Great northern beans are a type of fully mature, dried legume. They're similar to cannellini beans in that both varieties are large, white, creamy, full-flavored and often used in baked bean dishes. Like all mature legumes, great northern beans are a high-protein, low-fat source of a wide array of nutrients. Many of the most important health benefits they provide, however, can be attributed to their exceptionally high fiber content.
As an inexpensive source of quality plant protein, dried beans and other mature legumes are sometimes referred to as вЂњpoor people's meat.вЂќ Unlike meat, however, beans are cholesterol-free and contain very little saturated fat. For this reason, beans are generally considered a heart-healthy alternative to meat and other animal sources of protein. A 1-cup serving of great northern beans provides about 210 calories and nearly 15 grams of protein, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Great northern beans are an excellent source of dietary fiber, supplying 12.4 grams, or 50 percent of the recommended daily value, per cup of cooked beans. They contain considerable amounts of both types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and therefore deliver all of the associated health benefits. Soluble fiber promotes healthy cholesterol levels and helps keep blood sugar levels under control. Insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation by encouraging digestive efficiency and generating larger, softer stools that are easy to pass. Both kinds of fiber contribute to long-term satiety, making great northern beans an ideal food for achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.
Great northern beans are packed with minerals, which is another way in which they're an ideal substitute for meat. According to the USDA, a 1-cup serving delivers at least 20 percent of the daily value for phosphorus, iron and potassium, as well as at least 10 percent of the daily value for calcium and zinc. They're especially high in magnesium, providing nearly 30 percent of the nutrient's daily value per cup. Like other major minerals, magnesium is integral to numerous important processes. Getting enough magnesium in your diet may reduce your risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, according to the book вЂњWellness Foods A to Z.вЂќ
As with most mature legumes, great northern beans are a significant source of B vitamins. One cup of cooked beans provides 19 percent and 10 percent of the daily value for thiamine and vitamin B-6, respectively, as well as 6 percent of the daily value for riboflavin and niacin. With 45 percent of the recommended daily value per cup, great northern beans are an excellent source of folate, also known as vitamin B-9 or folic acid. According to the National Institutes of Health, folate is thought to help prevent many kinds of cancer, including lung, stomach, cervical and breast cancer.
Very few plant-based foods offer all nine essential amino acids, and great northern beans are no exception. The protein in whole grains is complementary, however, meaning that legumes and whole grains form a complete protein when consumed together, or at least in the same day. Beans also contain non-heme iron, which is not as readily absorbed as the type of iron found in meat. Eating foods that are high in vitamin C along with beans can significantly increase the amount of non-heme iron you're able to absorb. For a hearty, nutrient-dense meal, combine cooked great northern beans with tomato sauce, sauteed spinach and whole-grain pasta.