New Zealanders, on average, eat about 5.7 pounds of baked beans per person, each year. At the same time, most of them are not aware of the nutritional value of this incredible food. Baked beans are cooked with tomato sauce and when they are prepared this way, they contain iron, protein, folate, lycopene and fibre.
Iron deficiency is a major health concern in both poor and developed countries.
Maintaining an iron balance is very important. This particularly applies to certain groups of people like, children and adolescents, who need iron for learning and growing.
Women and adolescent girls require iron because of pregnancy demands and the loss of iron due to menstruation. Athletes need iron, since it affects their performance and vegetarians require iron in their meatless diet.
Iron from meat is absorbed better than the iron from legumes. Baked beans are a rich source of iron, but in order to improve its absorption, it should be eaten with the addition of Vitamin C, found in orange juice or broccoli.
People who are on a meatless diet should try to supplement their iron by using iron rich plant foods. There is also an increasing number of people who choose not to eat meat once a week. Baked beans are also ideal in this situation.
Baked beans are also a source of folate, also called folic acid, which has many health benefits. It is advised for women in child bearing age to use folate. Lack of folate may cause anemia. It is strongly recommended for pregnant women to take folate to prevent certain neural defects of the baby.
Baked beans also have protein. Proteins are needed for muscle building. Children require protein for their growth. Athletes also need protein for muscle growth, recovery, repair and strength. While they are pregnant women require extra protein. Foods with high amounts of protein are important for vegetarians.
Not all of the eight essential amino acids are found in baked beans, but a simple addition of some wholemeal bread or an egg can provide everything that is required in a balanced diet.
It is interesting to mention that baked beans are free from saturated fat.
All three types of dietary fiber are found in baked beans. They are necessary for proper bowel function.
Baked beans are cooked in tomato sauce, which contains high levels of lycopen. It is an antioxidant. Antioxidants help the fight against free radicals. Lycopene is what gives the red color to tomatoes. It is absorbed much better if it has been cooked.
It is recommended to eat about three cups of beans per week, by slowly increasing the amount. The US FSA (Food and Drug Administration) approved the following health claim: "A diet including beans may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers."