks down this type of carbohydrate into glucose at a slower rate than ‘simple’, refined carbs like potato, white pasta and white rice.
As a result, complex carbs like butter beans offer sustainable energy which doesn’t cause the blood sugar to spike.15
High levels of LDL cholesterol make it more likely you’ll have heart problems or a stroke.16 But butter beans can help!
One study found that when people ate 120g beans five times per week alongside their usual diet, they experienced a reduction in LDL cholesterol.17
One portion of butter beans is 80g, which is equivalent to around 3 heaped tablespoons of cooked pulses, or around a third of a tin.18,19
There are 68 calories in 80g of butter beans.
There is 6.2g protein in 80g butter beans.
There are 9.8g carbohydrates in 80g butter beans.
There is 0.4g fat in 80g butter beans, with 0.1g being saturated fat.
There is 0.6mg iron in 80g butter beans.
There is 20mg calcium in 80g butter beans.
There is 8mg sodium in 80g butter beans. Varieties packed in saltwater will have higher sodium.
There is 176mg potassium in 80g butter beans.
There is 0.4g sugar in 80g butter beans.
There is 5.1g fibre in 80g butter beans.
How do butter beans stack up to other beans in terms of nutrient content?20
|Butter beans (94g)||7.3g||7.3mg||0.9mg||16mg||478mg||40mg||78mcg|
|Adzuki beans (115g)||8.6g||2.3mg||2mg||32mg||611mg||60mg||150mcg|
|Black beans (86g)||7.6g||1.8mg||0.96mg||23mg||30gmg||60mg||128mcg|
|Kidney beans (88.5g)||7.7g||2mg||0.9mg||31mg||358mg||37mg||115mcg|
|Haricot (navy) beans (85.5g)||7.5g||2.15mg||0.9mg||63mg||354mg||48mg||127mcg|
|Pinto beans (85.5g)||7.7g||1.8mg||0.8mg||40mg||373mg||43mg||147mcg|
|Cannellini beans (88.5g)||7.5g||1.9mg||0.78mg||60mg||346mg||44mg||90mg|
Raw, dry butter beans contain a compound called linamarin, is a cyanogenic compound which potentially releases small amounts cyanide when processed.21
Don’t panic, though – the butter beans you buy in tins have already been processed and cooked to remove all traces of linamarin.
With dried butter beans, rinsing and soaking them before cooking will destroy the cyanogenic enzymes.
Further, the varieties of dried beans available in Europe generally have levels of cyanide below the dosage known to be toxic to humans.22
Potatoes and butter beans come from different plants and have different nutritional compositions.
However, they’re both starchy carbohydrates containing a similar amount of calories.
Butter beans are higher in protein and fibre, and lower in carbohydrates than potatoes.23
All beans and legumes have the potential to cause a bit of flatulence. This is down to the undigestible carbohydrates they contain.24
Don’t let that put you off, though.
Introduce them to your diet slowly, rinse them beforehand and drink plenty of water, and your body will adjust, minimising your symptoms.
Last updated: 13 July 2021